MISSOULA — Go back to Montana’s football game at Oregon in September 2019 and imagine former Griz linebacker Dante Olson collecting a team-high 14 tackles for the Ducks, not UM.
That’s the extension of a hypothetical Montana coach Bobby Hauck posed when discussing the NCAA’s proposal that would allow all college athletes regardless of sport to transfer once and be eligible to play immediately without having to sit out a season, provided they haven’t already transferred.
That’s not to say Olson would’ve jumped ship for his final year of eligibility after setting the school’s single-season tackles record and finishing third in voting for the Buck Buchanan Award in 2018. But the possibility would be there if the proposal, which could take effect as soon as the 2020-21 academic year, was in place at the time.
“How would it make Grizzly fans feel last year if Dante Olson would’ve wound up in the Pac-12 last year in June?” Hauck said during spring camp. “Would that have made anybody happy? No, it would not have. That’s what will go on across the board. It’ll be a farm system.”
Hauck referred to comments about the proposal made by Montana men’s basketball coach Travis DeCuire and former Georgia and Miami football coach Mark Richt. He said he’s “in agreement with those two guys because they’re right.”
Richt tweeted: “I know, I have an idea. You recruit and develop players and when I think they’re good enough I will poach them from your roster! Welcome to what the new normal will look like in college football!”
DeCuire told 406mtsports.com in February: “It doesn’t benefit us. It’s one level that will benefit from that, and it’s the guys that are going to be recruiting off our rosters.
“I think that you lose sight of commitment, time and the development of a young man, a student-athlete; to lose them under those circumstances in the long run can be very negative for teams at this level.”
The main point Richt and DeCuire, as well as numerous other coaches across football, make is that their rosters may be raided by bigger schools. For FCS teams like Hauck’s Griz, the end result may be FBS coaches pursuing players on their roster and depleting them of their best talent in a sort of virtual free agency.
“Not maybe. Not maybe,” Hauck said for emphasis. “That’s what will happen.”
But would college coaches actually do that?
“They’re already doing it,” Hauck said. “If you think that Power Five schools don’t have a college personnel board in their recruiting office and know every marquee player at any lower-level school, you’d be wrong.”
The proposed change, suggested by the Big Ten and supported by the ACC, has criteria players have to meet for instant eligibility. Players have to receive a transfer release from their previous school, leave their previous school academically eligible, maintain their academic progress at the new school and can’t be leaving their current school under a disciplinary suspension.
The proposal would be a one-time transfer exemption, which is currently allowed in all Division I sports except football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, baseball and men’s ice hockey. Players in those five sports can transfer and avoid siting out one season if they’re a graduate transfer or receive an immediate-eligibility waiver, like Griz junior safety Robby Hauck did when he transferred from Northern Arizona to Montana when Bobby Hauck was hired at UM.
More than one-third of all athletes transfer at least once, according to the NCAA. The waiver process has been strained by the sheer enormity of increasing transfers, and there’s been the scrutiny over why waivers are approved or denied. That has led to the one-time transfer proposal.
The transfer process recently underwent some change when the transfer portal was launched on Oct. 15, 2018. The portal came from a rule that allows players to transfer and receive a scholarship from a different school without needing permission from their current coach or school. Those players are still required to sit out a year after transferring.
While Hauck previously said the rule that led to the transfer portal was “catering to” the fact that players “quit on things too soon,” he doesn’t see the one-time transfer proposal and the transfer portal playing any sort of intertwining role in the potential “farm system.”
“The transfer portal didn’t really change anything other than guys that were declaring that they were going to transfer were now in one single database rather than a word-of-mouth database,” Hauck said. “That’s it.”
The common wording in relation to the transfer portal is that it’s a mechanism to allow players to “explore” their transfer options.
“That’s not my perception of it,” Hauck said. “If you’re in the transfer portal, in my opinion, you’re gone.”
Just because a player enters the portal doesn’t mean they have to transfer. Once in there, they can talk with other schools while remaining enrolled at their current school. They can potentially return to their team, but that’s only if the coaching staff will take them back.
Players who enter the portal could possibly lose their scholarship at the end of the semester. For Hauck, UM players who put their name in the portal do forfeit their scholarship; he said it wouldn’t be saved for them if they decide to return to the team for the next season.
“You’re either in or you’re out,” Hauck said. “I would believe that probably 99% of football coaches agree with that philosophy.”
Frank Gogola covers Griz football and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter @FrankGogola or email him at email@example.com.