When he finally received the opportunity Wednesday to address the fact that 11 players on Penn State’s 2018 roster had elected to transfer out of the program, Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin chose to speak less about the people he lost, and more on what he felt the new transfer rules and other changes were doing to his sport.
“For me, my concern isn’t really about Penn State, I’m worried about college football,” Franklin said in a wide-ranging news conference that also dealt with recruiting and the program. “I’m worried about what we’re teaching young people.
“I think one of the greatest things that college football and college athletics teaches, it’s a tremendous complementary aspect to what they’re learning in the classroom — the mental toughness, the physical toughness, how to overcome adversity, those types of things. I worry that we’re creating a situation where it’s path of least resistance. And in my life, I don’t know if that’s ever been the right choice or the right path. So I’m concerned, I really am.”
Since the end of the regular season, 12 Penn State players have entered the NCAA’s national transfer database, also known as the transfer portal, which allowed coaches from other schools to contact them. One of them, sophomore safety Lamont Wade of Clairton, later withdrew his name from the portal and said he would return to the Nittany Lions.
Most of the players will be graduate transfers, meaning they won’t have to sit out a year. Wide receiver Brandon Polk and defensive backs Ayron Monroe and Zech McPhearson are spending the spring semester at Penn State and will leave for their new teams after they graduate in May.
“Our situation is a little different than most because we have such a large number of guys that graduate early,” Franklin said. “Most of them have already graduated. For me, ultimately, I want our guys to be able to chase their dreams and be happy and be successful. And we’re unbelievably supportive of that.”
Franklin laments, however, that the graduate transfer provision isn’t what it was originally designed to be, which he said was “to allow guys that had graduated with their undergraduate degree to go get a masters degree at another school that offered that graduate degree.
“Well, that’s not how the graduate transfer played out. It morphed into something that it was not intended to be,” he said.
The coach said that other new rules take college football from one extreme to the other, as in the case of the rule that used to allow coaches to block players from transferring.
“You had a small number of coaches that were abusing the ability to block kids from transferring to schools,” he said. “So we went from coaches who could block you anywhere, to now no blocking, just free agency. To me there could have been a model that made sense.
“It could have been the NCAA coming out and saying, ‘You can’t go to any school that’s on the schedule but you can go anywhere else.’ Or the school that can block five schools and that’s it. So we went from one extreme where the coach could block anything to the other extreme where you can’t block any. I think that’s the problem that I see with the NCAA and member institutions sometimes, is we overcorrect.”
Franklin said he’s also concerned about the rule change that allows agents to speak with players from the time they are freshmen, as opposed to an earlier rule that prohibited them from contacting athletes until their eligibility had expired.
Franklin said the focus at Penn State will be to embrace the new model and “find a way to be successful in it.”
“It’s an interesting time,” he said. “We’re going to embrace it. We’re going to evolve. We’re going to grow. It looks different to our fans. It looks different to our lettermen and to the media. It looks different to me. But we’re going to grow and we’re going to keep loving these kids, keep helping them grow and develop as students and as players and as people.”