The trouble with transfers: Franklin worried about ‘free agency’

James Franklin says he’s worried about college football and the direction it’s heading with regards to the much-discussed new transfer portal now available to players.

Penn State’s coach spoke at length Wednesday about how transfers are changing the sport. Franklin was asked if the high volume of transfers is a concern or just a sign of the times, and he touched on a number of issues during an answer that lasted more than six minutes.

Later on, Franklin went as far as referring to the situation as “free agency” in college football.

The topic has been particularly of note for the Nittany Lions, who have had as many as a dozen players considering a transfer, believed to be the most in the nation.

“For me, my concern isn’t really about Penn State,” Franklin said during a national signing day news conference. “I’m worried about college football. I’m worried about what we’re teaching young people.

“I think one of the greatest things that I think 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.”

Franklin brought up specific points about the NCAA’s graduate transfer option and how that has “morphed into something that it was not intended to be,” then mentioned that agents can now talk directly to players as early as their freshman year.

As he continued his lengthy answer, the coach made it more and more clear that he’s concerned too many players are transferring for the wrong reasons and that they all won’t be able to find better situations.

“I looked last week, I think at that time there was 1,789 guys in the transfer portal,” Franklin said. “I worry that all those guys are going to find the right spot. So I just worry. I worry who’s advising. I worry about where the information is coming from. I worry that there’s a shift right now to the emphasis being on the NFL and not on college athletics, which is, to me, education first is how I got into this industry.

“And don’t get me wrong — the NFL is a part of it, as well. But to me the emphasis should be on getting an education first, and then if the NFL thing happens for you, awesome, and we’re going to work very hard at helping you achieve that goal, as well. But I worry about this shift.”

A concern for Franklin is that when new rules are put in place, they overcorrect problems that may not be all that big in the first place. He called it going “from one extreme to the other extreme.”

An example he used was some schools would prevent players from transferring to specific schools, such as another in the same league. Franklin said there was a small number of coaches abusing the transfer system, which has led to what he believes is an overcorrection.

“So we went from coaches could block you anywhere to now no blocking, just free agency,” Franklin said. “And to me there could have been a model that made sense. It could have been the NCAA come out and say you can’t go to any school that’s on the schedule but you can go anywhere else. Or the school can block five schools and that’s it.”

One bit of news that came out of Franklin’s press conference was that he confirmed Tommy Stevens will begin spring practice as the No. 1 quarterback on the depth chart. Sean Clifford will be No. 2 and Will Levis No. 3.

Stevens battled a foot injury throughout the season and underwent surgery prior to the Citrus Bowl, although it’s not certain if the procedure was done on his foot. That led to some questions about whether or not Clifford would be the top quarterback for spring ball.

A year ago, Stevens considered transferring, knowing Trace McSorley still had one season left as the starter.

“The funny thing is, Tommy Stevens is really the original transfer portal,” Franklin said. “But to me he did it the way it should have always been done, and I think could still be being done right now.

“He came and talked to me. Had some concerns. Wants to start. Was graduating. Had two years left of eligibility. And we kind of said, let’s kind of talk this through together and what are your objectives and all these types of things.

“We were able to come up with an understanding between the two of us — and his family and his high school coach — that, hey, look around and if you find something that makes sense for you, then there’s nobody that’s going to be more supportive of you than us.”

Stevens did look around but ultimately decided to stay at Penn State.

If a player enters his name into the transfer portal now, it can lead to his current school pulling his scholarship. It also can create awkward situations because many of the players remain students at their original school, so their status is up in the air.

That was the case with safety Lamont Wade, who put his name in the transfer portal but eventually was the only PSU player who did so and then decided to stay with the Lions.

“To Lamont’s credit, he’s frustrated, he wants to play more, he wants to have a big impact,” Franklin said. “And we want that for him, too. So it’s talking through all these things.?”To me that’s what it really should be about. It shouldn’t be about the NCAA coming in and telling you how to do things and overcorrect. It should be the head football coach, the AD, the parents, the kid all sitting down and saying, look, let’s do what’s right.”