Canzano: Oregon Ducks' quarterback battle has transfer portal written all over it
Ty Thompson took the first reps at practice this week.
Dan Lanning is no dummy. The Oregon Ducks’ football coach allowed media into the program’s inner sanctum on Thursday for a few minutes. It was the first time in the Lanning era that an outsider laid eyes on a live 11-on-11 spring football drill.
Just the fourth practice.
Only the second day in pads.
Still, Lanning opened the doors for 15 plays and let media observe. The reporters noted that quarterback Ty Thompson got the first-team reps, followed by transfer Bo Nix, then returner Jay Butterfield.
The fan base buzzed about it. Speculation swirled about next season possibly being Thompson’s time, or at least that he’d press Nix for the starting job. Or maybe this was just Thompson taking the first reps because he’s been in Eugene a lot longer than Nix.
It was a brilliant tactical move, either way.
Nobody on the outside knows if Thompson — a five-star recruit out of high school — really is pressing Nix for the starting job. But that brief look through the keyhole sure gave the appearance of a tight race. It was exactly what Lanning needed to do in an era where gifted young players routinely jump in the transfer portal.
In the last couple of years I took note on my statewide radio show that coaches I interviewed started to craft their answers a little differently. Most notably, when I’d ask how a particular player looked in practice I got some new-era thinking.
It used to be that coaches would lean into the question and talk specifically about the one player. That’s gone. Unless I drill down with follow-up questions on the specific player what I typically encounter in 2022 is a coach who is cognizant of the feelings of every player in that position group and anyone in their friend and family circle who might be listening.
They now tip toe around the question. Everything’s an open competition.
“I love our entire quarterback room,” coaches now often say.
Or the coach will reel off a checklist of everyone at the position, making sure that nobody on the roster is left out. The transfer portal did that, folks.
On Friday, I spoke with UO women’s basketball coach Kelly Graves about his roster. He lost a carload of players to the transfer portal when the season ended, including three talented sophomores. Questions swirled about whether there might be something larger going on with the program but Graves assured me it was the way of the new world.
Graves said: “I looked today, there are more than 900 Division I women’s basketball players in the portal — 900. The season hasn’t even finished yet. It’s tough. It’s like NBA free agency every year.”
College football and men’s basketball both had the same flurry of transfer activity. Further, I told Graves that I felt like coaches weren’t being as candid and authentic about the depth chart anymore. At least not in public-facing appearances. Not just one coach — almost all of them. There is now almost no upside and a lot of potential downside to publicly talking about what’s happening with the roster.
“We’re not honest. We’re not honest with you. We’re often times not honest with our own players because we’re trying to keep them warm,” Graves said. “Gone are the days quite frankly when you could come in and hope to play a little bit as a freshman, play more as a sophomore, kind of move into the rotation and maybe start as a junior. Those days are over.
“Kids are looking for what they can get right now.”
I love the concept of the transfer portal. It has a place in college athletics. But I think it’s enabling the teaching of some piss-poor life lessons. The portal has become an extension of the club-sports scene, where parents move their child out of one club and jump to another because their kid didn’t get playing time or got some constructive criticism.
Gone is resilience.
Absent is accountability.
What we have in its wake is a new-era of athletics marked by transient behaviors. Three high schools in four years? Sure. Four different club coaches in four seasons? Yup. It’s happening. Now, we’re watching college players jump in and out of the portal, seeking more playing time, a better opportunity, and sometimes the added incentive of an endorsement deal.
The portal needs to stay part of college athletics, but so does common sense. I wonder if the solution is to limit the transfer portal window to a two-month period after the end of every season. College courses have an “add/drop” deadline. So should college athletics. Because what we have now is a flimsy free-for-all that makes some college programs feel like bus stops.
Nix is a transfer from Auburn. He’s not jumping back in the portal.
I don’t blame Lanning one bit for letting the media into practice. I admire that he had Thompson take the first reps. He’s learned from Mario Cristobal’s sins in this way. Thompson worked hard, stuck with the program through a head coaching change and we’re told has a load of talent.
He got rewarded and encouraged by Lanning.
Thompson went first.
It may keep him around if he ends up second.
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