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Gary Barta’s solution to “recruiting inducements” is retrograde but it doesn’t mean rules shouldn’t exist

The Iowa athletic director’s public comments had Twitter abuzz

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Syndication: HawkCentral Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Henry B. and Patricia B. Tippie Director of Athletics Chair Gary Barta (yes, that’s his real title) went on the Iowa athletic department’s podcast, “Fight For Iowa” and set Twitter into a tailspin with his comments on name, image, and likeness in conjunction with the transfer portal. To my knowledge, The Athletic’s Scott Dochterman was the first on it and summarized Barta’s less-than-fifteen minute appearance.

“If we can’t totally control name, image and likeness, then let’s go back and put a one year … if you transfer, you can transfer, you don’t have to lose your scholarship,” Barta said Thursday on the school-produced “Fight For Iowa” Podcast. “But you must sit out a year because we can control that, and that, I think, would slow down the name, image and likeness deals.”

He went on to call it “free agency without rules” and used the term “recruiting inducements” maybe a half dozen times. In a rare bit of fairness to Barta, the written word looks worse than when he was speaking it - though the production value involved with their pod had me laughing that he let the quotes through. But he was fairly adamant about it, alluding to the fact that was the solution he was (and would be) propositioning in private.

In another (ugh) bit of fairness, no bad ideas in a brainstorm but his idea is akin to putting the genie back in the bottle or toothpaste back into the tube.* This level of player movement is the new normal. Or at least the barriers for student-athletes to enter the open market are the new normal. So I’ll go back to the “recruiting inducements” deal. That seems to be the hang up and he wants to but that level of accountability back on the player when, really, it should be directed towards schools boosters operating in the gray area which now exists.

*it was especially hilarious when Barta tamped down the expectations of the Big Ten’s next television/streaming deals exceeding a billion dollars, but that’s a conversation for another day.

So how do you build out the structure to limit “inducements”? One idea floated by Fran McCaffery & Kirk Ferentz through Connor & Pat’s podcast where they had Spencer Petras & Alex Padilla on is a salary cap of sorts. My opinion on that is there will always be more money outside the lines in college sports. Another 20th century solution for a 21st century problem.

My solution? We set our sights across the pond and replicate European football’s transfer market.

The first order of business is set transfer windows. That provides some amount of guardrails for the “wild west.” I’d suggest two - one between the CFP Championship and second signing day for college football and then another post-March Madness through the end of the spring semester (about this time) for all other sports.

Next, which players can transfer? The short answer is “all of them” but the longer answer has nuance to it. Within this point, any prospective student-athlete can sign a letter of intent for one to four years. We’ll also remove redshirt restrictions for the fifth season. The benefits of this are numerous but two stick out as especially symbiotic. 1) it extends the earning window of athletes like Oscar Tshiebwe and Armando Bacot whose value at the next level is lower than it is here and 2) the longer players stick around, the better the product becomes. Even Caitlin Clark is not dismissing the idea of using her fifth season. That’s good for everyone.

But back to who can transfer: if a player has seasons left on current letter of intent, wherever they transfer to will be in negotiations from their current team for a “transfer fee.” This allows a level of accountability both ways. Barta harkened back to the new rule which forced schools to honor four year contracts and it’s easy to see Iowa football & basketball remaining in that market where they offer four-year scholarships as developmental programs.

On the flipside, it’s easy to see programs like Arkansas basketball offer tons and tons of one-year scholarships while paying out gobs in transfer fees as the Muss Bus is a transient affair.

Returning to Iowa’s offseason - one which was not really affected by the portal in relative terms - and hypothesize Joe Toussaint’s final year on his initial four-year scholarship could have yielded some money from West Virginia (Iowa could have also allowed him to transfer freely). Then Toussaint could have signed a two-year scholly with West Virginia. Say he balled out? Then if he decided to transfer again West Virginia would be the beneficiaries of any fees gained with a transfer up to say, Kentucky.

Teams like Kansas State or Iowa State would have had the blows of Nijel Pack’s and Tyrese Hunter’s transfers softened with a hefty sum from Miami and wherever Hunter ends up.

Now, I do not have any solutions to how this bureaucracy might pop up at every institution but I trust that it will in some form or fashion. Additionally, it’d be my preference to see transfer fees reinvested into a school’s roster and not necessarily the administration or coaching staff but modern solutions beget modern problems and collegiate sports will always have their share of them.

So the pros of a transfer market include: setting up timelines for everyone to adhere to, player movement continues in a way where they can cash in on their worth, accountability remains with the institutions, and teams who are blindsided by transfers are able to recoup some of the losses through the transfer fee which could be allocated to remaining players. In some ways, the cons associated with it - tampering/inducement, no systems in place - are no different than what currently exists and Barta’s solution would do little to stem the tide of player movement.

With player worth being understood more and more each day, it’s incumbent on university leaders to get with the times and create solutions which facilitate what college sports will and can be instead of trying to return it to what it was.