Lane Kiffin benefits from CFB's 'horrible system.' He wants to change it anyway (2024)

The past month saw movement on two issues central to the ongoing crisis of change within college sports. Neither of them, however, seems to impact what many fans and coaches care about most.

First came the news of revenue sharing through which schools will be permitted to directly pay athletes, starting next year, as part of the settlement in the House v. NCAA lawsuit. Then, after years of lobbying, the NCAA finally got a bill out of committee in the U.S. House of Representatives that would prevent athletes from being made employees.


The first development is fine and overdue. The second has no chance of passing the Senate this year, or perhaps ever, and might be going backward as far as fixing the issue that most impacts the fan and coaching experience: the new era of unlimited transfers, which allows players to move from team to team every year.

Among those who have raised the alarm on the issue this offseason is Lane Kiffin, the coach who perhaps has made the best use of the transfer portal while at Ole Miss.

“That’s how bad I’m telling you this is,” Kiffin said. “The current system probably benefits us as much as any school in America. And I’m telling you it’s a horrible system, so what does that tell you?”

For years, too much power lay with the coaches, as players were forced by rule to sit out for a year at their new school whenever they transferred. A more reasonable rule enacted a few years ago allowed players one free transfer, then still required them to sit the second (or third) time they changed schools. But as a result of court injunctions secured by players this winter, even those rules were thrown out, and now players can play four years at four places if they wish.

Most coaches and administrators would be willing to go back to the one-time transfer rule. But at this point, that can’t happen without collective bargaining with a players’ union — an arrangement the NCAA and administrators continue to resist — or perhaps an antitrust exemption or some other federal legislative carve-out, neither of which has broad consensus in Washington.

Kiffin weighed in on the transfer situation last week in a phone interview, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

GO DEEPERLane Kiffin sounds off on eliminatingwalk-ons

For everything happening in Washington and with the House settlement, it doesn’t really address transfer rules. And it looks like, for the foreseeable future, you have to re-recruit your roster every year. Is that settling in for you? Is it sustainable?

My sense, our sense as coaches, is that the majority of rules, or not having rules now, have become all about the fear of being sued. So then we just eliminate rules. So anything you can make up that might be a lawsuit sometime down the road is eliminated, so just let them transfer as many times as they want. That’s what it feels like in a lot of these rules. So yes, why is that not addressed, when all these other things are being addressed?


And with everything that has a benefit, there’s a cost. It’s been a lot of great stuff for the players getting paid, which is long overdue, but I don’t know that in the best interest of 17- to 21-year-olds it’s in the best interest long-term to always know: “I can leave at any point. Mentally, I can check out into the next window at any point, no matter how many times I’ve gone. I don’t have to stay. I don’t have to practice through adversity if I don’t like what the coach said to me or where I am on a depth chart. You know, I can always just keep leaving and keep leaving.”

I’ve seen where that has not benefited a lot of these kids because they don’t stay through. When things don’t go exactly their way, they, in the middle of the season already, mentally go, “I’ll just go in the portal the next window or in spring ball. You know, I don’t really like this. I didn’t get enough balls today in practice. I’m gonna go in the next portal window.” I don’t think that’s good. So there’s been some, in my opinion, some negative come out of this, for the player.

Do you think college administrators should do whatever it takes to get back to that system where you get the one-time transfer, even if that means collective bargaining like you have in the NFL so that there is no threat of a lawsuit?

Yeah, in my opinion, they want to copy the NFL in all these different ways, which they should. The NFL’s got it figured out (after) doing it a long time in professional sports. So they want to copy the rules. Now we can talk to the quarterback and the middle linebacker (during the game via helmet communication) because the NFL does it. We want to pay them like the NFL, but we don’t want to have any type of real contracts. So it’s not like the NFL.

If any professional sport — now you’re going to get me started on this — if any professional sport had two times a year, let alone one, that they could go into free agency, what would the sport look like? If there’s 32 NFL first-round picks, if after the first season they could go into the portal, they could go opt into free agency, still come back to where the team that drafted them after a year paid them, or they can go anywhere else, or they can just look around to leverage them, 32 of them will do it. And you can do it twice a year. So you don’t have a system that makes any sense.

Can you do contracts to lock in players? Within the system, is there some creative way to do that currently, through the collectives or anything?

No. I mean, all these schools got attorneys, got ways to figure things out. You really haven’t seen it. Every school loses players into the portal. So, yeah, people have tried to be creative and put payments in past certain windows and stuff like that. But there’s no system like you would (have in) any other professional sport where you can (say), “Hey, I want to really go play for the Patriots or Alabama, so I’m going to sign a two-year contract or three-year contract.” That can’t happen like it would in any other system.


So in your mind, what can happen? Is it just kind of waiting to see where this all goes, like up in D.C., or what?

I don’t know that. I don’t worry much about it because we don’t have any control in it. They tell us what the rules are, and the system they give us, we just try to maximize it. And I know it sounds strange: “Wait, he’s complaining about the system that the NCAA has in place for the portal, but yet it benefits us.” That’s how bad I’m telling you this is. The current system probably benefits us as much as any school in America. And I’m telling you it’s a horrible system, so what does that tell you?

But it doesn’t seem like there’s a way out of it unless there’s some sort of CBA or some antitrust exemption where the NCAA gets to return to making its rules but could still face lawsuits.

Or they’re employees.

I know you advocated for that a few years ago and got kind of a talking-to about it.

Yeah, sure.

But you as coaches just want rules, to have stability.

Structure, yeah. Structure and rules. If you’re going to be paid, they’re going to get paid like professionals, and you have other professional things that go with it. You know, we have real contracts that everybody has similar guidelines in the contracts. And then we can see them and we know it. … We don’t see any paper that shows, “Oh, this is what I have (at my current school). This is what I make, what I have.” So people can just make up whatever they want. Somehow you have to figure out: Is it real or not? When they say, “Oh, I have this, this much from this school, this much from this, and I make this here.” And we don’t really know.

They can sign contracts with the collectives, but they can’t sign contracts with the programs, like the coaches can.

But we don’t see them, so we don’t really know what a guy makes. …

You don’t know what’s out there, versus a professional sport where they know. So they also get lied to by people and told, “Oh, you need to go in the portal because you’ll get $500,000 at these schools because that’s what DBs are making right now in the portal.” And people can just make up whatever they want. It’s the agents trying to push them in the portal.

What seems like your basic thrust is “give us some structure,” even if that means, you know, making them employees or finding a CBA that won’t be subject to a lawsuit.

And I’m saying that for the betterment of college football and the betterment long-term of players, because those structures and those things that need to be in place probably don’t benefit Ole Miss (compared) to the current system. If you track it, I think everybody would say, if you look at every window that’s happened, we have much better players come in than go out. So really, I should be sitting here saying don’t change anything. But it’s really not good. Maybe when I was younger I wouldn’t say a word, because I’d be like, “This is great, selfishly, for where I’m at.” But it’s not at all for the big picture of college football or the student-athletes.

(Photo of Lane Kiffin and Daijahn Anthony: Petre Thomas / USA Today)

Lane Kiffin benefits from CFB's 'horrible system.' He wants to change it anyway (4)Lane Kiffin benefits from CFB's 'horrible system.' He wants to change it anyway (5)

Seth Emerson is a senior writer for The Athletic covering Georgia and the SEC. Seth joined The Athletic in 2018 from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and also covered the Bulldogs and the SEC for The Albany Herald from 2002-05. Seth also covered South Carolina for The State from 2005-10. Follow Seth on Twitter @SethWEmerson

Lane Kiffin benefits from CFB's 'horrible system.' He wants to change it anyway (2024)
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