2021 Coaches Survey: FBS coaches anonymously weigh in on NIL, transfer portal, playoff expansion and more

College football underwent sweeping changes in the last year. And that was before conference realignment shook the foundation of the sport.

The COVID-19 pandemic and transfer portal have impacted roster management for the 2021 season and beyond. The 12-team College Football Playoff proposal, a response to the dominance of a handful of schools in the four-team era, shook up the summer. Then Texas and Oklahoma’s move to the Southeastern Conference kick-started another potential realignment shuffle.

What does that mean for the Power 5 and Group of 5? Sporting News sent a survey to FBS coaches (prior to the Oklahoma-Texas bombshell) to respond to a 15-question survey dealing with all of those questions. Coaches were asked to respond anonymously to any questions that applied to their programs.

A total of 20 coaches responded to our survey. Here were there answers:

1. Do you have issues with the new transfer rules? If so, what is the biggest problem? 

Nine of the 11 coaches that responded to this question had few issues with the idea of the transfer portal, but there were concerns about maintaining an 85-player roster without a deadline. 

“The two biggest issues are the delicate talent management dance some are constantly performing as they attempt to keep their roster happy,” a FBS coach said. “The other, more pressing issue, centers around having the ability to restock our rosters despite the hard cap or initial counter limits.” 

“No issues with new transfer rules,” another coach said. “You just have to move the decision date up so we can adjust the program depth chart accordingly before the season.” 

The lone coach to dissent does not agree with the increased use of the transfer portal. 

“The issue we’re seeing is way more players are entering the transfer portal and not finding a place to go,” one Power 5 coach said. “Something like 25 percent of those who entered last year are finding a home, so they’re losing their opportunity to find a scholarship or play.

“The rules condition kids to quit and think the grass is always greener,” he said. “It does impact roster management.”

2. How has the new Super Senior rule made it more difficult to manage your rosters? 

The Super Senior rule is in place for 2021, which allows players who were seniors in 2021 to come back because of the season impacted by COVID-19 in 2020. A total of 60 percent of the coaches who responded said the rule will make it much more difficult to manage rosters and recruiting classes after this season: 

“An emphatic yes,” one FBS coach said. “Not for 2021, but for the next three years not knowing who’s going to come back, who’s going to leave. It puts us in a real management bind of how we handle incoming recruiting classes.”

“There is very little clarity in terms of who will be leaving your roster and when,” another coach said. “As a result it is difficult to forecast how many prospects we can sign in a given year. This will force coaches to make difficult decisions not in the best interest of current players and/or recruits.”

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As a result, several schools might have smaller recruiting classes in 2021. 

“Signed a smaller number of freshmen this year,” one coach said. “Don’t want two full classes of freshmen once the super seniors are gone. People will have 50 freshmen out of 85.”

3. Should the NCAA expand scholarship limits as a result of the season that was impacted by COVID-19? How has COVID-19 impacted preparation for the 2021 season?

Coaches were split 50/50 on the expanded scholarship question. Those same coaches said COVID-19 has not impacted their preparation for the upcoming season to this point. 

“Yes, there should be relief for another year or two so we can all naturally get back to the 85 limit,” one coach said. 

Here is a take from a coach who disagreed with the scholarship number going up. 

“The  issue with expanding the rosters will create an unbalanced playing field as some teams could have more scholarship players than others for multiple years. Unfortunately, we may just have to deal with this right now.” 

Another coach said the numbers game has to increase. 

“The biggest issues are the 25 initials and the 25 Hard Cap in a single season,” he said. “This does not allow you to properly replenish your team. My first choice is that a program needs to be at 85 on Aug. 1, however they get there. The other option would be to keep the 25 limits but allow a team to add one for every transfer they lose and for every player who goes on medical (maximum of three medical redshirts each season).” 

4. Do you have concerns with the implementation of NIL (Name, Image and Likeness) Legislation?

Only two out of 12 coaches who responded said they had major concerns with NIL, other than how the process will be regulated. 

The tone of the answers is the same, however. 

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“We support opportunities for the players,” one coach said. “That’s a very good thing. What scares me are the loopholes in the rules that aren’t being addressed by the NCAA and are being exploited. It’s like legalized cheating.” 

“I don’t even know what those concerns are yet because we don’t know what it will look like yet, but it is going to be a can of worms,” another coach said. “We are going to have to get the kinks worked out of it. How big of an impact it is going to have will be anybody’s guess.”

“Yes, I am for players being able to earn extra money, but feel the process has been rushed and there will be many unintended consequences,” yet another coach said. 

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5. Are you in favor of the new 12-team College Football Playoff model? 

Every coach that answered this question was in favor of playoff expansion.

“We see the FCS, Division II, and Division III have really clear playoff structures and include more teams,” one coach said. “I understand there is the bowl structure, but you could play the playoff games through the bowl system and get to the point where there is excitement and enthusiasm like March Madness in college basketball with surprise upsets and surprise teams that make a run.”

“More teams now feel they have a legitimate chance to make it into the playoff and prove they belong,” another coach said. “There will be upsets every year and interest in college football will skyrocket.”

Three coaches still favor an eight-team model.

“I’m not for 12,” one coach said. “I’d prefer six to eight teams. Expand slowly instead of abruptly all at once.” 

“I’d be looking at more of six to eight teams where conference championships are rewarded and then you have some at-large options,” another coach said.

One FBS coach preferred a 16-team model. 

“I’m in favor of it 100 percent, but the only thing that is wrong with it is it isn’t enough,” he said. “Sixteen would be better, but 12 is a step in the right direction. It was long overdue. There is too much money left on the table and there is not enough opportunity.” 

6. How would expanding the playoff damage the college football regular season?

One concern with playoff expansion is the potential harm to college football’s regular season. Nine of 12 coaches that responded said that damage will be minimal or have no impact at all on the regular season. 

“It would make it more of an experience, and you would see players be more engaged,” one coach said. “Right now, you have seniors who see they aren’t going to make the playoffs, and so they exit and they get ready for the NFL.” 

“More teams are going to be playing meaningful games later in the season therefore this only seems to improve the regular season,” another coach said. 

One coach said the impact will be felt during the regular season and bowl season: 

“It probably will damage the regular season but the real damage will be done on bowl season,” he said. 

7. How would Playoff expansion impact the way you schedule opponents?

Every coach who answered this question said that scheduling would not be impacted by the expansion of the playoff: 

“Having 12 teams wouldn’t change my philosophy on scheduling,” one coach said. “The more teams involved, say 24 teams; the more likely I am to schedule 50/50 games.

“You need to schedule better opponents to keep your strength of schedule up while balancing that with games you should win,” another coach said. 

One Group of 5 coach said they would maintain their scheduling philosophy: 

“It would be important for us to have an opportunity to play a high Power 5 team and secure a win against that team,” he said. 

8. If you could change something about the current bowl system, what would it be? 

Nine of the 10 coaches who responded said they would not change the current bowl system but a few coaches offered some interesting changes. 

“We should pay the players, which would result in less opt-outs,” one coach said. “Each family, upon arrival at the bowl destination, could get $2,500. That would pay for expenses and allow a family to see their son play in a bowl game.”

“Replace it with a full-blown football playoff,” another coach countered. “Bowls are antiquated and they are outdated. The small bowls just have no interest now. If you look at the attendance and the viewer ratings, it is just time to move on – which is hard to say because it has been a staple of college football for decades. Times have changed.” 

“I think the bowls will still be an important part of the college experience,” one coach said. “There are probably too many right now.”

9. There were hypothetical talks about a Super League in College Football last spring.  Would you be in favor of a league with that kind of setup in the future?  

A total of 10 coaches answered this question, and four were in favor of the idea of a Super League in College Football. 

“It would guarantee that every team plays a legitimate schedule,” one FBS coach said.

“Absolutely, and I have been thinking along those lines for seven to 10 years,” another coach said. “It is inevitable, just like an expanded college football playoff is inevitable.” 

“Yes, if it helps standardize the criteria of selecting playoff participants (playing the same number of conference games),” another coach said. 

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“Would need more information. I believe Division II and Division III should look at playing in the spring for increased exposure.” 

The coaches who responded no did not elaborate much.  

“Heard many ideas about a super league,” one coach said. “Some of them might have weight. Other ideas I heard would be a train wreck.” 

10. Will there be more realignment in college football within the next five years?

This was asked before the news broke of Oklahoma and Texas’ intentions to leave the Big 12, and 10 of the coaches who responded to this question said they could see realignment in the future. 

“If there is, it won’t be a lot,” one Power 5 coach said. “I doubt it will be like the major conference shuffling that happened 10 years ago.” 

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The answers reflected just how quiet the SEC, Oklahoma and Texas kept things for months. 

11. A Group of 5 team has not made the College Football Playoff in seven seasons. Should the Group of 5 conferences (AAC, C-USA, MAC, MWC, Sun Belt) be an automatic qualifier for the playoff or pursue their own four-team playoff? 

All but three coaches who responded were in favor of the Group of 5 schools getting a playoff spot along with the Power 5, but there was some catches in the debate: 

“The future setup is the way it should be, no automatic qualifiers,” a Group of 5 coach said. ” Absolutely not, to the Group of 5 (only) playoff.”

A Power 5 coach said: “I think they should have their own playoff. There’s clearly a market for good football and the Group of 5 teams play good football, but right now, they’re never going to make the CFP. I think there’d be even more interest if they were playing to make their own playoff and crowning their own champion.”

Three coaches made it clear that there “should be no automatic qualifiers.” Is the proposed 12-team playoff a work-around.

“Automatic qualifier with the new 12 team playoff idea,” one coach said. “Only way Group of 5 should have their own four team playoff is if the bowl games are eliminated with the 12-team playoff.” 

12. Are you concerned players will opt out during the regular season or look to transfer if their team is not in Playoff contention?

“No more so than before,” a coach said. “I don’t think you will see it in the middle of the season. I think you’ll see guys opt out to go train for the NFL, which is already happening.” 

A total of 65 percent of the coaches who responded said they were not concerned with players opting out during the regular season. 

“I do think elite players opting out during poor regular seasons is a concern,” one coach said. “However, the larger the playoff, the less this will become an issue because more teams will be in contention longer.” 

13. Who is the most difficult player and coach you have game-planned against in the last five years?

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Ohio State’s Chase Young was the only player who received multiple votes. Other players included Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, Oregon’s Justin Herbert, Auburn’s Derrick Brown and Houston’s Ed Oliver. 

Academy players and coaches were a common answer. Air Force’s Troy Calhoun and Army defensive coordinator Nate Woody received votes, and former Navy quarterback Malcolm Perry also was mentioned. 

Other coaches included Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly, Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell and TCU’s Gary Patterson. 

14. Is the game safer because of the targeting rule? Have you seen a change in how players tackle?

Every coach who responded to this question said “yes” on both accounts, but there were some concerns with how the targeting rule is applied. 

“Players are more conscientious about tackling defenseless players,” one FBS coach said. “The targeting rule and emphasis on player safety has made the game safer, but sometimes I am concerned we just throw around the term ‘player safety’ in an attempt to pass new rules without evidence supporting the cause.” 

“I think the penalty is too harsh,” A Power 5 coach said. “We shouldn’t make players go sit in the locker room by themselves, but I do think players are understanding that you can’t take the hard shot because it can really hurt both the players and their teams.”

“I believe it has helped make the game safer, but needs to be applied more consistently,” another coach said. “Right now, players don’t know for sure how they can tackle in the open field.”

 

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