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Column: Forget the transfer portal, college football needs to adopt professional soccer’s system of player movement

Pandora’s Box has already been opened. So why not tear the lid off entirely, allowing CFB teams to loan and rent players like Manchester City and/or Real Madrid?

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

By loosening the rules and/or restrictions around college football’s transfer portal, the NCAA or powers-that-be have essentially opened Pandora’s Box. They have taken the restrictor plate off the Red Dragon. CFB and college sports in general have become the wild, wild west, and freedom of movement is now on steroids. Well... maybe not steroids. But at least some sort of TRT or ‘vitamin regimen’.

And since there is no Wyatt Earp or group of hardened lawmen laying down the law at the O.K. Corral also known as college sports, I say let’s get nuts. How nuts, you ask? Well, I’m talking Blue Diamond or Planters-level.


I think that college football should adopt the loan system currently utilized in professional soccer. And in case you are not familiar with said system, it is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: A system in which teams loan out players (currently under contract with them) to other teams for a mutually agreed-upon period. Team B – the team adding a player or players – often pays Team A or the ‘parent club’ for that player’s services; a sum that may or may not be equal to the player’s contract.

In theory, a team could draft or sign a player, develop said player into a star, and then ship that individual out for a large sum if the team’s roster or club is otherwise loaded. But more often than not, loans are set up for one of two reasons: To get a young, developmental player more playing time elsewhere. Or to send an expensive player away from an underperforming team, allowing that team to recoup money. For example, imagine the Kansas City Chiefs starting out 1-6 and deciding to loan Travis Kelce to the Detroit Lions.

I may or may not have nailed that explanation, and the separate transfer system/window adds another component or layer to this global soccer marketplace... But I only started watching high-level professional soccer a few years ago. So forgive me if I committed a ‘howler’.

Let’s get back to the idea of loans being implemented or used in college football. This idea came to me as I was watching some of the early season action. I was particularly interested in certain transfers sprinkled across the P5 landscape. Because I find it fascinating that teams and coaches now have such a ‘quick fix’ mentality. Like, “Oh, we can fix him. They were just in a toxic relationship before, and that’s why things ended poorly.” Well guess what!? Sometimes you can’t fix what or who has already been broken. And I am a firm believer that when somebody tries to show you who they are, you should believe them.

So it has come as no surprise that more than a few transfers are struggling, particularly at the quarterback position. They did so for two or three years with their last team, why did you (Coach X) think it would be any different in 2023!? Because you coached in the NFL? Or because it’s warmer in Gainesville? These are just random questions that have popped into the ol’ noggin, that may or may not be specific to any one player or team.

But the funny thing about the transfer portal is that even though we are all aware of the fact that things are ever-changing and temporary, it still feels sort of permanent. Transferring schools and/or moving across the country is not nothin’, folks. Players and/or students cannot pack up and leave on a whim, every other quarter or semester. So these college football teams typically get only one or two cracks at ‘acquiring’ star players from elsewhere — if they get one at all.

Sure, Deion Sanders can go the route he did with Colorado, but he and the Buffaloes are outliers. They are the exception to the rule. When most teams/programs goes all-in on a player or players, there is some finality. Even if it is only for a year. Or a season, which is much shorter.

Again, look at the QB position. Only one takes the snap. The depth chart is not 8, 9, 10 players deep. If Coach X does not like the in-house talent they are working with, they can choose to look elsewhere (officially or unofficially). And if a new QB is brought in, he likely joins only one, two, or three others that Coach X was not happy with in the first place. So more often than not, this new QB gets handed the job and becomes the captain of the ship. There is really no going back at that point. So I repeat: There is some finality.

But what if there was an alternative to bringing in new talent? Ya know, besides recruiting, which some coaches no longer want to do. What is there was a temporary fix that benefitted all? Well that’s the loan system, baby! Like I said earlier, let’s get nuts!

Under the premise of the loan system, a player could commit to a school, love it there, and/but be allowed to gain experience and playing time elsewhere, until they are no longer buried on their original team’s depth chart. They could then return to their beloved team or university a better, more experienced player, with no hard feelings. I mean, it seems foolproof! All schools ought to love the idea because they could profit even more off the backs of athletes and potentially lease talent as needed.

Let’s try to come up with an example of how this proposed CFB loan system can be used. I’m thinking of a random team in the Big Ten West. We’ll just say Nebraska. Say they’ve struck out at QB and could really use an infusion of talent to get the Matt Ruhle era kickstarted. Ruhle says “Hey, we don’t play Ohio State this year, and they always have a spare QB laying around. Let’s give ‘em a call.” He calls Ryan Day and asks about the availability of Lincoln Kienholz, who just so happened to play his high school ball in South Dakota, directly above the Cornhusker State... Now we’re cookin’ with oil!

Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Nebraska offers up half a million dollars to rent LK47’s services for one season. As a result, they acquire talent, OSU gets a little spending money, and Kienholz lands an internship that will prepare for him for his days as the Buckeyes’ (future) signal caller. Am I on to something, or am I on to something?

Sticking with Ohio State, what if Kyle McCord is not the answer after Western Kentucky or Notre Dame? Are we foolish enough to believe that the athletic department could not afford to rent North Carolina’s Drake Maye for a few months? And this loan system would not be exclusive to QB. While I would be absolutely devastated and have no intention of putting bad juju out there, what if the Buckeyes don’t love their chances of winning a national championship? How much could they fetch for Marvin Harrison Jr.? I am putting the over/under at $10 million from another blueblood program. The possibilities are truly endless.

But alas – and obviously – this loan system is far-fetched and far from the realm of sanity/reason for now... Isn’t it? I mean, most would have said the same thing about Cal and Stanford joining the ATLANTIC COAST Conference, but here we are. So don’t call me crazy just yet, unless it is for other, perfectly justifiable reasons. Because you never know what is going to happen in this wild and whacky world of the sport(s) we love.