New transfer rule creates opportunity, chaos for UA coaches

Sam Pittman photo:

The transfer portal giveth, and the transfer portal taketh away.

Arkansas fans have learned that lesson already this spring as we are adjusting to the new NCAA rule that allows college athletes one transfer in their four- or five-year college career without penalty.

“The Transfer Portal,” sounds a little like something from “Star Trek” to this old TV junkie. Except when Scotty beams you down, you don’t really know which alien program you are going to end up playing for.

Into the portal you go, and where you come out nobody knows?

Unless there is some tampering going on, a little back-and-forth, back-channel recruitment on from a school to a trainer to a player?

Don’t know if that’s happening, but it sure seems possible or even likely?

Last week Arkansas head football coach Sam Pittman said he has no problem with the new rule in an appearance on The Paul Finebaum Show. His reasoning was if he as a coach has the right to better himself by taking another job, why shouldn’t a player have the same option by seeking greener pastures at another program?

It’s sound reasoning, but as a Hog fan, the decision by wide receiver Mike Woods to enter the transfer portal stings.

Woods was going to be a third-year starter for the Hogs based on everything seen from spring practice. He wasn’t going to be the Hogs’ top target in the offense. That designation belongs to junior Treylon Burkes, but Woods was certainly going to be 1B.

All the talk coming out of spring ball was that Burks and Woods had the chance to be the SEC’s best receiving tandem this fall.

Well, that was the talk for about a day, until the rumblings of Woods entering the transfer portal made the rounds Monday morning.

Then came the speculation of why would he leave. Did he get into a fight with Burks or was he jealous? Was his relationship bad with first-year wide receiver coach Kenny Guiton? How could Woods not like Pittman? If there ever was a player’s coach, it’s The Pitt Boss.

Thankfully Texas native Woods, who had a longtime relationship with Houston-native Guiton, cleared the air on social media about his relationships with Guiton and Pittman. His decision didn’t have anything to do with them, according to the post.

So, Hog fans continue to wonder why Woods opted to leave what seemed to be a good thing.

I wonder that because I enjoyed watching him play as a fan and because he was an articulate and open spokesman for the team, which on occasions helped me write better columns.

I also wonder if it was a wise move by the young man who had established himself with the Razorbacks. He was going to have a big role with the Hogs this fall. Wherever he lands, Woods is going to be starting over at the bottom of the receiving roster in fall camp as an unknown entity.

Woods is going to have to fight his way to the top while learning a new offense, trying to please a new coach, and working with a new set of teammates who may or may not be welcoming to the new hot shot who’s coming in to take their playing time.

Losing Woods to transfer is a blow, but it’s one the Razorbacks can absorb. There’s as much talent and depth at receiver on Arkansas’ roster as at any position on offense and perhaps the whole team, although I might give the Hogs’ defensive backs the edge in overall talent and depth.

It would have hurt the Hogs a lot more if their second best defensive or offensive lineman had decided to hit the bricks. No offense to defensive lineman Enoch Jackson, who has also entered the transfer portal, but his departure doesn’t equate to Woods’.

Jackson is hoping to take advantage of the transfer portal to find a program where his talent is a better fit, and he can earn playing time.

Woods had all that and more at Arkansas. I’m not really sure what he is searching for in transferring to another program.

The NFL is a bottom-line league. If you are good enough, you get the opportunity no matter what school you went to. However, franchises do consider everything about an athlete it is about to spend money on. A player’s decision-making and thought process is part of that.

The basketball portal

Eric Musselman photo:

On the basketball front, the departures of seniors-to-be Ethan Henderson and Desi Sills were softened a bit by head coach Eric Musselman adding graduate-transfers Au’Diese Toney, a 6-6 wing from Pittsburgh; Chris Lykes, a 5-7 point guard from Miami; and Stanley Umude, a 6-6 wing from South Dakota.

The departures of Henderson and Sills aren’t as troubling as Woods, although I enjoyed the hustle and intensity that each of them brought to the floor. I still remember how hard Sills went after a loose ball, diving on the hardwood, in the Elite Eight loss to Baylor. That’s the type of grit I love to see. Henderson also had some nice moments down the stretch for the Hogs this season.

However, Henderson didn’t play much in the first place, and Sills’ minutes went down because of a shoulder injury and also because freshman Devo Davis started to come into his own when the Hogs got on their mid-season hot streak.

I totally get why Henderson opted to transfer, and Sills’ choice likely was in his best interest, too. I just hate that Henderson jumped to Texas A&M, and Sills went to Auburn. Couldn’t they have found a landing spot outside the SEC? Maybe in the Big 12 or ACC?

Sills, a Jonesboro native, is good friends with Auburn forward Chris Moore, who hails from West Memphis. That might have had something to do with where Sills landed.

Sills fired a little social media heat at the Razorback program when the announcement came that he had joined the Tigers.

Musselman tweeted Wednesday, “Winning teams don’t get bogged down by the forces of selfishness and individual agendas.”

Some thought Musselman’s tweet was a reply to Sills, and while it might seem to fit the situation, I believe it was more of a general thought by Musselman rather than a targeted response to Sills. In the offseason, Musselman routinely tweets inspirational bits concerning the game and the competitive spirit it takes to succeed.

I may be wrong, but I think the NCAA will revise this transfer rule at some point, but then again maybe not. I might just have to get used to seeing former Razorbacks playing for other teams.

The big sea change, though, is coming in January when NCAA athletes will be able to profit from the use of their name and likeness.

Obviously this is an outstanding bit of legislation for the student-athlete, but it is going to create a whole new dynamic within teams and likely a mess of trouble for coaches and administrators.

Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek made a wise move to get ahead of this process by hiring Terry Prentice as the senior associate athletic director for athlete brand development and inclusive excellence.

Prentice’s new role is going to be hugely important going forward in keeping players, their coaches, and ultimately Razorback ticket buyers happy.