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Shatel: It's time for the NCAA to let athletes take control
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FIRST DOWNS AND SECOND GUESSES

Shatel: It's time for the NCAA to let athletes take control

Watch a time-lapse video as one of the practice courts for the NCAA volleyball tournament is installed in Omaha.

First downs and second guesses:

If I were in charge of college sports ... I wouldn’t be in charge.

It’s the players’ turn. Purists are nervous. But it’s not necessarily a bad thing. In some ways it’s overdue.

Take the NCAA’s new transfer rule, which may pass as soon as this week.

The new rule would allow athletes to leave without penalty of sitting out — perhaps multiple times.

A lot of people — most of them coaches or fans — already call the transfer portal the end of college sports.

I hear them. I don’t like it either.

But I also don't care for the double standard where coaches can break a contract and find another job without having to sit out a year. Also, coaches have been known to run off athletes when they are no longer desired.

The transfer portal is messy. It creates more work. It’s a second, parallel recruiting world for coaches.

But now I look at the transfer rule from a dad’s point of view.

College kids should have the freedom to leave. When you commit to a school, you have no clue what it will be like.

There are scary times. Lonely times. You find out it’s the wrong fit. It's not just athletes who go through that. But average students are allowed to leave.

As a dad, I would let my daughter leave in such a case. But I would insist she stay the entire first year. Wait it out. Be certain.

And she would get one move. No bouncing from school to school. The second school sticks.

That’s exactly how I would run the transfer rule: One move, no penalty, but you must stay the entire first year. Second move, penalty.

Kids make mistakes. But kids also need to learn there is no perfect school, no perfect job. Making things work is part of growing up.

And often times, that second year — or second semester — is so much better.

Of course, the parent’s perspective here is also part of the problem. One common reason why so many athletes pick up and leave is they were allowed to do it in high school or on their select teams.

By their parents, who are chasing winning or scholarships or both.

The transfer portal is a reflection of today’s world — a world created by the adults. The kids are just playing by the rules. And it’s their turn.

» Now, let’s take the conversation to Orlando, Florida.

At the UCF spring game, players wore their personal Twitter handles on the back of the jerseys.

Coach Gus Malzahn approved. Smart guy.

This is the wave of the future. Individual branding is coming to college sports. This will drive coaches and purists crazy.

But programs who do the best job supporting it will have an upper hand in recruiting.

Social media is one place where players will make revenue for their endorsements.

You know where else? Don’t be surprised if one day college players wear advertisements on their uniforms from companies who pay them for endorsements.

Like it? Heck no. But is that crazy? Think the NCAA can stop it?

We’ll see.

» Why Bowling?

Nebraska started its women’s bowling team in 1996-97. The Huskers won the very first NCAA title in 2004, have made the national tournament every year since and have won six national titles in all.

Bill Straub, the program’s first coach, was the coach of NU’s club team. He retired in 2019 and was succeeded by his assistant, Paul Klempa — who won his first NCAA title last weekend.

Talk about succeeding.

But why bowling? On Monday I called Bill Byrne, the former NU athletic director who started the program. Byrne’s answer: Bowling and women’s soccer were ways to meet Title IX proportionality requirements.

“We had a large number of walk-ons on our football team,” Byrne said. “The roster was upwards of 180.”

But, again, why bowling?

“You been out to the saloons in western Nebraska?” Byrne said. “It’s very popular out there. And we didn’t have pool.”

Byrne said he enjoyed being around the athletes and their parents, hanging around the bowling alleys during meets.

“I remember we had a woman on the roster from Alaska and she was unbelievable,” Byrne said. “She could pick up a split on two separate lanes at the same time.”

Byrne says he’s not surprised the program has won six national titles, adding, “If you can win in football, you should be able to win in bowling.”

Well, about that ... 

» Nebraska football coach Scott Frost took time to congratulate the bowling team on Monday at his post-practice media session. Now Frost needs to build a football team the bowling team can be proud of.

» Retirement is treating Alex Gordon well. The former Kansas City Royal makes his kids breakfast, attends their games, took them skiing and snowboarding.

And during a trip back to Lincoln over Easter, Gordon had a reunion with his favorite childhood meal: Valentino’s pizza.

But Gordon, known for his rigid healthy eating habits as a player, told Vahe Gregorian of the Kansas City Star he hasn’t dived into the junk food.

“Everybody thought I was going to go off the deep end as far as eating and not working out and stuff like that,” Gordon said.

“I’m still the same guy, but I’ll cheat every once in a while with food. Every once in a while I’ll dabble with the desserts.

“But I’m still pretty boring.”

Gordon says he’s going to take a year before deciding what to do next. Sounds like a good time to bring him back for an Alex Gordon Day at Haymarket Park.

» Count Will Bolt as a booster of Big Ten baseball. Just before Bolt was hired at NU in 2019, the Big Ten sent five teams to the NCAA tournament — and Michigan went to the CWS championship series.

Bolt, the native Texan and former Husker, won’t hesitate to pump up the Big Ten for at-large berths.

The question is, can he recruit his native state to play up north?

“I think you have to do your homework,” Bolt said. “My entire staff has recruited Texas a while now. The profile of the (Big Ten) has gotten better and better. You’re just not going to make a habit of signing 10 Texas kids a year. But you can get some through your ties there.”

» One more and I’m outta here: Postscript on my column last week on Barry Alvarez.

The great Brian Lahm, a former World-Herald editor in sports, is a good friend of Alvarez. Lahm emailed me last week to say Alvarez had read and liked the column.

Alvarez told Lahm he had received a note from Tom Osborne, who wrote, “John (Melton) and Bob (Devaney) would be proud."

“Brought a smile to my face,” Alvarez said.

Also, Alvarez said he would have met the transfer portal and NLI head on, adding “I would have found a way to gain an advantage.”

Now that would have been interesting.


Tom Shatel's favorite stories of 2020

The drama of Big Ten football. A September day without the Huskers. These are among Tom Shatel's favorite columns of the year.

Omaha World-Herald: Local Sports

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