James Franklin took a deep breath, looked ahead and rattled off a rant that spanned six minutes and 984 words.
For the first time since the Citrus Bowl, Penn State’s head coach met with reporters. The occasion? National Signing Day. But the first question to Franklin on Wednesday had nothing to do with the 2019 class. It was about the transfer portal and how Penn State’s offseason has been defined by its 12 reported transfers.
“It’s changed. College athletics has changed. College football has changed,” Franklin said, just starting a lengthy answer on the topic that has dominated the sport’s 24/7 news cycle. “For me, ultimately, I want our guys to be able to chase their dreams and be happy and be successful. And we’re unbelievably supportive of that. For me, my concern isn’t really about Penn State. I’m worried about college football. I’m worried about what we’re teaching young people.”
Some Penn State exits were due to family issues or facilitated by NCAA rules. Maryland native Dae’Lun Darien, for example, left for Delaware to be closer to his father, who is experiencing an illness. Torrence Brown — a medical retiree — couldn’t return to the field for Penn State even if he wanted to.
But Alex Gellerstedt was supposed to compete for Ryan Bates’ vacated starting job at right tackle. WR Juwan Johnson could have come back to correct a woeful 2018 season. Zech McPhearson would have played at least a spot role at cornerback, and Jarvis Miller was a well-respected veteran with special teams contributions ahead.
The Nittany Lions lost more players than their Big Ten counterparts. As of late January, Ohio State lost three players to the transfer portal. Iowa saw four players leave, while Michigan State had two walk away from East Lansing.
Still, Franklin reiterated that he isn’t concerned about Penn State’s position moving forward, especially after signing 23 players to the Nittany Lions’ 2019 class. Instead, Franklin went big picture when discussing what challenges the growing trend of transfers presents to the game he’s been a part of for nearly 30 years.
Franklin said the NCAA “over-corrected” the problem of coaches blocking players from transferring to certain schools. By doing so, it created a “free agency.” He compared football’s current conundrum to college basketball’s implementation of the one-and-done rule — and how some schools failed to embrace the change.
“And those programs struggled. They didn’t evolve. They did not grow. They did not adapt to the new environment,” Franklin said. “And then over time, some of those programs decided they were going to embrace the new model and grow and move with it. And that’s what we’re going to do.
“I get it. It can be frustrating. It can be confusing. I get all those types of things. But we’re going to embrace the new model. We’re going to learn to work within it. And it’s really the sign of the times in college athletics.”
Franklin continued, saying when he looked at the transfer portal last week, there were 1,789 players in it. Now, the Nittany Lions, like every other program in college football, are entertaining adding a graduate transfer or two. Virginia Tech wide receiver Eric Kumah (42 catches, 559 yards, seven TDs in 2018) is scheduled to visit Happy Valley in April. Penn State assistants Ja’Juan Seider and Gerad Parker recently met with Miami wideout Lawrence Cager, per 247 Sports.
So, as Franklin said, the Nittany Lions aren’t going to ignore the transfer portal and hope it goes away. As players leave, they have to be replaced.
But the coach said he worries that all 1,789 of those players will find the right landing spot. He worries over who is advising the athletes and where their information is coming from. He worries about the recruits who commit to schools and say they’ll be there for three to five years, their minds already looking ahead to the NFL. He is worried about the state of college football.
“I’m just a big believer that this model has worked for a very long time. And it’s not perfect. It really isn’t,” Franklin said, starting to wind down. “There’s so much good that comes from (college football). And I just worry that the direction this is going, that at some point the model is going to break. And I’m concerned about that.
“I want what’s best for the players. I want what’s best for colleges and universities. I want what’s best for our game.”