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Anchor Drop, May 6, 2023: Let’s Talk About Deion Sanders

Why not? Everybody else is.

NCAA Football: Colorado Spring Game Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning.

Optional Musical Accompaniment

All right, this is a Vanderbilt sports blog first and foremost, but since Vanderbilt competes in the NCAA sometimes we have to pay attention to the broader college sports landscape, and sometimes I see something that... let’s just say makes me want to go off on a long rant about something, and today that something is Deion Sanders.

Deion Sanders took over as the new head coach at Colorado a few months ago, where the last coach, one Karl Dorrell (hey, look! A Vanderbilt connection, even if it’s one we’d prefer not to remember!), got fired in the midst of a 1-11 season. Surprisingly, Deion took over a team that had won one game all season and determined that a lot of the players on said team were not good enough to play at this level of college football. He basically announced that a lot of them weren’t going to be on the team this season, and shockingly, something like 60 players on Colorado’s team last season have entered the transfer portal.

In some ways, I actually find this kind of refreshing, because it’s shedding light on what is actually a pretty common practice in college sports at all levels. It’s just not usually done in front of cameras. Look, we all knew that at the end of the 2017-18 basketball season, Bryce Drew’s team was (a) already at the scholarship limit for the coming season between the players on the team who had eligibility remaining and the ones who had signed in November and (b) was actively pursuing Romeo Langford. And magically, a couple of players transferred. Hell, Christian D’Andrea pretty much connected the dots here. (Hilariously, one of the two players later got contacted by Bryce Drew when he entered the transfer portal a second time, when Drew was now at Grand Canyon and I guess decided that a guy who couldn’t play for him at Vanderbilt could at Grand Canyon. At which point his grandfather got on Twitter and said, in so many words, “really, Bryce?”)

In other ways, of course, this is extremely gross. But I also can’t draw any moral distinction between what Deion is doing and what Hugh Freeze did when he took the Auburn job, or what Lane Kiffin does annually at Ole Miss. Which is why it’s been so weird to see a lot of the usual suspects in college football media absolutely lose their shit over Colorado doing, on a very extreme scale and in a very public way, what pretty much every college football program in America does. We all know this goes on and yet it commonly gets swept under the rug and people pretend like benchwarmers hitting the transfer portal is about Gen Z not being patient enough to wait their turn.

On the other hand, this kind of thing, well, sets me off in the way that gets you a surprise 1000-word Anchor Drop rant.

Player’s rights? Huh?

Look, I like Matt, but there’s a really big problem here and that problem is which player’s rights are we talking about here? Because when there’s a hard cap on the number of players that a school can have on a football scholarship, well, not everybody can have a football scholarship. Why does one player have a right to a football scholarship over a different player? Why did I have to maintain a 3.5 GPA to keep the academic scholarship that I had in undergrad?

And, look, this argument would hold a lot more sway in the old days when getting your college tuition paid for was about all that the school could offer under the rules. But that’s not the world that we live in. We live in the world where college athletes can enter the transfer portal for the purpose of seeking out better “name, image, and likeness” deals (read: bigger paychecks) and be immediately eligible to play at their new school, and their former school can’t even stop them from transferring to a conference rival. The flipside to that is that if athletes are going to be able to ditch their school because they don’t think the NIL money is good enough, the school is going to ditch the athlete if the coach doesn’t think the athlete is good enough. Sure, the latter has always been the case, but it’s a bit less of a concern when it’s a two-way street. (In fact, I have a very strong suspicion that a big reason why the transfer portal has swelled in the last couple of years has been because some coaches have gotten much, much more aggressive about running players off, but that’s a topic for another day.)

But this also dances around the point that thanks to NCAA rules changes, the players who got run off could have elected to stay at Colorado and keep their scholarship. They wouldn’t be playing football any more, but if earning a degree from the University of Colorado specifically was that big of a deal, they could have done it. This was a loophole that Lincoln Riley took advantage of last year when he became the head coach at USC, and it didn’t draw nearly the level of scrutiny because (a) it was something like ten guys instead of sixty, (b) he did it in the accepted way (quietly), and (c) pretty much everybody agreed that they weren’t good enough to play at USC.

As to point (c), again, Karl Dorrell was the previous coach at Colorado. What did you expect the roster to look like?

Weirdly, I’m sort of rooting for Deion here, not because I don’t think that this is gross but because it’s shedding light on a common practice in college sports that a lot of people probably wouldn’t like if they knew how common it was. Hell, maybe it will end up de-glorifying the transfer portal and building a team that way. Sometimes, the best way to effect change is to show everyone the ugly reality.

More broadly, though, and this is where I’ve long disagreed with a lot of the people who wrote about college football for the main SB Nation site (you know, back when SB Nation covered college football) — if we’re going to stick with the student-athlete model, it can’t be a model where the student-athlete is a student when it’s convenient and an athlete when it’s convenient. You can’t pooh-pooh graduation rates falling because players’ credits don’t transfer when they switch schools and then turn around and insist that players can’t be cut for performance reasons because the schools are schools first and foremost. You can’t applaud players for making a business decision to seek a bigger NIL deal and also scorn schools for making business decisions about the guys at the end of the bench. You especially can’t treat the players as students when it comes to the sports part and treat them as athletes when it comes to the school part.

Eventually, if you hang around Anchor of Gold long enough, you become Import, I guess.

Briefly, Vanderbilt sports, the reason you read this blog: Hunter Owen shut down Alabama last night for a 4-1 win, setting up a rubber match today at 2:00 PM CT on the SEC Network+, and women’s tennis won its opener at the Columbus Regional 4-0 over ETSU, advancing to play Ohio State today at 3:00 PM CT.

Sports on TV

All times Central. SEC baseball schedule here.

  • 12:00 PM: PGA Tour: Wells Fargo Championship, Third Round (Golf Channel)
  • 1:00 PM: MLB: Tigers at Cardinals (MLB Network)
  • 1:20 PM: MLB: Marlins at Cubs (ESPN+)
  • 2:00 PM: PGA Tour: Wells Fargo Championship, Third Round (CBS)
  • 2:30 PM: NBA: Knicks at Heat, Game 3 (ABC)
  • 4:00 PM: MLB: Yankees at Rays (MLB Network)
  • 6:00 PM: NHL: Oilers at Golden Knights, Game 2 (TNT)
  • 6:15 PM: MLB: Orioles at Braves or Red Sox at Phillies (FOX)
  • 7:30 PM: NBA: Warriors at Lakers, Game 3 (ABC)
  • 9:00 PM: MLB: Astros at Mariners or Dodgers at Padres (MLB Network)


SEC Baseball: Tennessee 12, Georgia 3 ... Kentucky 7, South Carolina 3 ... Missouri 13, Ole Miss 3 ... Florida 6, Texas A&M 5 ... LSU 3, Auburn 0 ... Arkansas 6, Mississippi State 2.

MLB: Cubs 4, Marlins 1 ... Blue Jays 4, Pirates 0 ... White Sox 5, Reds 4 ... Rays 5, Yankees 4 ... Red Sox 5, Phillies 3 ... Mets 1, Rockies 0 ... Twins 2, Guardians 0 ... Orioles 9, Braves 4 ... A’s 12, Royals 8 ... Tigers 5, Cardinals 4 ... Angels 5, Rangers 4 ... Diamondbacks 3, Nationals 1 ... Padres 5, Dodgers 2 ... Astros 6, Mariners 4 ... Giants 6, Brewers 4.

NBA: Celtics 114, 76ers 102 (Celtics lead, 2-1) ... Suns 121, Nuggets 114 (Nuggets lead, 2-1.)

NHL: Hurricanes 6, Devils 1 (Hurricanes lead, 2-0.)