For the first time in three years, the University of Minnesota is holding a caravan of coaches after the 2020 and 21 editions were wiped out by the pandemic. On Monday night, the Gophers made the first of four stops for the caravan that ran through late June, this one at the university’s landscape Arboretum in Chaska, giving fans a chance to meet and greet a handful of coaches.
Amid a backdrop of flora and fauna, soccer player PJ Fleck, men’s basketball player Ben Johnson, volleyball player Hugh McCutcheon, soccer player Erin Chastain along with sporting director Mark Coyle took to the podium to glorify the merits of their programs.
Since the last caravan in 2019, college sports have undergone massive changes with the ongoing impact of the NCAA transfer portal and the newfound freedom to pay athletes for their name, image and likeness (NIL) resonance across the country.
On Monday afternoon, the NCAA’s Division I Board of Directors issued new NIL guidelines aimed at improper benefits through employment. The College Athletics Administrative Board has reiterated that boosters are not allowed to provide direct assistance to student-athletes and that “groups” that line up payments of none are considered boosters. With reports that teams are hunting other programs for players and boosters that allocate a set amount to players who earn entry-level jobs, the NCAA is hoping to clean things up.
To what extent the NCAA will be able to enforce the Guidelines and how this enforcement addresses legal challenges remains to be seen.
“College football and university athletics are changing radically,” Flick said in front of the convoy gathering. “There is no way to put the genie back in the bottle.”
Instead, Flick sees the coach’s job as expanding to manage the transfer gate and deal with the implications of not having an NIL, which under NCAA rules, coaches and athletic officials cannot arrange.
“You have to realize that these two things were created for the student-athlete,” Flick added. “For student athletes. I’m for that, Hugh for that, Ben for that, Erin for that.”
Since the end of the 2021 regular season, Flick has seen 18 gophers enter the transfer gate, including outstanding linebackers Key Thomas and Marquis Irving. Seven players have moved to Minnesota, with guard Chuck Villaga (Michigan), defensive end Lorenza Surgers (Vanderbilt) and quarterback Benny Bishop (Western Kentucky) among those playing key roles during spring training.
“That’s part of the deal,” Flick said. “You get used to it.” “Conversion doesn’t mean it’s bad. We took advantage of it, but we also had to give some to do it. These days, kids aren’t willing to sit behind someone. It’s a way of life.”
Johnson discovered the facts of the transfer portal last season, for the first time as coach of Gopher. Ten players from the men’s basketball team have been transferred from the Joffers team. For the next season, Johnson brought three transfers.
“It feels incredibly better [this year]Johnson said. “It’s not just to see who you have on your list, also the staff. … you can really focus on what we’re going to accomplish this summer.”
Flick sees adaptability as the key to moving forward in a changing landscape.
“It’s very difficult to navigate because there are not a lot of rules for that,” he said. “It was stated very clearly. We will continue to do it our way. You are willing to adapt, but not willing to change who you are as a person and what you believe in to build a program.”
Johnson added, “It just gets more interesting, that’s for sure. It’d be nice to have a year under the belt and we can all see what worked, what didn’t… You’re just trying to punch through the punches.”