ESPN's Jay Bilas speaks during ESPN's 'College GameDay' broadcast ESPN’s Jay Bilas speaks during ESPN’s ‘College GameDay’ broadcast ahead of No. 4 Tennessee’s basketball game against No. 10 Texas at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn., on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023. Kns Ut Basketball College Gameday

Acclaimed ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas believes that the transformative forces reshaping college football will inevitably impact college basketball, and early signs of this change are already visible.

On The Rich Eisen Show, Bilas argued that the transfer portal allows big-shot players from smaller conferences to shine. He cited Tennessee’s star player Dalton Knecht as an example. Bilas admits that he only noticed Knecht at Northern Colorado because he was scouting an NBA prospect on the opposing team.

Knecht since transferred to Tennessee, where he became the conference’s best player and a projected lottery pick in the NBA Draft. And with that, Bilas emphasizes that without the transfer portal, Knecht’s talent might have gone unnoticed due to playing in a smaller conference.

“There are a number of stories like that,” admitted Bilas, “where these players who are under-recruited out of high school, went to mid-major, and have transferred to major college teams — power five, power six teams — and they’re their leading scorers; they’re great players. And we’re seeing that more and more.

“In today’s landscape, you know you hear coaches at a mid-major level say, ‘Look, we invested all this in this player, and this player gets really good, and then he leaves.’ Well, isn’t that what coaches do at the mid-major level? Of course, they do, and they should. Why should a player be relegated to a certain level based on where he was projected out of high school? So, that’s helped. And you’ve seen major conference players that didn’t play as much go down to the mid-major level, and they’re doing well.”

Though coaches may lament “disloyalty” and “transactionalism” in the transfer portal era, Bilas argues it ultimately benefits players. He points out the inherent contradiction in coaches complaining about player movement, considering the pre-portal landscape wasn’t exactly static. “If they want guaranteed relationships,” Bilas quipped, “maybe they should coach high school.”

“It’s business, and the players are participating in the business now,” Bilas added. “And I think it’s working out just fine.”

During their discussion, Eisen pointed out the recent trend of college coaches like Chip Kelly (UCLA to Ohio State OC) and Jeff Hafley (Boston College HC to Green Bay Packers DC) jumping to the pros. He asked Bilas if similar sentiments are circulating among college basketball coaches, suggesting the NBA might be perceived as a less demanding career path.

“You’re hearing it as an excuse,” responded Bilas. “My thing is, hey, if you wanna leave your job, go ahead. If players getting paid is so difficult to wrap your head around, then go. I mean, nothing’s stopping you; go ahead.”

Bilas offered that there’s a simple solution to the issue at hand before saying that the NCAA and member institutions don’t want to do it.

“The solution is: sign the players to contracts,” he said. “They’re employees, and you can sign them to a contract and put a buyout in it if you want — just like coaches. I mean, the Boston College coach left to go to the NFL. First of all, he had NFL ties before that; he was in the NFL before he went to Boston College. But then you saw someone leave the NFL to go to Boston College (Bill O’Brien), so what does that say? This, to me, is — and I love all these coaches — but it’s just more coach complaining. They’re making a ton of money; things have changed; adjust to it. And it’s not that big of a deal.

“But if the NCAA wants to fix it, they can fix it tomorrow. All they have to do is take off all restrictions for schools paying their athletes, and they would sign them to contracts, just like they do coaches, administrators, and all that. It’s really not that difficult, but we’re trying to walk the line of maintaining amateurism — which is dead — and we’re complaining about NIL; it’s not what we thought it was going to be. What did they think was going to happen? I knew this was gonna happen…

“The schools want to pay the players. They want to have the best players. And they’re gonna do what it takes to get them. And they’re going to compete in the marketplace to do it. And once players are allowed to be paid by this unilateral wage restriction that the NCAA is using, which is violative of federal antitrust law, things will normalize. And we won’t have to worry about the transfer portal…it won’t be a problem anymore, just like they don’t worry about coaches transferring from one school to another. They pay their buyout; it’s orderly. And everybody knows what the market is. It’s just not that big of a deal.”

[The Rich Eisen Show]

About Sam Neumann

Since the beginning of 2023, Sam has been a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. A 2021 graduate of Temple University, Sam is a Charlotte native, who currently calls Greenville, South Carolina his home. He also has a love/hate relationship with the New York Mets and Jets.