For the first time in three years, the University of Minnesota is hosting its coaching caravan after the 2020 and 21 editions were wiped out due to the pandemic. On Monday night, the Gophers made the first of four caravan stops running through the end of June, this one at the university’s Landscape Arboretum in Chaska, giving fans a chance to meet and greet a handful of coaches.
Against a backdrop of flora and fauna, soccer’s PJ Fleck, men’s basketball’s Ben Johnson, volleyball’s Hugh McCutcheon and soccer’s Erin Chastain, along with athletic director Mark Coyle, took to the podium to extol the virtues of their programs.
Since the last caravan in 2019, college sports has undergone monumental change with the continued impact of the NCAA’s transfer portal and newfound freedom from payments to athletes for their name, image and likeness (NIL) reverberating throughout the country.
On Monday afternoon, the NCAA Division I board of directors released new NIL guidelines aimed at inappropriate benefits through recruiting. The college athletics governing body reiterated that boosters are not permitted to provide direct assistance to student-athletes and that “collectives” that line up NIL payments are considered boosters. With reports of teams poaching other player programs and boosters dedicating a specific amount to players earning starting jobs, the NCAA is hoping to clean things up.
It remains to be seen how well the NCAA will be able to enforce the guidelines and how that enforcement stands up to legal challenges.
“College football and college athletics are changing dramatically,” Fleck told the trailer rally. “There’s no way to put the genie back in the bottle.”
Rather, Fleck sees a coach’s job extending to managing the transfer portal and dealing with NIL implications, which under NCAA rules coaches and sports officials cannot organize. .
“You have to realize that those two things were created for the student-athlete,” Fleck added. “It’s for the benefit of student-athletes. I’m for this, Hugh is for this, Ben is for this, Erin is for this.”
Since the end of the 2021 regular season, Fleck has seen 18 Gophers enter the transfer portal, including running backs Ky Thomas and Mar’Keise Irving. Seven players have moved to Minnesota, including guard Chuck Filiaga (Michigan), defensive end Lorenza Surgers (Vanderbilt) and cornerback Beanie Bishop (Western Kentucky) among those playing key roles in spring training.
“It’s part of the deal. Get used to it,” Fleck said. “Transfer doesn’t mean bad. We took advantage of it, but we also had to give some to do it. These days kids don’t want to sit behind someone. It’s a way of life .”
Johnson learned the realities of the transfer portal last season, his first as Gophers coach. Ten players transferred from the Gophers men’s basketball team. For the coming season, Johnson makes three transfers.
“It’s incredibly better [this year]”, Johnson said. “Not only to know who you have on your list, but also for the staff. … You can really focus on what we’re going to accomplish this summer.”
Fleck sees adaptability as a key to moving forward with the changing landscape.
“It’s incredibly difficult to navigate because there aren’t many rules,” he said. “It’s been said very clearly. We’ll just continue to do it our way. You’re ready to adapt, but you’re not ready to change who you are as a person and what you believe in to build a program.”
Johnson added: “It’s gotten more interesting, for sure. It’ll be nice to have a year under our belt and we can all figure out what worked, what didn’t. … You just try to roll with the blows.”