As the head coach of a college football team, Nevada’s Jay Norvell understands his team is prone to losing players at the bottom of its roster, guys disgruntled over a lack of playing time.
He isn’t, however, comfortable losing players from the top of his roster, a development that has played out this week as star receiver McLane Mannix announced Sunday he’s leaving Nevada and stud safety Nephi Sewell plans on departing Reno, too. They were arguably the best offensive and defensive players returning for the Wolf Pack next season, but both will be at another school in 2019, likely a Power 5 program.
And Norvell thinks the new transfer process is one big reasons why. No longer do players have to get permission for their current school to hit the transfer market. All they must do is request to add their name to a transfer module – that’s done through the school’s compliance office – and they become free agents.
“They never really thought through this rule,” Norvell told NSN. “My whole thing is being at a mid-major like we are, we have the potential to lose players at the bottom of our roster. Maybe they’re not playing, they’re disgruntled, coaches are getting on them, they’re not happy. We’re going to lose those kinds of players. But now we have the potential to lose players at the top of our roster and we almost get penalized for doing a good job.
“Because we have a good staff and we do a good job of identifying talent that’s Pac-12 talent, that’s Power 5 talent and then we develop them to be good players, we get penalized for doing a good job. That’s something the coaches association and the presidents have to address. It can have a really bad effect on college football and especially mid-majors because we don’t want to be a minor-league team for the Power 5 schools where we go recruit kids and bring them here and they play for a couple of years and they’re all-league players and then they leave. That’s the possibility for all mid-majors at this point with this new rule.”
Norvell said he had multiple conversations with Mannix and his family and Sewell and his family. Mannix said in his social media post Sunday he was leaving Nevada because of “personal family matters." He told NSN on Monday it was too early for him to discuss his decision. Sewell told Norvell he wanted to be closer to home, according to the coach.
“I have a good relationship with both of those kids and I have good relationship with their families,” Norvell said. “They have to make decisions based on what’s best for them and I can’t really speak for them. They have to speak for themselves. I can tell you what they told me and everybody can kind of make their own decisions from that. What I was told by McLane is that he had family problems and it was difficult for his family to travel and see him play. What I was told by Nephi is that he’s homesick and that he wants to be closer to his family.”
Norvell said every college player thinks about transferring at some point in their career but the new transfer module has made that move easier. If a player transfers from one FBS school to another, he must still sit out a season under NCAA transfer rules, although he can use a redshirt year and not lose a season of eligibility. Since Mannix and Sewell both played as true freshmen, they still have their redshirt year.
Not citing his players’ recent decisions to transfer, Norvell expressed concern over potential tampering from Power 5 schools looking to add Group of 5 standouts to their roster. Norvell spent most of his coaching career at that Power 5 level, in addition to a stint in the NFL, where tampering penalties are strong.
“I coached in the NFL for six years and they had stiff penalties for teams tampering and talking to other talent on teams,” Norvell said. “If I’m coaching the Raiders, I can’t call a guy from the Rams and say, ‘Hey, we need a safety.’ It’s tampering and they get penalized with draft picks and everything else. In college football, they make these rules but the NCAA doesn’t have the staff to enforce tampering in college football. If an Oregon coach is talking to some dad wanting one of our kids to transfer, there’s no system in place to enforce that. I think it’s going to be more prevalent now.
“There’s no penalty in college football right now for tampering, and that where it’s going to be a problem. Life happens. Kids have bad days, they have parents who get sick, their girlfriend breaks up with them. There are all kinds of different things that will happen to kids and any one of them can set a kid off and make him want to transfer. When kids are young and immature, they think something like that will make their problems go away but the problems don’t go away if you pick up and go to another school.”
Norvell is confident his program will continue to recruit and develop high-level players, but added “we’re living in interesting times” when it comes to new NCAA rules, which include an early signing period as well as a new redshirt rule that allows players to appear in four games without burning a year of eligibility. Norvell is in favor of both of those rule changes but said the transfer module is an issue.
“The kids used to have to come to the coach and sit down and talk about it before they made any kind of decision like that,” Norvell said. “That’s just not the case anymore. They can go to compliance and say they want to transfer and they don’t have to talk it through, and it doesn’t make any sense.”
When the rule change took place in October, Nicholas Clark, a former Coastal Carolina football player who serves on the Division I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee on the Council, said the move would promote fairness and was in the best interests of college athletes.
“This creates a safe place for student-athletes to have a conversation with their coaches and makes the whole process more transparent,” Clark told NCAA.com. “This will clean the process up and give more influence and flexibility to the student-athlete.”
Neither Mannix or Sewell will play in the Wolf Pack’s bowl game, and Norvell pointed out the trend of players skipping bowls to prepare for the NFL draft and avoid potentially serious injuries that could hurt their draft stock. Norvell, a defensive back at Iowa in the 1980s, said he doesn't understand those decisions, adding he came from a different generation.
“I’m old school,” Norvell said. “When you start your season with your team, you should finish your season with your team. I just think that’s the way you should do it once you make a commitment to a season. I think it sends the wrong message by having this rule because what the NCAA and presidents are basically saying is it’s OK that when things aren’t going your way or you want to enhance your own stock you can bail out on your team.”
Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.