Transfer Portal Sends USC Football Into a New Dimension


“It’s like free agency,” said Taylor Mays, a former U.S.C. safety who played for six seasons in the N.F.L. and who is now listed as a student assistant at U.S.C., making him a rare holdover from Clay Helton’s staff. “It’s very N.F.L.-esque.”

There is one notable difference: no salary cap.

Winning big at U.S.C. has carried its own allure through the years. But when Reggie Bush was plied with cash and a house for his parents, Matt Leinart lived in a $3,800-per-month downtown penthouse apartment, and Joe McKnight tooled around in a local businessman’s Land Rover, eventually drawing the attention of N.C.A.A. investigators.


Now, with many pay restrictions on college athletes wiped away, Caleb Williams is cashing in out in the open. He is pitching sunglasses, headphones, bottled water, men’s grooming tools and memorabilia, and has hired a strategic marketing and communications firm to bring in business.

If the N.C.A.A. has thus far fumbled attempts to rein in pay-for-play operations, it has placed some restrictions on player movement, as it did last month when it announced that athletes could enter the portal only during set windows. This will prevent a future case like that of Jarret Doege, a quarterback at West Virginia who transferred to Western Kentucky this year, but then, when he was beaten out for the starting job, transferred again last month to Troy University, where he played Saturday in relief.


“So much I can’t say — and some things I won’t say,” David Shaw, in his 12th season as Stanford’s coach, said Saturday night when he was asked about U.S.C.’s high transfer count. “We’re in a new era right now. We’re giving a lot of opportunities to our student athletes. The way the transfer portal works right now can create large waves of people changing schools.”

“I don’t know if it’s a good thing,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s a bad thing. But it’s a different era.”

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