Skip to main content

With major changes coming, AFCA executive director Todd Berry warns of unintended consequences

For the record, the American Football Coaches Association is not against the coming changes in regards to the one-time transfer rule and name, image and likeness legislation. It just thinks those two changes have the potential to fundamentally and forever alter college football as we know it.

"Coaches aren't necessarily against name, image and likeness," AFCA executive director Todd Berry said in his State of the Profession press conference on Tuesday. "We were all student-athletes, we remember what it was like, we recognize there needs to be some significant changes to the recruiting structure and what student-athletes opportunities are. We're not against that. The problem we have is that the regulations and restrictions we have that provide for this protective scholastic model that can get you a degree is significant."

The NCAA was originally scheduled this week to formally approve bylaws that would grant college athletes the ability to profit off their name, image and likeness, but that vote has now been postponed indefinitely. The NCAA has asked for the help of the federal government in establishing a federal law that would supersede the numerous state laws that have popped up over the past couple years, but that entire process is now tabled as Washington processes changes in leadership in the White House and Congress. "There's no clarity," Berry said.

But changes are coming, no matter whether the College Sports, Inc., has its ducks in a row or scattered across the floor. Florida's state law goes into effect July 1, which Berry mentioned as something of a hard deadline to get something figured out.

Berry said the AFCA isn't moving to prevent their players for earning money beyond their scholarships, but to protect them from a dynamic they may not understand.

"The only thing you have to do is trace ourselves back to the '70s and '80s," he said. "While it wasn't legal, many of the things that are being proposed would then be legalized. This is not a crystal ball or a hypothetical, we already realize where some of the problems are going to lie. That's our concern."

Concerns over NIL also dovetail with the AFCA's concern over coming legislation that will grant all athletes a one-time waiver to transfer and play immediately. This, Berry stressed, was not because coaches are necessarily against players leaving to improve their situation elsewhere -- the AFCA was uniformly behind the graduate transfer rule, Berry said -- but because those safeguards existed for a reason.

"The rule was put into place to keep programs from tampering with other programs, to keep student-athletes in their environment," he said. "If you look at every NCAA data point that they've collected for years now suggest that, regardless of the sport, regardless of their age, their gender, the GPA, when they transfer they lower their chances of graduating. That's what we're all about."

So, no, Berry isn't against NIL deals and he's not against the one-time transfer rule. He simply envisions an apocalyptic future where coaches don't even bother recruiting high school players, instead restocking their roster exclusively via the transfer market. On the flip side, Berry is bracing for the possibility of a team's entire defensive line hits the portal because their agents secured better NIL deals elsewhere.

Beyond that, Berry sees the fabric of the sport changing. He fears these well-intentioned changes could chase good coaches out of the profession, if the job becomes more about arranging endorsement deals for recruits and scouting players off competitors' rosters than coaching ball. "(Coaches have) suggested, 'This is not what I signed up for. I didn't sign up for semi-pro ball and working 52 weeks out of the year.' I don't have to do this. I can retire or go to another level. That's something I'm very concerned about that are leaving because it becomes untenable," he said.

At the same time, these changes didn't pop up out of nowhere.

The one-time transfer rule is coming because the NCAA originally tried a well-intention rule offering waivers to players who transferred home to care for a sick relative or other legitimate reasons, but the rule quickly became worthless when people figured out how to game the system. "The accusations that were undocumented that no one can prove but no university wanted to resist it because of the attention that it would bring," he said. "So quite honestly third parties, student-athletes and even some of our coaches learned exactly what they needed to say to get a waiver."

And NIL rules were created because, to put it frankly, college football is a professional enterprise for everyone but the players and people got tired of it. Coaches earn millions thanks to the market (and, for the record, they deserve every penny) yet athletes are prevented from participating in that same market.

Berry's argument there is based off the idea that players choose schools for purely academic reasons while coaches are professionals making professional choices. "I wasn't choosing the school because I loved the school, I was choosing the school because they offered me employment," he said, referencing his own three-decade career in coaching. "I do think there's a difference between choosing a school because you want to get a degree from that university or they have the major that you want that's going to fill the rest of your life (as opposed to) the employee status that the coach is under."

Now as the AFCA's executive director, Berry finds himself at the nexus of well-intentioned rules and unintended consequences, a situation that finds him joining the NCAA contingent asking Congress for help. In fact, he even suggested Congress should establish penalties for parties found in violation of the NCAA's transfer rules. "We'd like to see the federal government come out with significant penalties in relation to tampering," he said. "Make sure that if there are things third-parties, student-athletes or coaches have done that are illegal based off trade and commerce, they need to be held accountable for that."

College football is changing. Berry doesn't want to stop the changes -- truly, no one can -- but to simply guide them so that college football doesn't turn into something he and the coaching profession can no longer recognize.

"Guys got into this because they cherished the experience they had in college, they'd like to see their student-athletes have the same opportunities," Berry said.

Other news:

-- The AFCA would be in favor of docking teams of a timeout when players are found to have intentionally faked injuries to slow down opposing offenses. The AFCA's ethics committee will ask the NCAA competition committee to draw up legislation, Berry said. We can all agree faking injuries is a nuisance to the game, but the devil will live in the details here -- how can a committee establish a working definition for the faking of an injury, and how can referees be expected to fairly adjudicate this in real time? And if the rule goes too far, will the NCAA tacitly encourage players to play through injury?

-- As players have been successfully taught to avoid the head and neck area in blocking and tackling, Berry said the AFCA is concerned by the rise of lower-leg injuries they're seeing from cut blocks and low tackling. Berry said the NCAA could establish something akin to a strike zone moving forward.

-- The AFCA is behind the idea of establishing something the equivalent of a red card/yellow card system for targeting fouls.

-- The AFCA discussed further reducing overtimes. One suggestion, Berry said, would be to start the "Must go for two" period in the second overtime and move to a 2-point shootout beginning in the third frame. Berry said players are playing up to 130 snaps in games that stretch three overtimes and beyond, and the AFCA would like to stop that. I asked about moving the ball backward from the 25-yard line and was told coaches don't want to see overtime games turn into field goal kicking contests.

-- Coaches are in favor of the pandemic-induced changes to recruiting, particularly moving much of it to the virtual world. Berry said coaches would be in favor of opening up phone calls to recruits beginning in January of their junior year. Coaches like being able to FaceTime recruits, and recruits like being able to FaceTime coaches -- or not FaceTime coaches. "It would give the player and parents the opportunity to refuse a call if they want to. That's certainly more difficult if you're in person," Berry said.

-- Coaches are "overwhelmingly" in support of an expanded College Football Playoff, Berry said.