ARLINGTON, Texas – When Trent Dilfer meets with Derrick Coles, the associate director of NIL development for the NCAA, Wednesday in Birmingham, Ala., the first-year UAB football coach will pitch his solution to the alleged practice of schools using big money promises to coerce players elsewhere to jump into the transfer portal.
“There has got to be a mechanism in place,” Dilfer told On3, “where the player personnel director of said school will never work in college football again if he coerces somebody from another team [into the portal with NIL promises] and it is proven … We have evidence.”
The comments by Dilfer – never a shrinking violet – provide a window into the problem programs outside traditionally labeled Power Five conferences confront. American Athletic Conference coaches say Power Five programs, supercharged by deep-pocketed donors, are using AAC teams as a farm system, coercing their players into the portal by dangling promises of a bigger NIL payday.
With a cache of players’ texts, direct messages and WhatsApp correspondence, Dilfer said he has proof. He said he won’t call out any school publicly but he will “call them individually. I have and will continue to.” While he said he loves the portal and NIL, his issue lies squarely in alleged coercion tactics.
“Coercing players into the portal who had no desire to go into the portal,” Dilfer said when talking about his concerns. “They are in my office in tears. ‘I don’t want to leave, but my dad is being told by the collective or by my high school coach, or by the frickin’ player director at Power Five school, that I can make way more money with them than with [UAB].’ He’s crying. He doesn’t want to leave. It is tampering.”
AAC coaches say NIL pay-for-play is ‘real’
“The rule was made for good intentions,” Traylor said. “Adults got in the way. And pay-for-play became real.”
Memphis coach Ryan Silverfield told On3 he endorses NIL and sees myriad benefits for student-athletes. Among his issues are unintended consequences, such as the portal being used for athletes “chasing money.”
“You hear about this all the time – guys go in the portal and already have three destinations picked out and the money they are asking [for],” Silverfield said. “I don’t know if that is what we all wanted.”
“Absolutely,” he said. “I wonder how many of these other universities are even paying attention to those [NCAA] rules in general.”
On Wednesday, the NCAA is concluding two days of NIL meetings focused on drafting a new policy to govern the ever-evolving NIL space. No announcement of a new policy will be made today, however.
Whether it is through revenue sharing or a student-athlete employee model, Silverfield believes college athletics need to at least explore every possible avenue to improve college football. Because there is no more impactful issue currently than NIL, he said – “it’s become the forefront of what we do in the offseason.”
‘They are scared of being blackballed’
Dilfer stressed that he takes no issue with his athletes choosing on their own accord to enter the portal in large part to reap financial rewards. In fact, he said when one of his starters signed to play elsewhere, he was the one in the office saying, “Hell, yeah. You’re an idiot if you don’t do this. If I’m truly athlete-centric, high-five. We hugged as he went out the door.”
Other times, he said, he will tell his athletes, “If you play well, you’re either going to the NFL or the SEC.” And he will lay out what UAB could pay the player in an NIL deal and what other school collectives can offer.
“Problem is, a lot of these head coaches at these high [ambitious] collective schools don’t even know what’s happening,” he said. “Their people are out doing this and they [coaches] are at a donor event in Boca [Raton, Fla.], or at their car dealership or in their office planning out summer training camp schedules. Yet behind the scenes, their people are actively tampering with Group of Five rosters.”
Dilfer and the NCAA’s Coles connected at last month’s INFLCR NIL Summit in Atlanta and decided to meet to discuss issues further. (Dilfer’s other issue is the timeframe for the portal window; he endorses just one window in the summer.)
Dilfer said other head coaches at UAB’s level are afraid to publicly criticize alleged nefarious recruiting practices by P5 coaches – or their donors – because they aspire to one day coach at that level.
“They are afraid of calling out the Power Five coach,” he said. “Many of them would leave their existing job to take a coordinator job at the P5 because they’d make more money. So, they are scared of being blackballed. I don’t care about being blackballed.”
Dilfer says he has plenty of money. He wants to elevate UAB football to rarefied heights never before seen. Then he wants to go be a full-time grandfather. Right now, he said he just wants to be proactive and protect his players.
“I actually kind of like the fact that they’re scared that I might say the thing that has never been said – because I don’t give a shit,” Dilfer said. “I don’t care what they think, and I almost feel I’m doing it on everybody’s behalf.”