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Kirby Smart looks at larger landscape of college athletics outside football bubble

Palmber-Thombsby:Palmer Thombs05/17/24


Kirby Smart is one of the preeminent voices in college athletics, and what he says carries some weight. That’s why when he says leadership is strong enough to get things in order, folks should take a bit of a sigh of relief. According to the now ninth-year head coach, NIL and the ability to transfer is important, but it must be done in the right way so as to keep priorities straight in college athletics.

“We have good, strong leadership who can make tough decisions and see things from the players’ perspective, which I think is important,” Smart told Paul Finebaum in a recent interview, asked about how College Football aims to ‘get out of its screwed up state.’ “I don’t want to sit up here and belittle NIL. I think NIL in and of itself is a long time coming. The players deserve a piece of this, and we want that. But we also want them, and everybody, to understand, it’s okay to grind it out where you are, to fight through tough times. We have example after example at our place of people who didn’t start, they were frustrated, their third year they started and their fourth year they were a top three round draft pick. That’s a pretty good career. I think that’s good. Players can make money while they do that off of their name, image and likeness, that’s a good thing.”

It’s clear, Smart’s concern isn’t over the players getting paid. However, he wants to see players stick it out in their current situations rather than run from problems and transfer – especially multiple times. As he continued to say, it creates issues for the student-athletes academically and doesn’t help them learn important life lessons.

“An opportunity to leave twice within a year, I think we’re going to look back on that 10 years from now and say, the people that had multiple transfers are probably not going to be successful academically,” Smart said. “I think that’s going to be looked back on, and people are going to say, ‘Was it a good thing I left twice?’ Most of the kids we check in with that leave our place, they say they regretted it. Well, if you leave a place twice, what did you actually accomplish? That’s probably the toughest thing for me.”

MORE: Smart sounds off on 12-team Playoff era, potential changes in approach

Also lost in all the mess of NIL and the transfer portal is College Football’s importance for other sports. At most schools, football and men’s basketball generate the revenue that helps fund the rest of the athletic department. So, while the focus is on football, Smart also believes it’s important to remember non-revenue sports and the impact of decisions made on them.

“I think it does get lost in it because a lot of people don’t look at it that way. The amount of money that football brings in and revenue sports bring in, what people don’t realize is those same revenue sports carry most athletic departments and their other sports, their non-revenue sports,” Smart said. “We’re very fortunate that we have television partners that love the SEC and pay the SEC a lot of money for television, and finding a way to be able to support the other athletic programs as well as football players and basketball players who produce revenue, I think there’s a balance in there somewhere.”

As for Smart, he’s also ready to stop talking about the off-field issues, returning to the field this fall. It can’t come soon enough for him and his team that carries the expectations of many around the country.

“We’re looking forward at what this team is gonna do. How is this team going to play? Got a really tough schedule. I’m excited to get an opportunity to go out there and play,” Smart said. “I’m so tired of the talk about the NIL and the talk about the portal and all the complaining. Let’s go play football. Let’s get our team against their team and see where we stand. Let’s go play.”

Georgia, likely to begin its season at No. 1 in the polls, kicks off the 2024 campaign in Atlanta against ACC favorite Clemson on August 31st.

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