San Diego State has enjoyed an unprecedented decade-plus run of success on the football field. It is less than a year into opening a state-of-the-art football stadium.
A long-rumored invitation to a Power 5 conference is figuratively in the mail after a decades-long wait.
But just when it seems a seat at the big table is within SDSU’s grasp, the Aztecs are faced with a double whammy — the NCAA transfer portal coupled with NIL — that could derail everything.
“No question,” SDSU coach Brady Hoke said. “We are in a different place in college football, obviously. ... there’s no guardrails.”
Even more concerning, Hoke adds: “I don’t know if there’s going to be guardrails.”
In one breath, Hoke said he was optimistic some sense of order could be restored through NCAA or even congressional legislation.
In another breath, he said:” “I don’t know that either one of them want to (address the issues). The NCAA, they get sued all the time (over legislation). Congress has a lot of problems with a lot of other things right now. So I don’t know.”
So what does that mean for Aztecs football going forward?
If SDSU is to compete, it must ramp up name, image and likeness (NIL) opportunities for athletes. It is doing so through Aztec Link (azteclink.com), a collective to help SDSU athletes capitalize on NIL.
“For people who read this, we hope they get on Aztec Link,” Hoke said. “It’s going to be the way of he world.”
He called the potential of losing players who develop into standouts to other programs over money “a concern.”
“That’s why the Aztec Link is something that has to be a part of who we are and the program,” Hoke said. “We need Aztec Nation. We need them to help.”
SDSU added seven players from the NCAA transfer portal last year. All of them came from Power 5 schools. Six of the players started on SDSU’s 2022 football team.
Half a dozen SDSU players also departed through the portal last year. None of them were starters.
This year, the Aztecs added four players — safety JC Coffey III (Texas), linebacker Cody Moon (New Mexico), defensive lineman Samuela Tuihalamaka (Oklahoma State) and wide receiver Raphael Williams Jr. (Western Carolina) from the portal.
None of them were listed as starters on the post-spring depth chart, although that could change during summer workouts.
The NCAA added a spring portal window this year, allowing players to enter their names in the portal from April 15-30.
Hoke said this week the Aztecs expect to add as many as eight more players from the portal, most of them from Power 5 schools.
The commitments are expected to come in the next two or three weeks.
Former Louisville tight end Dez Melton announced his commitment Saturday afternoon on Twitter. The 6-foot-3 senior was used primarily as a blocking tight end for the Cardinals. Earlier in the week, former TCU safety Deshawn McCuin announced his commitment on Instagram.
Hoke said at this point talks with potential transfers have focused on what the school and city have to offer players — not how much money they have to offer.
“We have not had any of those guys broach the subject yet,” Hoke said. “They’ve been very into football and playing the game.”
Does he believe it is just a matter of time before money is the main topic of conversation.
“It is a concern,” Hoke said.
Losing starters in the portal
Once again, SDSU has had several players depart through the portal as well.
The difference this year is that three of them — right tackle Josh Simmons (Ohio State) and defensive backs C.J. Baskerville (Texas Tech) and Patrick McMorris (Cal) — were starters.
It could be there were extenuating circumstances with the three starters who left.
McMorris, for instance, has one brother on the Cal coaching staff and another brother competing on the Golden Bears’ track team.
Baskerville is from Texas, so maybe he wanted to get closer to home. Of course, the fact that Texas Tech players each will receive $25,000 a year through its Matador Club, an NIL collective, didn’t hurt Baskerville’s decision.
Simmons is transferring to a school reportedly generated $3 million in NIL money for its players — including $50,000 for each of its offensive linemen.
Cleveland.com reported last year that Ohio State coach Ryan Day spoke to a group of community business members and told them he believed $13 million was needed in NIL money to keep his roster together.
SMU, the school often rumored along with SDSU as an expansion target for the Pac-12, is poised to pay its football players $36,000 a year through its Boulevard Collective.
Talk about greener pastures.
Asked if SDSU can compete with that, Hoke said, “Not that I can see. Not right now, let me put it that way. I don’t foresee that being something we can deal with. ... We’ll continue to fight the fight and get what we can.”
SDSU basketball players are compensated through the Mesa Foundation, which provided $2,000 a month to players. The money was distributed equally among players and required them to participate in some community service events in order to receive it.
Rewarding those already here
Hoke also wants to reward players equally through Aztec Link. He said Aztecs seniors each received checks for about $2,500 this year.
How to grow payouts — which can’t come directly from the school — and distribute money to juniors, sophomores and freshmen is part of ongoing discussions.
Hoke is mindful of disrupting team chemistry with payouts to transfers who have yet to play a snap for the Aztecs.
“We pride ourselves in being physical in everything we do and how tough our guys are,” Hoke said. “The guys who have been in this program, because of what they’ve done, going through the weight room and spring ball and fall camp, I’d like to reward those guys.”
Hoke admitted to being behind in this new world of NIL collectives.
“Hopefully, we’ll be in a little better metrics by the next time in how we handle the NIL,” Hoke said. “Another six months out, we’ll have a better hold on it. Again, the difference being, we’ve got 110 guys. There might be 35-40 that you can do something with, until we rectify some of those obstacles and stuff. I think we’ll be in a much better place the next time the portal opens up.”