Kolpack: The world of FCS coaching has grown into a thankless job
Thanks to the transfer portal, Division I FCS is quickly getting a new nickname: The minor league of college football
FARGO — There are late afternoons when the area around my desk looks like a mini-garbage dump, the trash can full and crumbs of stuff on the floor. By morning, it’s clean.
Certainly, it doesn’t happen by magic and whoever does that, thank you. Childcare workers, farmers, food preps, medical lab workers, phone customer service reps … all thankless jobs in America.
Thanks to the NCAA transfer portal, we can add another one: College football coaches who develop players only to see them leave.
We see that mostly in the Division I Football Championship Subdivision and we see it specifically at North Dakota State. Recruit comes to Fargo unheralded or unrecruited by the FBS, freshman gains strength and speed, redshirt freshman starts to learn the college game and sophomore or junior contributor leaves the program for the hope of an FBS experience.
FCS is the minor leagues, only instead of players moving up a professional baseball organization a class at a time, they’re free to join any team anytime.
Seems unfair to the FCS fan, doesn’t it?
The Bison have now lost seven contributing players to the portal this season, with cornerbacks Marques Sigle and Courtney Eubanks and safety Dom Jones being impact players. Jones and Eubanks were the latest to decide.
The strange move in all of this is Sigle and Jones, backups the last two seasons, would have been in line to be full-time starters next year and rarely would have left the field. If it’s about reaching the NFL, NDSU players before them have shown there’s a way.
Put in all the time and effort to reach starter status and when their reward is about to come to fruition, bam, leave.
Sigle will play at Kansas State next season and time will tell if he’ll play. The Wildcats are no longer a team trying to build a roster; the Big 12 Conference champions have players. But the fact Sigle got K-State, receiver Phoenix Sproles got James Madison and last year Jasir Cox to West Virginia, players see that and figure they can do the same.
Perhaps the definition of a thankless job is cornerback Britton Pascoe, who the Bison signed in the 2021 recruiting class and stuck with the kid even though he had an ACL injury his senior year of high school. NDSU rehabbed him, coached him, developed him and then he hit the portal, only to end up at lowly Robert Morris.
No, the sky is not falling at NDSU. There may be roommate groupthink going on, first with Sigle and two of his teammates and now roommates Jones and Eubanks. They don't seem to be leaving like disgruntled employees. Eubanks, in a Twitter post late Wednesday afternoon, said he will "forever be grateful to the incredible NDSU coaches, teammates and administration."
With the portal, players are being tampered with and when you’re a program that has won nine national titles, FBS schools will look to that roster first. If South Dakota State hasn’t been constantly dealing with the same issues, it will.
SDSU tight end Tucker Kraft shunned at least $100,000 in name, image, likeness packages from unnamed FBS schools last year to stay with the Jacks. That’s a tight end. What’s a national championship running back or quarterback worth these days?
NDSU does not have a name, image, likeness program. FBS schools do. Money matters. The players that left already have a national title ring, there could be a search of another experience, a bigger one. It probably didn't help that defensive coordinator David Braun, the defensive backfield position coach when Eubanks, Sigle and Jones were recruited, left for Northwestern.
The basic structure of NDSU’s program hasn’t changed in the last decade. If the portal existed 10 years ago, would stars like Billy Turner, Kyle Emanuel, Marcus Williams, John Crockett or Nick DeLuca had been contacted by FBS schools? Would somebody have gone after Carson Wentz for his senior season?
Of course they would have.
Not all Bison players who hit the portal went this way. Some backups who were probably told they were a long way from seeing the field did it out of common sense. Before the portal, they just left the team without putting it on Twitter.
Mark this date down: the 2025 FCS national championship game. After that, there will no longer be the COVID-19 extra year of eligibility, which could help minimize the activity level of the portal. After that, a junior will have one season of eligibility left, not two.
It still will not minimize the reality of the minor league. That’s FCS football. Develop players and see them leave for the FBS. It’s turned into a thankless job.