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There’s a power shift happening in college sports these days, particularly college football and basketball, and we need only look to recent comments made by former Nebraska QB Adrian Martinez to see it.
As many players have done, Martinez opted to exercise his fifth year of eligibility at another school, even though COVID-year rule changes permit players to remain at the same school for another year if they so choose. There’s nothing unusual or untoward so far.
However, Martinez recently broke with tradition and made headlines when he publicly blasted his former program. In essence, he says he chose Kansas State because Nebraska was tarnishing his personal brand.
“The narratives I’m fighting against, well, I haven’t been to a bowl game and I haven’t had a winning season,” Martinez said. “Now football is a team sport, but I play quarterback and oftentimes you get associated with those kinds of things and I want to win. I want to go play in a bowl game and I want to win a bowl game. So that was another reason why I came here. I feel like we have a great opportunity to win.”
He’s not wrong. Quarterbacks often become the face of their program and a lightening rod for media attention, good and bad.
And Nebraska has been bad lately. Historically bad. The same program that won a national championship 25 years ago and won at least nine games every year under head coach Bo Pelini hasn’t reached a bowl game in five years. There were 42 bowl games played in 2021, and teams needed just six wins to qualify to participate. The Huskers went 3-9 last year. The closest they have come to bowl eligibility under current head coach Scott Frost was 2019, when they went 5-7.
Meanwhile, Kansas State has been on a solid trajectory in the Big 12 for about a decade. They went 8-5 last year and defeated LSU in the Texas Bowl. They have played in a bowl game three of the last five years and won two of those games. KSU is definitely a better football school than Nebraska right now.
So Martinez isn’t saying anything that isn’t obviously true. The difference here is that he’s saying it out loud to the media. In the old times — say, before 2020 — players would transfer quietly with the hopes of starting fresh and forming a new identity at a new school. No mudslinging against former programs, players, or coaches.
But back in those days, there was no transfer portal. Undergraduate players who wanted to move elsewhere in the FBS had to sit out for a year, a rule which convinced many players to stay put and make do.
The advent of the transfer portal and Name, Image, and Likeness at roughly the same time has given college athletes tremendous new power. If they don’t like the playing time they’ve been given, a coach’s schematic philosophy, or a team’s overall performance, they can pick up their ball and go elsewhere.
Former Pitt WR Jordan Addison quickly became a big fish in a mediocre pond, so when Lincoln Riley and USC came calling this past offseason, Addison moved from the Steel City to the City of Angeles to try his hand in a high profile program. And there wasn’t much that Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi could do about it except mutter something about “tampering” and then check out the depth chart and the transfer portal for a replacement.
Now, Addison is the beneficiary of a lucrative NIL deal. Martinez is not. The only NIL deal Martinez has ever signed came during his time at Nebraska. If he has an NIL deal with those affiliated with K-State, he hasn’t divulged it.
He also didn’t say anything about leaving Nebraska in search of a new NIL endorsement. He just wants to win and be seen as a winner. That’s about as traditionally American as it gets.
However, Martinez is still a big name player in a time when players are gaining tremendous power over coaches, athletic departments, boosters, and conference officials. And based on his comments, he senses it.