Gophers coaches adjust to NCAA changes
Four coaches and the athletic director from the University of Minnesota were in Rochester on Tuesday for a Coaches Caravan event.
ROCHESTER — Rules and procedures keep on changing in college sports and coaches at the University of Minnesota, like at all schools, have to adapt to the times.
The University of Minnesota Coaches Caravan is taking place for the first time since 2019 and on Tuesday four Gophers coaches and athletic director Mark Coyle made a stop in Rochester.
A nice crowd was on hand for one of the four stops on the tour.
“The 'U' is bigger than the Twin Cities, it’s the whole state,” Gophers volleyball coach Hugh McCutcheon said. “So it’s important to come out and connect and see people.”
Two big recent changes made by the NCAA are the transfer portal, and payments to athletes for their name, image and likeness (NIL).
“When you look at it, the NIL was designed to help the student-athlete,” Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck said.
“I’m all for that,” he added. “I absolutely love that. We have a lot of student-athletes, not just football, that benefit so much off the name, image and likeness and it’s such a positive thing for them.”
Gophers wrestling coach Brandon Eggum said the NIL is a mammoth change in college sports, and not just for sports which create large sums of revenue for universities.
“The NIL stuff is big in our sport,” Eggum said. “In wrestling you see it is something that is playing a role. You have teams that are offering some six figures contracts to kids for NIL money.”
“I don’t think it’s at the same level (in volleyball), but it’s there,” McCutcheon said. “So people are in better position to take advantage of it. We’re waiting to see as an institution what’s going to happen.”
Some of the questions going forward is how will the NCAA regulate and enforce the NIL and portal transfer rules in the near future.
“What we know is that the whole NCAA model is probably up for some changes pretty soon,” McCutcheon said. “This transformation committee is a real thing and we’ll wait and see what all the changes look like.”
Transfer portal is designed to help the student-athletes move from one school to another without the penalty of sitting out a year.
“The transfer portal had been wild for everybody,” Eggum said. “There have been a ton of kids going in and out all the time. We’ve picked up kids from the transfer portal as well, but it’s something that’s there.”
Coaches have the ability to add transferring players from other programs, but they also have to be leery of losing players.
Creating depth at positions may be tougher for teams in all sports. Backups may think they can start right away at other schools and transfer to get more playing time. Fleck had a logjam of talented running backs returning so he had some backs transfer.
Eggum said the key is to work with the athletes you have and try to keep them happy.
“It’s hard to have depth when it can get taken from you," Eggum said. "But at the end of the day, we try to stay focused on the guys that we have and do things right and try to continue to develop those guys.”
The Minnesota coaches admit they just have to adjust to the rules and try to remain true to the process that has brought them success. Fleck has a 65-45 record in five years at Minnesota and is 3-0 in bowl games.
“We’re always going to look for the right fit (for players),” Fleck said. “That’s what our program and our culture is all about. I tell people all the time, I’m willing to adapt. We’re always going to adapt, change is inevitable, but I’m not going to change who I am and what I believe in.”
McCutcheon said the goal of the Gophers’ volleyball program is to maintain competitive excellence. Minnesota is coming off a 23-9 season and an appearance in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.
“The things we're trying to teach are connected to working, learning and competing and being a great teammate and all those kinds of things,” McCutcheon said. “I don’t think transfer portal and name image and likeness will change all of that.”