OXFORD — There’s something uncanny about watching running back Ulysses Bentley IV practice for the Ole Miss football team this spring.
Bentley is a talented running back with plenty of upside. The junior from Houston is one of Ole Miss’ dozen transfer portal adds practicing this spring. Over the past two seasons at SMU, Bentley rushed for 1,523 yards and 15 touchdowns and caught 40 passes for 264 yards and two scores.
His presence on the team isn’t bizarre. He’ll certainly play a role on an offense needing to replace its four leading rushers from a year ago. It’s just the fact that he’s practicing for Ole Miss at all that feels weird.
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Bentley entered the transfer portal on March 14. On March 16, he committed to Ole Miss. By March 22, he was enrolled in classes and able to practice at his new school. All it took was eight days for a college football player to completely change his future.
“We have free agency,” Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin said. “Even more with the fact that we have a guy that was at another program a few days ago and now he’s here. It’s truly like free agency.”
Like it or not, Kiffin has made himself a poster child for the new era of college football. He’s been vocal about the flaws of the transfer portal era while benefiting more from transfer portal adds than any other coach. He’s taken to social media to bestow the honor of “Portal King” on himself and USC coach Lincoln Riley.
Most famously, he started a war of words with Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher before the early signing period by insinuating the Aggies’ No. 1 recruiting class was bought with NIL payments. Fisher swung back, calling Kiffin “a clown” without saying his name and adding that it’s disrespectful to his assistant coaches to believe money is what attracted players to his program.
In the days before Ole Miss’ spring practices began, The Athletic reported that a prospective college athlete has inked an NIL deal to earn $8 million before his senior year of college begins. This report prompted Kiffin to fire back at Fisher’s insinuations.
“So I guess I got called a clown before for saying how it is, but NIL has a lot to do with where players go,” Kiffin said. “To not think that is crazy. Literally, it’d be like being a head coach in the NFL, signing a great free agency class, going out and getting these great players and coming up here and saying to you guys, ‘The contracts had nothing to do with why these guys came here.
“Obviously it has a lot to do with where these players go, and it should. They’re all 17- and 18-year-old kids. Adults choose jobs a lot of times for money, for salary. So why would a kid not?”
Ironically, the crown jewel of Kiffin’s No. 1-ranked transfer portal class sounds a lot more like Fisher than Kiffin. Quarterback Jaxson Dart came to Ole Miss this winter after one season at USC. When the Clarion Ledger asked Dart how much NIL factored into his decision to join the Rebels, Dart downplayed any impact money may have made.
“I’m not a kid who looks for stuff like that,” Dart said. “I’m a football player. I want to play football. I feel like if I can play good on the field, that stuff will come. That’s my whole purpose. I committed to a school to play football and that’s my whole focus. “
Dart’s words are his own. Every player is going to commit to schools for his own reason, and some might not be motivated by compensation. But it’s important to acknowledge that some are.
The Grove Collective is an NIL program specifically created to pay, support and connect elite athletes to opportunities. Since February, the Grove Collective has already announced partnership agreements with five Rebels transfer portal adds: linebacker Troy Brown, offensive lineman Mason Brooks, defensive end Jared Ivey, running back Zach Evans and tight end Michael Trigg.
If players can make money, they will. Some of them will use it as their primary motivator in picking a school. Others will let it be a background factor.
Kiffin has come out in favor of NIL payments. His comments about Texas A&M weren’t so much criticism as they were an acknowledgment that money changes things. Just as transfers do. And just as the glut of eligible players will for at least the next three seasons.
Which brings things back to Bentley. Attending two colleges in two weeks is an extreme outcome of the portal era. In all likelihood, the NCAA or the individual conferences will establish transfer windows where players can and can’t enter the portal as a way of streamlining the process and making coaches’ lives easier.
But Bentley is proof that Ole Miss is doing what it can to make the best of the rules while they exist in this fashion. If the Rebels need a player, they’ll get him. If they have a spot available, they’ll use it. And if they need to take advantage of others changes to get better, they’ll do that too.
Contact Nick Suss at 601-408-2674 or email@example.com. Follow @nicksuss on Twitter.