It’s that time of year when the checklist for Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson starts to get a little more narrow. Get ready for the final three games of the season. Hone in on recruiting as the early signing period nears. And start to have meetings with players who are getting improperly poached by other schools. Yes, the season of distractions arrives early for Wake Forest.
Two weeks ago, at his weekly press conference, Clawson gave a long, and somewhat winding, soliloquy on what happened last Winter with players leaving, the transfer portal, and NIL. The question had been asked about his sense of security on the topics going into this December. Clawson said due to Wake’s financial limitations in the NIL realm, when he met with Demon Deacon players last December who were getting offers elsewhere, there was little he could do other than remind them of the inherent value of a Wake Forest degree and all that goes with it. With last week’s answer, he said he was more confident, based on modest NIL growth in the Wake Forest community, that this December would be different, and better.
Seasonal Shopping Arrives Early
Then Tuesday’s press conference hit, and he casually threw in, in the middle of an answer on a different topic, that those meetings are not happening in December. They are happening now. As in this week.
This is where we are compelled to throw in that schools, or representatives of schools, reaching out to players currently under scholarship at another institution is undeniably against NCAA rules. We must also report that the current NCAA penalty for schools guilty of tampering is exactly nothing. The NCAA is to blame, but only partially. The coaches across the country are also to blame, for while they are vocal that it is happening, they are mute in their willingness to name names when it comes to the culprits.
Clawson was answering a question about the state of the program. The Demon Deacons are having an undeniably disappointing season. They have struggled to get to 4-5 right now, needing two wins in the last three games to even get to bowl eligibility. He was talking about his love of the job and spending time with the players each morning, before the administrative world of being a head coach in 2023 kicks in in the afternoon.
Wait…What Was That?
“Every morning I get up. I come in here and I meet with the team,” Clawson said. “I look at the players in this room and you’ve got great young men that continue to work and do things right. And they’re fun to be with.” So far so good. “And then the practice is over and I’ve got all of the other stuff I’ve got to deal with that I don’t enjoy as much.” Ok. We’re still on track here.
“I’m so glad that we practice in the morning. Because I wake up in a good mood. And my good mood continues up until about one or two o’clock in the afternoon. Then I have to deal with all the other crap [inaudible]. Players informing us that schools are already reaching out to them, offering them this, offering them that.” He went on to add, “We’re getting hit with it already. We’re a month away from the portal [window opening], and guys are already getting hit up.”
At our first opportunity, a question or two later, we asked Clawson to rewind the conversation. Did he really just say schools are already tampering with his players? And his players were coming to him and telling him about it? And conversations he had last December are now happening before we have even hit mid-November?
The Here and Now
“It’s always hard to tell what’s real, what’s liar’s poker,” he responded. “But players are sharing with people in the building that they are getting contacted by other people. And based on what happened last year I have reason to believe it’s true.”
Of course, what happened last year was veteran quarterback Sam Hartman leaving for Notre Dame. He had already proclaimed that the 2022 season would be his last at Wake Forest. It was assumed his intentions were NFL-driven, even though scouts had told us he needed work in a more pro-style system to have a viable draft future. During the Gasparilla Bowl, reporters started to get messages that Hartman was going to transfer to Notre Dame. It met the pro-style offense needs the NFL wanted. And there were rumors of a $2 million NIL bounty, (that was later confirmed to be topped at $1.6 million including additional sponsorship opportunities).
Soon thereafter the program was taken by surprise when star defensive lineman Rondell Bothroyd announced he was transferring to Oklahoma.
Clawson clearly figured he had at least a few more weeks before having to get into these issues. The new calendar for the transfer portal is a window that opens December 4th, the Monday after the conference championship games. It is a 30-day window. Players on a team that is still playing in the postseason beyond those 30 days (January 4th), have an extra five days after their postseason game to enter the portal. That won’t impact Wake. If they make a bowl game, it would be a third-tier bowl, likely pre-Christmas.
Wake Is Still Wake
Clawson said he was being transparent as to the realities of running a college football program in 2023. He proclaimed the NIL opportunities at Wake to be, “Getting better. I’m incredibly thankful for the donors and their generosity and everything they have done.”
But he was clear, as he has been repeatedly over the last year-plus, there are the haves and the have-nots. “This model is working really well for the select few. There’s certain schools, I’m sure that don’t want this to change.” He concluded that “There are 10-20 schools that are just playing a different game than everybody else.”
He said he does not think the offers from other schools have become a distraction in the locker room. “I think when players share those things, they’re kind of indicating they’d like to stay,” Clawson said. “So anytime those things get shared, I don’t get mad or upset. I’m like ‘It’s awesome that we have an environment here where players are comfortable sharing that.’” He said if a player doesn’t share the communication he assumes they are leaning towards taking it.
The Calendar Sits Still for No One
The reality is Wake’s subpar season is a double-edged sword. Because it has not lived up to expectations, there may not be as many players targeted by other schools with offers of riches on the other end. Conversely, because Wake is 4-5 and struggling to make any postseason play, other schools may see players who will be ready to make a decision earlier in the transfer portal window.
Clawson just knows the calendar has sped up on him. “I’m going to enjoy these next three weeks and I get to coach football and prepare for games. And I’m going to work like crazy to try to prepare another opportunity for this football team. If you worry about what’s going to happen in four weeks, you don’t enjoy the present.”