Mike Bianchi: Gators could lose Anthony Richardson to college football’s new wild and woolly free agency

By Mike Bianchi

Florida Gators coach Dan Mullen is going to have to make a decision on Anthony Richardson very soon.

Mullen is either going to have to start moving toward making Richardson UF’s starting quarterback or risk losing the phenomenal freshman to free agency.

Bianchi, you idiot, this is college football; not the NFL. There’s no free agency in college football!!!

Au contraire mon frere.

There is now.

And as legendary local sports radio gabmaster Marc Daniels told me on the air the other day, he believes Richardson may well be the No. 1 free agent in all of college football.

The reasons are obvious: Richardson is not only big and fast with a great arm and a soft touch, he also is a backup to junior Emory Jones. And this is why Mullen knows he has a major dilemma — a dilemma he foretold during the offseason when talking about the rapidly changing landscape of college football.

Remember what Mullen said several months ago when his name surfaced as a possible NFL coaching candidate?

Let me remind you:

“I think there are concerns with coaches as to what the future of college football is going to look like in three or four years,” Mullen said then. “I think there’s a lot of uncertainty we’re trying to figure out as coaches to see what our futures are going to hold.”

In so many words, Mullen was trying to tell us that college football was about to turn into the Wild, Wild West. And you know what? He was right. With two pieces of recently passed NCAA legislation — college athletes being able to sell their name, image and likeness to the highest bidder and the one-time transfer rule — college football players can now go wherever they want whenever they want and earn as much as somebody is willing to pay them.

Welcome to the no-holds-barred version of college football free agency. At least in pro sports, players are under contract for a certain number of years before they become free agents. In today’s college football, a star player can enter the transfer portal today and be in Tuscaloosa tomorrow signing a seven-figure NIL deal with a consortium of Bama boosters.

If you don’t think this is already happening, you are living in a delusional dream world. In fact, TCU coach Gary Patterson, in a recent NIL meeting with local boosters and business leaders, pretty much told them that they are going to have to ante up if they want to keep other schools from raiding TCU’s roster.

Without naming the player, Patterson claimed there are numerous SEC schools contacting one of his star freshmen and trying to convince him to transfer.

“There’s five SEC schools calling him and telling him, ‘Here’s what we’ll give you if you come here and not stay at TCU,’ " Patterson said. “At the end of the day, that’s just real life. If we don’t do anything about it, within a year we lose him. The rules have changed. There is no wrong anymore.

“We’re going to have to live in the gray area if we want to keep up,” Patterson added in his meeting with boosters. “… The bottom line to it is I can lose 25-30 guys on scholarship by January.”

If it’s happening with TCU players, imagine the bidding war that could go on for Richardson, who has likely already been contacted by third-party representatives from other big-time institutions of higher earning, er, learning. Mullen may have been able to convince quarterbacks of the past (see Jones and Kyle Trask ) to be patient and wait their turn, but that was before NIL.

Yes, Richardson is from Gainesville, but will he be willing to sit on the bench at UF for another year if LSU and Georgia boosters are offering him million-dollar endorsement deals to come to their school? Backup college quarterbacks already were constantly switching schools even before NIL and the free-transfer rule, just imagine what it’s going to be like in the future.

And it won’t just be backups; it will be starters as well. For instance, what’s to stop a marquee program like Penn State from putting together an NIL deal to convince UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel to finish his career with the Nittany Lions?

In other words, Patterson’s message to TCU boosters also applies to UCF boosters, Gator boosters, FSU boosters, etc.

Open up your wallets, boys.

Like it or not, free agency has come to college football.


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