“It’s like free agency,” said Taylor Mays, a former U.S.C. safety who played for six seasons within the N.F.L. and who’s now listed as a student assistant at U.S.C., making him a rare holdover from Clay Helton’s staff. “It’s very N.F.L.-esque.”
There may be one notable difference: no salary cap.
Winning big at U.S.C. has carried its own allure through the years. But when Reggie Bush was plied with money and a house for his parents, Matt Leinart lived in a $3,800-per-month downtown penthouse apartment, and Joe McKnight tooled around in an area businessman’s Land Rover, eventually drew the eye of N.C.A.A. investigators.
Now, with many pay restrictions on college athletes wiped away, Caleb Williams is cashing in out within the open. He’s pitching sunglasses, headphones, bottled water, men’s grooming tools and memorabilia, and has hired a strategic marketing and communications firm to herald business.
If the N.C.A.A. has to this point fumbled attempts to rein in pay-for-play operations, it has placed some restrictions on player movement, because it did last month when it announced that athletes could enter the portal only during set windows. This may prevent a future case like that of Jarret Doege, a quarterback at West Virginia who transferred to Western Kentucky this yr, but then, when he was beaten out for the starting job, transferred again last month to Troy University, where he played Saturday in relief.
“A lot I can’t say — and a few things I won’t say,” David Shaw, in his twelfth season as Stanford’s coach, said Saturday night when he was asked about U.S.C.’s high transfer count. “We’re in a latest era without delay. We’re giving numerous opportunities to our student athletes. The way in which the transfer portal works without delay can create large waves of individuals changing schools.”
“I don’t know if it’s a very good thing,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s a nasty thing. However it’s a distinct era.”