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Five Hours of Hope

It’s not like we didn’t know it was coming.

After last Saturday night’s humbling 43-20 loss to Arizona, Colorado limped home from the desert with an 0-5 record and little hope for the remainder of the 2022 season. With a bye week up next, the logical move was to fire head coach Karl Dorrell, giving the players and coaches an extra week to catch their breath, regroup, and move on.

It wasn’t a question of whether Dorrell would be fired, but when … and the bye week seemed a logical time to bring the Dorrell era to an end.

About 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, October 2nd, the news broke. Pete Thamel of ESPN was the first to start sending out tweets about the firing, and it wasn’t long before my inbox was full of retweets, texts and emails, making sure that CU at the Game was informed of the news.

Now, it wasn’t like we were happy when the story came out. It’s never a fun time to see a coach get fired. At the end of the day, Karl Dorrell – and defensive coordinator Chris Wilson, who was also let go – are good people. They wanted to win, and surely spent long days and sleepless nights trying to figure out a way to get their band of 85 scholarship players to win games. Yes, they are walking away with wheelbarrows full of cash, and are not in need of a pity party, but it was not really a time of celebration.

It was more like … relief.

The healing process had begun.

That’s what it felt like being a Buff fan this past Sunday afternoon. Not euphoric, but relieved. Not ecstatic, but, perhaps, invigorated.

The possibilities were out there. It was no longer a matter of dealing with the past, but looking toward the future. The long lists of potential candidates could be created and debated. It was no longer about suffering through the 2022 season, but dreaming about what 2023 and beyond had to offer.

We understood CU had a long road back to respectability and success, but at least the first step had been taken.

There was reason for hope again.

That hope, for me at least, lasted … about five hours.

For it was then, shortly after 6:00 p.m., MT, on Sunday, October 2nd, that the CU administration took hope away from me once again.

That was the time when CU Athletic Director Rick George, CU Chancellor Phil DiStefano, and interim head coach Mike Sanford sat down for a press conference. The gathering was to make the announcement of Karl Dorrell’s firing official, and to talk about the future of the program.

For the most part, AD Rick George said what he was expected to say. “Our expectation for CU football is to become nationally prominent, that we are discussed on Game Day in a positive way,” George said. “That we compete every time we go out there and play and we win more than we lose. We consistently go to bowl games, occasionally we compete for a national championship and conference championships.”

George didn’t say he was hiring a consulting firm, but at least sounded as if the hiring would involve more than just a “Committee of Two” (George and Associate Athletic Director Lance Carl). “This time around we have two months in front of us to get to the best coach for this job,” George said. “To that end, I’ll be working and consulting with football people that are knowledgeable that are former Buffs that have agreed to help advise me during this process, in addition to the national network of great football minds that we have access to.”

What George said wasn’t the problem, it was what Chancellor DiStefano said.

When asked about the issues CU has had bringing in transfers, DiStefano had this to say:

“I don’t think it is a matter of altering any of the rules and policies. I believe that you can have excellent academics and excellent student-athletes coming together. They are not mutually exclusive.

“On the transfer piece, it is just based upon the degrees we offer. And the way that faculty own the curriculum, they own the degrees so when a student wants to transfer, for example, we do not have physical education here, and we do not have general education, and to be honest, that’s not going to change.

“What we must do is go and recruit those student athletes coming from junior colleges who can play for us and can transfer in the credits. It may take a little bit more work, but I have confidence in our coaches to be able to do that. I mean we have brought in transfers and that has worked. And I think we will continue to bring in transfers, it is just the transfers must have the transfer credits that will transfer.” 

Read that response again.

Go ahead, I’ll wait.

It was at this moment when the excitement and hope generated over the previous five hours after the firing of Karl Dorrell dissipated into dust.

Really? Colorado is, by any objective measure, losing its best players to the Transfer Portal, and is hamstrung on even competing for replacements, and Chancellor DiStefano is referencing JUCO transfers?

What Buff fans need to understand – and apparently DiStefano doesn’t get – is that with CU’s restrictions on transfers, CU’s new coach, like its old coaches, the Buffs will never be able to field a competitive team.

Let’s define the issue.

You will be hearing a great deal over the next two months about PTD – Progress Toward Degree. This is not a new term, and the rules have been in place for some time. The NCAA requires all student athletes, in order to retain their eligibility, make progress in the classroom:

  • Freshman (2 semesters) = 20% of degree completion (24 credits)
  • Sophomore (4 semesters) = 40% of degree completion (48 credits)
  • Junior (6 semesters) = 60% of degree completion (72 credits)
  • Senior (8 semesters) = 80% of degree completion (96 credits)

So far, so good. Not a problem for CU coaches and players, as this is an NCAA guideline everyone uses and lives with on an annual basis.

The problem for CU has arisen over the past few years, when the ability to transfer has been expanded. It used to be that if a player transferred, they had to sit out a year. Then the rules were amended so that graduate transfers were allowed. Players who graduated in four years, and still had a year of eligibility remaining, could transfer and play their final year at another school (the rule also required that the new school have a graduate program the old school didn’t, but I never heard of any school having any trouble skirting this rule).

Still fine and good.

These days, however, any student-athlete can transfer to another school (at least once. Multiple transfers are still being debated), and may do so at any stage of their education, without having to sit out a year.

A win for student-athletes; a huge loss for Colorado.

Here’s where CU loses out on potential transfers … As Phil DiStefano derisively noted, CU doesn’t have a PE or general studies degree. Most other schools, including most of the AAU schools CU likes to associate itself with, do have general studies and/or integrated studies degrees. As a result, transferring between those schools much easier easy, as they offer many of the same courses.

So … Let’s say there is a sophomore cornerback, Antonio Hernandez, at Washington. Antonio isn’t getting the playing time he wants, and is looking to transfer. He has completed 40% of his progress toward an integrated studies degree. Antonio is in good standing with the University and with the NCAA. He can transfer to pretty much any other school in the Pac-12, with his credits counting towards his similar degree … the infamous Progress Toward Degree.

But … Here’s the thing … Antonio still can’t get admitted to Colorado.

Why? Because CU doesn’t have an integrated studies option. So our would be sophomore star has to pick a degree path for a curriculum which CU offer. Let’s say Antonio chooses sociology, which is popular with student-athletes. But, Antonio, who has been taking a wide spectrum of courses for his integrated studies degree at Washington, hasn’t completed 40% of the necessary credits to obtain a sociology degree at CU.

Antonio, in the eyes of Colorado, hasn’t made sufficient Progress Toward Degree … and so can’t be admitted to CU.

So, while CU’s young talent – Christian Gonzalez; Mehki Blackmon; Mark Perry; Brenden Rice; Dimitri Stanley; et al. – is transferring out, CU can’t get comparable players in.

But wait, you say, CU has been getting transfers through the Portal.

Sure, but look at the list:

  • 2020: Jack Lamb (Graduate Transfer); Robert Barnes (Graduate Transfer); Max Wray (Graduate Transfer);
  • 2021: Ramon Jefferson (Graduate Transfer –  who moved on to Kentucky); Josh Chandler-Semedo (Graduate Transfer); Chance Main (Graduate Transfer); Tommy Brown (Graduate Transfer); R.J. Sneed (Graduate Transfer)

There have been a few exceptions, including quarterbacks J.T. Shrout and Maddox Kopp (and Shrout had to take 18 hours in one semester just to stay eligible), but the percentage of non-graduate transfers who can successfully find their way through the CU admissions office is painfully low. Adam Munsterteiger of BuffStampede.com reported that CU coaches submitted a list of 11 wide receiver transfer candidates for academic appraisal this past offseason, only four came back with approval for CU with permission to recruit.

Translation: Colorado (and its Chancellor) are living in the past, and the football team (and the basketball team, which lost a four-star prospect to Wake Forest due to admissions issues) are the ones suffering.

What can be done?

The shortest distance between two points is to add an integrated studies degree, making it easier for credits to transfer. The only other Power Five schools with similar academic restrictions are Stanford and Vanderbilt. The Commodores have SEC money but still can’t regularly compete, while Stanford has fallen off of a cliff the past few seasons … do you think that’s because David Shaw forgot how to coach?

When Brian Howell asked Chancellor DiStefano about adding an integrated studies major, noting that Michigan – a respected AAU school – had such a program, DiStefano acted surprised, saying he would look into it.

Translation: It’s not on his radar, and, will likely not be anytime soon.

A second option, which is used by other schools … give student-athletes a chance to “catch up”. Admit the student with the understanding that they don’t have all the requisite credits in their major, but are otherwise in good standing. Then give them a year (at some schools, two) to “catch up” with credits in their major.

Sounds simple. Why CU won’t implement such a policy, as is not uncommon at other AAU schools which have the not unreasonable desire to field a competitive football team.

Will it happen? Probably not.

The only other alternative I can see is if the head coaching candidates all have agents who do their homework, and insist – nay, demand – that CU fix its transfer policies.

Can it be done? It’s possible … it’s been done before.

Remember Jeff Bzedelik, CU’s basketball coach before Tad Boyle? Most Buff fans remember Bzdelik as the coach who left CU for Wake Forest, but they forget that if it weren’t for Bzedelik, Boyle might not have gotten the facilities to build the program we cheer for today.

Bzdelik’s five-year, $750,000 a year contract in 2007 included a $750,000 buyout the coach would have to pay if he left CU in 2008 or 2009. However, that buyout clause became void after three years if the school did not gather the funding and start construction on a new practice facility, meaning Bzdelik could walk free of charge. That clause helped hasten the building of the basketball/volleyball facility which was built adjacent to the Events Center.

Can CU’s new head football coach hold the University’s feet to the fire, as Bzdelik did?

Can the Buff Nation gather enough outraged momentum to force CU to rethink its transfer policies?

Possible, but I’m not optimistic.

(and even if the transfer policies were changed, CU would still be facing an uphill climb to get recruits and transfers, at least until CU decides that NIL is not a four-letter word, and can actually help to build a struggling program).

My hope for the future of the CU football program was raised this past Sunday afternoon.

Only to have those hopes dashed five hours later.

—–

20 Replies to “Five Hours of Hope”

  1. I don’t completely give up hope that the right coach can field a good Buffs team without changing the transfer problem at CU. But addressing the issue will make a difference in helping the coach be successful and then in helping to keep the coach at CU.

    Thanks for this piece, Stuart. It is very enlightening!

  2. Sorry about your hope Stuart. To say its crushed over the academic standards seems a little extreme.
    To that end I went thru the commitment lists of the teams currently ranked in the top 25 AP poll:
    The following having nothing more than 3 stars on the list:
    Rank Team
    13 TCU
    14 Wake
    17 K State
    18 Syracuse lotta 2 stars
    19 Kansas
    20 Utah ok 1 four star
    24 Illinois lotta 2 stars
    25 James Madison get this out of their whole list one 3 star, one 2 star the rest unranked
    I dont think its far fetched to say the vast majority of teams not in the top 25 arent blessed with an abundance of anything over 3 stars.
    Colorado with their 3 star lineup just needs a real coach….which seems impossible for the Buffs to find I know. After all the total failures it would seem the odds of hitting it would have to increase out of the sheer numbers. Will the blind squirrel metaphor apply?
    Sure the academic standards may prevent some blue chip transfers but those are most likely to bail back into the portal when some one else like Oregon comes shopping if the standards are relaxed.
    Get lucky on a coach. Get some wins and bowls and hopefully the NIL, another real problem, will be solved as well. Dont see the NIL coming until we get the wins and bowls. Tough row to hoe but it has to be done. RG has to devote his full attention to this problem and delegate anything else on his plate until a real coach is finally found.

    1. This is not about CU’s academic standards. I’d bet at least 95% of Power 5 universities are able to accept just about any transfer they want as they have options for those who cannot readily meet the Progress-Towards-Degree requirements. Most achieve this by having some sort of General Studies or Integrated Studies degree. But there are other options as well. Phil was either gaslighting or ignorant to the issue, the implications of which either are alarming.

      Furthermore, All the universities you listed have key players in their roster who were transfers.

        1. Look no further than Bobi Klintman a talented basketball prospect. Tried to transfer into Tad Boyle’s basketball team. He was essentially told to look elsewhere. Where did he end up? Wake Forest. There is no reason for him to be accepted into WF and not CU.

          1. you sure about that?
            The college Klntman came from was about as thin as they get. Buff fans used to deride K State for packing their roster with JUCOS.
            But now that the whole system is going pro what the hell. Why even make em attend class?

    2. I appreciate your comment and willingness to look up that information. I have wondered about this for the past several years. However aren’t those 2 and 3 star athletes listed or rated strictly the high school kids coming in as true freshman? That does not include the more developed young men who are transferring in as sophomores and juniors. If that is true of those 8 universities, I am curious how many second or third year players those same teams have gotten in the past 3 years. I realize this is only one example. However it is a very powerful example that has made a huge impact! 2021 All Pac12 QB Cam Rising is a 4* out of hs. Redshirted at Texas then transfered to Utah. He then redshirted again at Utah. (Could be covid related but…) now he is a 5th year jr who is making an incredible impact on the Utah Utes football team! To just have a better shot at getting that type of player periodically who is somewhat developed and can still still develop and have multiple years with the team would be huge. If CU Denver has the Integrated studies degree it seems as though it wouldn’t take a ton of effort for CU Boulder to have the same degree.

  3. Great editorial. Depressing how few fucks give the campus leaders give, and how little they are willing to admit their own role in the struggles of the football team

  4. Great Summary of the big problems CU is facing!!
    Can a simple electronic petition with bullet points of the changes Buff Nation Wants to be corrected by admin at CU be created.
    It can be sent out via CUATG and any social media platform and be simply forwarded to BUFFS that might not be on these site or forwarded via email to all BUFFS!!
    Digitally signed and auto returned to a single email and forwarded to Chancellor DiStefano and get some noise going.
    I would happily donate to this too to get things up and running ASAP!!

  5. Stuart this isn’t a facility or transfer issue, this is a NIL issue and we all know that CU doesn’t have the base to compete with the NIL money in the SEC and BIG10. College football is now more like the MLB (in that the big money usually puts together the best teams) than the the NFL. Although even MLB locks in players for a number of years. I just don’t see a way CU competes, even if they develop players through great coaching and talent evaluation, they will simply leave whenever they want for greener pastures.

    1. Forget the SEC and Big 10. CU has a losing record against UCLA AND Arizona since joining the PAC-12…2 basketball schools. We’re the worst program in the power 5 and these transfer rules make it extremely difficult to bring in talent.

    2. Not True. Nil makes a difference. We all understand that. The transfer in and out is a much bigger issue. Better coaching and managing of the team can help limit the transfer outs. What is going to help with getting higher quality tranfers to come to Colorado and make a difference? Thats where the president and Chancellor come into play.

  6. I would think any interested candidate will be curious about roster composition, recruiting etc. and the transfer and nil issues.

    Macintyre’s contract included provisions and benchmarks for facilities improvements, like bzdelik’s. Would seem natural to have those conversations in light of the current landscape for nil and transfers, too.

    CU has been a place where coaches go to kill their careers for a while. At least football coaches. That has to change.

    Go Buffs

      1. you gotta understand earache is the hedge king. He says “kill”their careers, which sounds rather terminal, then adds “for a while.”
        Now that we are on the subject it would be interesting for some pundit, most of whom usually waste time and words anyway, to do a survey of truly dead careers vis a vis the carousel.

        1. Dude. My man ed. Your reading comprehension needs work, man. The “for a while” qualifier was speaking to the time frame for which CU has been killing coaches’ careers. Not that their careers only died for a while.

          All that said, it is of course a slightly hyperbolic take, but not really that much. Allow me to speak clearly:
          Neuheisel – didn’t kill his career at CU. Took two other stops to do that. But, from his time at CU, we knew he was a good recruiter, but less good at getting those recruits to win. I told my Husky brother the same when he went there. Saw it again at UCLA.

          Barnett? Dead for coaching. Dead. Dead. Dead.

          Hawkins? Still coaching. At UC Davis (and doing fine at it, actually). After a brief stint in the Canadian league. Some would say coaching at UC Davis is a dead career.

          Embree? Still coaching. Positions. In the NFL. Will he get a bigger gig? I hope he gets a shot.

          MacIntyre? Hey, he’s got another turnaround gig. Arguably, a much bigger one than CU was when he got there, and that’s hard to say. I wish him will.

          Mel? Ha. They may not win another game this year. Hey, at least the money he got is from alumns, not the school, so whatever. And, he went 5-7 with arguably the best roster in a coaching change CU had since Rick to Gary. Had he stayed? Probably gone by now too. But who knows? He’s certainly not blowing doors away w/ what he’s gotten at MSU, other than a one-year wonder (with a Heisman caliber running back transfer).

          Dorrell? Uh, anyone want to guess he’ll get another head coaching gig, anywhere? Position coach? Probably. Unless he just calls it a day so he can enjoy his Boulder County lifestyle.

          Next?

          Go Buffs

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