P.J. Fleck is in the market for a starting quarterback. Anyone got a spare $1 million you can loan the Gophers coach? That and a fundamental shift in offensive philosophy might do the trick.
Actually, $1 million might not be enough to attract an established Power Five quarterback searching for a new home. So says Nebraska coach Matt Rhule.
"Make no mistake that a good quarterback in the portal costs $1 million to $1.5 million to $2 million right now," Rhule told reporters this week. "Just so we're on the same page. Let's make sure we all understand what's happening. There are some teams that have $6 [million] or $7 million players playing for them."
Shocking? Yeah. Welcome to college sports circa 2023.
The aftereffect of the NIL (name, imagine and likeness) movement might make you curse into your morning coffee. It might make you lose interest in college sports. It might make you question the future of the entire enterprise.
This is reality now though, and the system is not going back to the old days when athletes were prohibited from transferring without penalty or earning compensation for their talent. Unless or until legislative oversight brings guardrails, the wild-west market will be dictated by schools with wealthy donors who don't mind forking over massive sums of money for talent.
Fleck likely never envisioned being in this position at the start of the season when he handed the keys to his offense to sophomore Athan Kaliakmanis. Everyone associated with the Gophers program saw high potential in the young quarterback. I had similar thoughts.
The prevailing assumption was that Kaliakmanis would be the starting quarterback for the next few years, and no one really stopped to consider what might be behind door No. 2.
Kaliakmanis threw open door No. 2 this week and walked right out. He's leaving the program, and suddenly Fleck is tasked with filling the most important position on the roster under circumstances that, to put it nicely, are hardly favorable.
The folks operating the Dinkytown Athletes collective, the group tasked with connecting Gophers athletes to endorsement opportunities, are doing yeoman's work in finding new ways to increase available NIL funds. They are not in a position, however, to guarantee someone $1 million in endorsements. If that's the going rate for a Power Five QB transfer with options, Fleck will be fishing in smaller ponds.
Fleck extended a scholarship offer to New Hampshire graduate transfer Max Brosmer after the regular season concluded. Brosmer has impressive passing statistics, but he played at the FCS level.
That is not to say that players moving up from lower levels cannot succeed in the Big Ten. There are countless examples of late developers, players who were under-recruited in high school or guys who thrive when facing better competition. But taking a player at any position from schools a notch (or two) below the Big Ten brings unknowns about how their talent will translate.
Fleck has something else working against him: his coaching philosophy.
His run-heavy, ball-control, shrink-the-game offensive approach is no secret. He has not veered from his bedrock principles in any substantive way in his seven seasons at Minnesota.
Fleck's strategy shows up in the stats. Not including the jumbled 2020 pandemic season, his Gophers have ranked near the bottom nationally in passing offense (per CFBstats.com) during his tenure:
Passing attempts? Even more stark:
Fleck is not exactly selling an Air Raid offense to quarterback prospects. Even in 2019 when the offense featured a pair of future NFL receivers in Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman, Fleck didn't deviate from the script. The Gophers just squeezed more out of their opportunities that season (11-2) than others.
Fleck can sell the idea of playing in a premier conference at an outstanding academic institution and sell opportunity or even a starting job. That should be an enticing sales pitch. But it's not the complete picture.
Quarterbacks want to throw the ball more than occasionally. And transferring quarterbacks now will have NIL as a major part of their decisionmaking process.
If a quarterback asks to sling the ball all over the field and to be guaranteed seven figures in compensation, the phone call with Minnesota will be brief.