Chip Scoggins
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Nothing should surprise fans of college sports anymore, and yet news surfaces almost daily now that feels as subtle as a 2-by-4 to the backside.

The latest came when Gophers basketball sophomore Pharrel Payne put his name in the transfer portal, exactly two weeks after the post player told the Star Tribune's Marcus Fuller that "it's important to keep the group together, so we can keep building on it. Imagine what we could do if we keep the group together for next year."

This would be comical if it weren't so predictable.

Being a fan of college sports has never required more emotional patience than right now. The entire enterprise feels transient, allegiances weakened by the seductive power of money. Not just for athletes, but coaches and conferences and administrators and TV executives and everyone involved in it.

Everything has become a financial transaction. Even relationships. Especially relationships.

Yeah, I know. Welcome to America, sir. Where money and free will cannot be harnessed.

To be clear, college athletes deserve to have more control over their individual situation. The transfer portal and name, image and likeness were long overdue because the rules were absurdly hypocritical, favoring the NCAA, member schools and well-compensated coaches.

It's just that this new world order has been a jolt to the system. The green light flashed and college sports accelerated from 0 to 100 faster than a Formula 1 car, resulting in chaos.

Here locally, it has become equally big news when a talented Gophers athlete decides to stay as it is if he or she leaves. You could hear a sigh of relief from Worthington to Warroad when star running back Darius Taylor announced last December that he was returning for his sophomore year. The sign of the times, I suppose.

This no-rules free-for-all has everyone on pins and needles, hoping the NIL bogeyman doesn't raid the roster. Any excitement about a young, promising athlete on campus is tempered by the real possibility they will be enticed to transfer to a school with deeper NIL pockets.

Does that lesson your enjoyment?

Third-party collectives are leaning on fans to subsidize the operation with the understanding that if they don't contribute, the best players will be lured away. If the cost of retaining talent keeps going up and up, the fear is that NIL soon will stand for Nothing Is Left.

Two people involved in college athletics shared that a high-major men's basketball program needs a minimum of $1 million to distribute to its roster. The Gophers can't satisfy that demand quite yet.

Ben Johnson is trying to build a program while simultaneously having to rebuild his roster every year because of players shuttling in and out. Five entered the portal in the past week, none more significant than Payne, who averaged 10 points and 6.1 rebounds in his second season.

Frustration over the news is understandable because Payne had improved significantly in his first two seasons. He wasn't highly recruited out of high school. He was developing steadily under Johnson's staff. He figured to be a core piece to a program that made progress this season. And now he's gone, presumably headed for a major payday from a well-funded program.

Payne has not shared his reasons for leaving publicly. He was expected to earn substantial money — believed to be six figures — from the Gophers' official collective, Dinkytown Athletes, if he had stayed. But they cannot win a bidding war with bluebloods.

That puts them in a tough spot — one that mid-major programs know all too well. If they recruit smart and develop talent, they run the risk of losing players to deep-pocketed schools. The Gophers also don't have the resources to outspend schools for top-tier talent in the transfer portal.

They are running on a hamster wheel.

Industry sources say basketball is different from other sports because it is far more transactional. That leads to more fluidity and constant roster turnover. The NIL situation for Gophers football is in better shape, though still not in the same league as big spenders.

This is it, the new reality. Those of us who love college sports must adjust our expectations and understanding of how things roll now. Interestingly, TV ratings for football remain strong as ever, meaning we might grumble but we haven't stopped watching.

We just complain more because there is more to complain about.