UMS-Wright’s Terry Curtis, the state’s all-time winningest high school football coach, finds the current NIL and transfer environment distasteful. “There could be ways to stop it but I’m not sure now,” Curtis said. “This has gone so far, someone would challenge it in court. We needed some strong rules to begin with.” (John O’ Dell/Call News)
By JIMMY WIGFIELD
The state’s winningest high school football coach doubts much can be done to stanch the influence of NIL deals and the allure of easy transfers now occurring with regularity in college football.
That influence on high school football came to the foreground when Mobile Christian star linebacker and Alabama commitment Sterling Dixon announced he is transferring to Spanish Fort for his senior year, ostensibly to improve his name, image and likeness value.
UMS-Wright coach Terry Curtis, who is also the president of the Alabama Football Coaches Association, said stopping the NIL and transfer portal now would likely draw lawsuits.
“There could be ways to stop it but I’m not sure now,” Curtis said. “This has gone so far, someone would challenge it in court. We needed some strong rules to begin with.”
Two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for NIL deals by unanimously ruling the NCAA’s restrictions on “education-related benefits” for its athletes violated antitrust laws.
“Nowhere else in America can businesses get away with agreeing not to pay their workers a fair market rate on the theory that their product is defined by not paying their workers a fair market rate,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh said.
But Curtis is incredulous that veteran players are leaving programs in which they excelled for new and seemingly better destinations.
“To go play with a ‘better team’ is the wrong reason,” Curtis said. “I have a hard time with seniors transferring. You’ve been in a program three or four years and you know how it fits you, you know the coach, they’ve developed you, and you leave. I can understand maybe your freshman or sophomore year, you don’t like the coach or like what he’s running. That’s where we are in the world.”
Thirty states allow high school players to monetize their name, image and likeness, according to businessofcollegesports.com. The Alabama High School Athletic Association forbids it but how long will that last?
“Alabama is losing players to other states offering NIL and we’ve got to figure out a policy for it,” Baker coach Steve Normand said. “Our high schools have got to take a proactive approach, not reactive.”
The college transfer portal is also being mimeographed by high school players who aren’t happy at one school and are trying to improve their stock.
“Transfers were so rare early in my career,” said Mobile Christian coach Ronnie Cottrell, who has also been the recruiting coordinator at Florida State and Alabama. “You used to see it only if parents moved with a job. Now it’s a common thing.”
Far too common for Curtis’ liking.
“There’s no loyalty out there at the college level or on the high school level either,” Curtis said. “You used to play somewhere because you loved being a Bulldog or a Panther or you loved Roll Tide or War Eagle. All that is out the door now. Now, they’re just looking for the most money and the best NIL deal. People are moving now from a place they’ve been their whole life and playing with guys they don’t even know.”
Dixon is far from the only veteran player transferring just before the season starts. Four-star junior quarterback Deuce Knight, the No. 5 quarterback nationally in the 2025 class, stunned his teammates at George County (Miss.) by transferring this week to Nashville’s Lipscomb Academy, which plays at Saraland on Aug. 25. Knight was the No. 2 prospect in Mississippi in 2025, according to the 247Sports Composite, and has been offered by Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Notre Dame, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Texas A&M.
Curtis said college recruits who have already been offered scholarships are hearing they need to look for even better opportunities.
“I’m even hearing college coaches are telling guys they’ve got to play at a higher level and they’ve already been offered by the big boys,” Curtis said. “Why are some kids flipping? It’s money.”
A bipartisan bill co-sponsored by former Auburn coach and current U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin would prevent college players from entering the transfer portal until finishing their first three years of academic eligibility. The bill would also require NIL collectives and boosters to be affiliated with a college or school and ban inducements and certain NIL agreements, including those involving alcohol and drugs and which conflict with existing school and conference licenses.
Normand fears no amount of NIL and transfer regulation will change the game’s path.
“When colleges opened that Pandora’s Box, there’s no way you’re going to put it back,” he said. “It has trickled down to high schools here. How do we fix it? I don’t know. I’ve talked to people at the top of the food chain and they don’t know either.
“The coaches don’t like it but we live in an opportunistic society where the almighty dollar rules. You can’t blame the kids. And how does it affect your locker room? That’s a problem.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban and Auburn coach Hugh Freeze have expressed their disdain for the NIL system and transfer portal.
“You listen to coach Saban and coach Freeze and I’ve yet to hear a college coach who likes it,” Curtis said. “They have to do it. Now it’s trickling down to high school.”
Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin said NIL fosters pay for play and is “legalized cheating.”
“Whatever programs have the most aggressive boosters with the most money are going to get the players,” Kiffin said at this year’s SEC Media Days. “This is a disaster coming because you just legalized cheating.”
As for the players, Kiffin added: “I’ve told them it’s an awesome time for them.”
But maybe not as good as they think, Curtis said.
“The pros have a hard time handling their money and you know high school players are going to have trouble with money,” Curtis said. “They shouldn’t have to worry about it. There are so many bad things going to come out of this stuff.”