Kevin McCullar’s departure and the current state of college athletics

It’s a confusing time to be a fan of college sports as there have been a lot of changes to the national landscape with the relatively recent additions of the transfer portal, transfer exemptions and the name, image, likeness policy. The result has been constant roster turnover and somewhat public bidding wars for players.

It’s easier for players to transfer than ever and the bidding war, which even the most naive of us would have begrudgingly admitted went on under the table to a large degree prior to the NIL era, still flies in the face of what we liked to believe about college athletics–that it was amateur sports played by young student-athletes. Right, wrong or indifferent, that illusion has been blown out of the water by these new rules and the subsequent fallout.

Each athletic program has its own story in this new era, been affected to some degree by these new rules and Texas Tech is certainly no different. The Red Raiders have benefitted from the transfer portal in multiple sports, most notably on the gridiron and hardwood, and are players in the NIL game, but perhaps no single event in this current climate has been more of a lightning rod than the impending departure of junior guard Kevin McCullare, who has announced both his intention to test NBA waters and in the case he is not NBA bound that he will transfer with two seasons of eligibility remaining. What’s more, he has announced a final two schools of Gonzaga and Kansas.

McCullar is a Texas Tech legacy, as his father, Kevin McCullar, Sr., was a Red Raider linebacker in the 90’s. McCullar, Jr., a 6-foot-6, multi-year starter for the Red Raiders has been a critical part of the program’s success the past three seasons after signing with Texas Tech in 2018. He redshirted and traveled with the vaunted 2018- 19 national runner-up squad. The following season he averaged 6.0 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game as a redshirt freshman primarily coming off the bench before starting the final six games. McCullar took on a greater role as a starter and key figure on the team the following season finishing with averages of 10.4 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game the 2020-21 team which made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

McCullar’s decision to return to Texas Tech and play for new head coach Mark Adams, who was promoted after serving as an assistant for years, following Chris Beard’s departure to Texas prior to last season was considered by many as a watershed moment for the program. Despite multiple injuries last season, McCullar served as primary ballhandler, the tip of the spear of Adams’ justifiably heralded “no middle” defense and finished what looks like his final run at Texas Tech with averages of 10.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.4 steals per game.

McCullar is hardly the only key figure from last year’s team to leave. Shortly after Texas Tech’s March Madness run ended with a loss to Duke in the Sweet 16, news leaked that fellow starter and veteran guard Terrence Shannon would be entering the transfer portal. He has since committed to Illinois. The Red Raiders also lost four key seniors–Bryson-Williams, Adonis Arms, Marcus Santos-Silva and David Warren— to graduation, plus reserves such as chibuzo agbo and Mylik Wilson have entered the transfer portal. Agbo has committed to Boise State while Wilson hasn’t publicly announced a destination yet. Clarence Nadolny is also expected to not return next season and will likely be playing pro ball somewhere overseas.

Still, no departure in any sport save Beard’s to Texas, has stirred up more emotion in the Texas Tech fan base than McCullar leaving and his recent public message defending his actions while condemning those of the Red Raider fan base. Here is the timeline of McCullar’s messages via Twitter in which he first declared for the NBA on Mar. 27, then that he would be entering the portal on Apr. 27, then his final two teams if he remains in college on May 1 followed by his response to the criticism later that day:

In the meantime, Texas Tech is bringing in the No. 22 ranked recruiting class highlighted by four-star guards pop isaacs and Lamar Washingtonplus currently the No. 1 transfer class with coveted players such as Jaylon Tyson, De’vion Harmon, Fardaws Aimaq and D’Maurian Williamsnot to mention the return of forward kevin obanor so the cupboard will be anything, but bare for Mark Adams and the Red Raiders next season as they are expected to again compete for a Big 12 title and make another tourney run.

There’s a lot to digest for Texas Tech fans about the current state of their beloved Red Raider basketball program and college athletics as a whole. Inside the Red Raiders has been tasked with trying to organize and explain what exactly is going on. With that in mind, we thought this would be a perfect time to voice our opinions with a staff discussion attempting to answer why exactly McCullar’s departure has elicited so much emotion and what the heck is going on with NCAA athletics. The following is a collection of our opinions on the matter:

Joe Yeager, Senior Writer: McCullar’s decision and the controversy surrounding it is simply an epiphenomenon springing directly from the transfer portal/NIL racket. The djinn has been released from the bottle, and he’s a monster. This situation is provisionally good for the players, but bad for college basketball, and bad for fans and coaches. Decisions such as McCullar’s will generate more and more rancor and disenchantment among fans, and interest in the sport, which has already been on the wane for some time, will continue to appear. The greed, the selfishness, and the NCAA’s criminal idiocy and irresponsibility could eventually kill the proverbial goose who has been laying the golden eggs for many decades.

Jarrett Johnson, Publisher: I believe the emotion from all involved is due to a variety of factors. For one, the current state of college athletics is unsettling for many. The free-agent nature of professional sports has been a thing for a long time, but that environment is a major turn-off to many, especially those who are rabid college fans, such as the fan base at Texas Tech, which resides decidedly in to collegetown. The NCAA was thought of by some as an alternative for fans who grew tired of buying a jersey of their favorite professional player starring for their favorite team only for that player to sign with a rival in the offseason. There was an illusion of purity in college athletics. In my opinion it was solely that, an illusion, but it was comforting in a way for many. That has been blown out of the water with these new rules laid out above. Also, there is an identity unique to every college fan base and Texas Tech’s is certainly one of “you’re either with us, or against us.” I like the idea of ​​the fan base regaining an edge so to speak, being feared for its passion, which has been fueled both by recent success in many sports, but also a feeling of “why aren’t we good enough for you?” which was never more present than in the emotion of Chris Beard’s departure from him to in-state, in-conference (for now) rival Texas and his return from him to Lubbock last season.

The emotion surrounding McCullar’s departure is layered. He’s a Texas Tech legacy, he’s exemplified the culture of defense and toughness this program’s recent success has been built upon and he could be going to Big 12 rival Kansas, a blueblood and the reigning national champs. Other than Texas, or perhaps Baylor, I can’t imagine there being a more perceived slap in the face to Red Raider basketball fans. I understand the emotion from the fans, though on the other hand, any death threats or name calling directly to McCullar or any athlete are at the very least in extremely poor taste. Also, the decision appears to be mutual between McCullar and Adams.

Steven Chapman, Photographer, Staff: In my honest opinion, the world of college sports has been turned on its head with basketball being the most changed. NIL and the transfer portal have given college athletes opportunities to make money and better position themselves for the future. We may not like it as fans but loyalty to programs and educations have been thrown out the window in trade for money and more hopeful futures.

Kevin McCullar’s decision to transfer hits us harder than most. He has been the face and voice for Texas Tech Basketball for the last two years and gave fans hope. One might say that his commitment from him to Coach Mark Adams might have kept this program intact and helped get the transfers to come to Texas Tech. While it might be easier to accept him entering the draft, transferring to Gonzaga or Kansas was not. Gonzaga and Kansas both have great basketball programs but I have to wonder if those schools will hold a spot for McCullar if another good transfer comes calling. I completely understand McCullar wanting to do what is best for himself. I understand playing in other programs could help enhance getting drafted in the NBA. What I do question is why he needed to tell where his choices were with Gonzaga and Kansas. Is he trying to gain more money from NIL to make those schools compete against each other for him? Is he throwing this out there to try and get more money from Tech alums to keep him in the program? IMHO, that is not a good look and a bad decision on his part.

Finally, what we need to realize as fans is that the NIL and transfer portal give athletes options they have never had before. You can criticize all you want but you have to understand that these players have to think of themselves first and for fans to question that is wrong. Who doesn’t try to put themselves first in their career and future? Why not just be thankful for what Kevin McCullar has done for the basketball program and for Texas Tech and wish him the best in the future.

Kenny Romero, Staff: My first thoughts on McCullar entering the portal were it was expected, with the way everything is set up for athletes they are smart to keep their options open as much as possible, entering the portal would give him an additional option if the draft didn’t work out and Mark Adams had already filled the roster spot.

I have to say I was surprised by his final 2 of Gonzaga and Kansas mostly because I think those rosters are very talented and even though I think he was a great fit as a Red Raider he doesn’t seem like a fit in those programs. The fact that Kansas is in the same conference honestly doesn’t bother me.

As far as McCullar’s response through Twitter I agree with him to a point. Texas Tech has been the beneficiary of the transfer market multiple times and cheered that on. My opinion is you have to take the good with the bad in this current climate of transfers and NIL, if we are going to cheer getting transfers then we should wish players well and thank them for their contribution if/when they decide to move on regardless of which school they choose.

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