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UNC Basketball: Thinking With Portals

We do what we must, because we can.

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament Quarterfinals - Virginia vs North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

It’s possible that, for the first time ever, what I’m about to say won’t be widely agreed with and applauded by everyone who reads it. There’s every chance that this is the first time I’ve ever been wrong on this site, that I am tarnishing my spotless record, that I am throwing a shadow over what is sure to be a towering legacy as a part-time collegiate sports blogger. That may be the case, yet I still feel compelled to speak the truth that lives within my heart and suffer any and all consequences.

I don’t particularly mind the transfer portal.

There, I’ve said it. Excoriate me in the comments below. Even worse, refuse to engage at all. I understand it, and there are better writers on this site who deserve your clicks more. All I ask is that you first hear me out, so that you can be better equipped to point out exactly what manner of idiot I am.

Players leaving honestly doesn’t bother me that much.

This may sound like denial, and that’s fair. Am I bummed to see players whom I had expected to be a major part of the team seek their (sometimes literal) fortunes elsewhere? Sure; I think it’s good and proper to mourn a waste of potential. At the same time, I’d hate to see a player forced to stay who wanted out. In this brave new world, we are forced to face the idea that maybe a group of 18-22 year olds doesn’t love a university in the exact same way that we do. If, for whatever reason, a player no longer wants to be a part of a team, I certainly wouldn’t want them to stick around.

I’ve seen this player exodus called a “bad look” for the Tar Heels, and framed as the death knell for the college basketball by the more hyperbolically-inclined minds on social media. I’ve witnessed metaphorical wailing and gnashing of teeth, fans convincing themselves that a program (or even a sport as a whole) is doomed because someone who can’t yet legally purchase alcohol has decided to play a sport other than the one that they pull for.

Players have always left programs. There’s no such thing as a franchise player in college sports, though Armando Bacot is giving it his absolute best shot. Nothing in this world can last forever, and the four(ish) years of college seem to pass even more quickly than most. With more agency given to players (due, in large part, to the fascinating incompetence of the NCAA as a governing body), we can look forward to more changes than previous seasons, but I don’t think that’s the boogeyman that some folks would want us to believe. I’d much rather watch a team full of players who truly want to be in Chapel Hill than a group of folks who don’t. After all, Brady Manek wanted to be here to finish his career, and I think we’ll be forever grateful that he did.

The transfer portal is here to stay (or leave, I suppose). The phenomenon is not unique to Carolina, nor is it a flash in the pan, nor is it something that I think is worth getting particularly worked up about. Certainly, it’s not worth being Mad Online (as I’ve said, nothing is). It’s simply a shiny new sword that can cut both ways; an inexhaustible source of both heartbreak and hope. The most important and interesting aspect will be how well programs are able to adapt to the latest wrinkle an ever-changing college sports landscape.

All that us fans can do, for now, is wish the former Tar Heels the best on their way out and turn our thoughts toward the future. Tomorrow, like today, will be a great day to be a Tar Heel.