SCOTTSDALE, Ariz., -- Following a dizzying April during which dozens of players entered the transfer portal, Colorado athletic director Rick George remained staunch in his support for first-year coach Deion Sanders' plan to rebuild the roster.
"I have confidence in him and his staff and they know what they're doing," George told ESPN on Thursday following the Pac-12's spring meetings. "... He's been very honest and forthright. He's been very open about it publicly and privately. He's trying to build a winner at Colorado, and this is his way to do it."
Sanders made it abundantly clear when he was hired from Jackson State in December that players should be prepared to transfer. Since then, 57 have entered the transfer portal, according to a school spokesman. It's an unprecedented amount in a new era of transfer rules.
The exodus began even before Sanders' arrival. According to ESPN's Stats & Information, 71 players have entered the portal since August, which includes those who left following an abysmal 1-11 season.
Since the portal's inception in 2018, Colorado by far has had the most players enter, as Arkansas State had the second-most with 50. No other school has had more than 48.
George pointed to an NCAA rule that allows first-year head coaches to cut scholarship players, but he also said there are some players who wanted to leave following spring practices.
"When [Sanders] first came in, he said, 'There's a lot of people here who may not be here,' because he evaluated and looked at the talent on our team," George said. "He's just publicly stated it, where a lot of people don't. We're not the first to do this. The NCAA rule says you can have those discussions. If a student-athlete wants to stay, they can stay. The university has to pay for them, they don't count on your scholarship limits and they're not on the team."
According to a school spokesman, there are four players who decided to stay at Colorado on scholarship but aren't with the team, and George confirmed the university will pay for their education. The specific NCAA rule, "Aid After Departure of Head Coach," states that those students won't count against Colorado's scholarship limitation as long as they're not participating with the team.
George said all of the players visit with the staff in the compliance office so they know the rules before they make their decisions. In a separate, wide-ranging interview earlier in the week, Todd Berry, the executive director of the American Football Coaches Association, said the buzz from coaches about what's happening at Colorado is that the whole intent "was never for anybody to change over a roster."
Berry, who said he wasn't familiar with the specifics of what was happening at Colorado other than what he's read, said the first-year head coach rule "allows for more attrition, but not one to basically say, 'you got to go, you got to go, you got to go.'"
George questioned why the rule shouldn't be used the way Colorado has chosen.
"It was intended to have those conversations," he said, "and if you look at first-year coaches over the past three or four years, you'll see some similar things. Maybe not that great in numbers, but when the transfer rule changed, we had 24, 25 guys go into the transfer portal we wanted to stay. So what's the difference?"
Following the mass exodus, Colorado is expected to have 67 scholarship players this fall, a number that remains slightly fluid as some commits who are expected might not have signed yet.
"Coach is doing what he thinks is best for this program," George said. "I support that. The rule is in place for a reason. It gives us the ability to do those kinds of things. Any student-athlete who doesn't want to leave, we'll honor their scholarship. We'll pay for it, and we've done that."