“Just Leave Me Alone”: Razorback Signee Provides Insight into Hogs’ Rash of Decommits

CJ Brown, Arkansas football, Arkansas recruiting
photo credit: Craven Whitlow

In today’s college football, the “transfer portal and name, image and likeness (NIL)” era, one drawback that wasn’t predicted as much in the beginning is finally starting to garner attention — in Arkansas and across the country. 

Until now, when a player made the decision to decommit or transfer from a program, the majority of fans would opine about loyalty and the lack thereof from this generation of players. Not a lot of insight is ever really given about what factors contributed to that decision or what went on behind the scenes.

That’s changing. In recent weeks, many prominent coaches, players and media across the college football landscape have been speaking their mind about what is really happening with the portal, NIL and recruiting in general.

There are no better sources to paint a clear picture of what goes on behind the scenes than a player or coach. After all, they’re at the frontlines of this process on a daily basis this time of year. 

From an Arkansas football perspective, Sam Pittman has discussed his disdain for the increasingly free agency culture of his sport. Naturally, he hasn’t divulged much about his experiences. 

Not so with CJ Brown, a Bentonville, Ark., native and wide receiver signee in the 2024 recruiting class. 

CJ Brown Discusses Arkansas Recruiting Situation

In a recent appearance on ESPN Arkansas’ “The Morning Rush,” CJ Brown spoke about a plethora of things — from new offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino to the quality of high school football in the state and a lot in between. 

One topic that came up was Brown’s recruitment and how the Razorbacks’ abysmal 4-8 season played a role in it. 

Host Tye Richardson brought up the fact that, according to Pittman, Arkansas lost out to some recruits as a direct result of the bad season. He asked Brown about coaches from other schools potentially reaching out and trying to lure him away from the struggling Hogs. 

“I’m going to lead with – no matter how many games they won or lost, there was no thought in my mind that it was an option to decommit,” said Brown, who tallied 55 catches for 1,254 yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior. “But after that BYU loss, it felt like the next morning there was all the coaches who offered me, and the ones who hadn’t offered me yet were ready to offer me if I’d decommit.

“They’d text me and I’d respond for a while, then they’d text me again and I’d be [thinking] like dang, ‘Just leave me alone, I’m not coming to your school.’”

Brown remained firm throughout Arkansas’ disappointing season, despite coaches from other programs hounding him to jump ship. The same can’t be said for some of Brown’s fellow prospects in the 2024 class. 

The Hogs had six players decommit during this cycle, and were only able to get one of those players to hop back on board – running back Braylen Russell. Turns out, losing six straight games en route to a 4-8 season gives rival teams all the ammo they need to flip some of your team’s best prospects. 

Thankfully, such pitches didn’t shake Brown as he was one prospect who never wavered. It took him some time to actually commit to the Razorbacks, but once he made his decision, Brown said he was never going back on his word.

A big reason why it took Brown so long to decide was because he didn’t know if he wanted to stay so close to home. Brown, a Bentonville product, was very familiar with Northwest Arkansas and seriously considered a change of scenery for his collegiate career.

Ultimately, Arkansas was the place to be for Brown, but Richardson expanded on this subject by asking if a similar feeling may have caused other in-state prospects to spurn the Hogs in favor of an out-of-state school. 

“Arkansas probably missed on three recruits in-state this year,” Brown said. “I think a lot of it had to do with money conversations … I don’t want to speak for (Pittman), but from what I hear it doesn’t sound like he really wants to get in a bidding war for a high school athlete who hasn’t proved anything.”

This could very well be a reference to Pine Bluff’s four-star wide receiver Courtney Crutchfield, who decommitted from the Hogs in early November and signed with Missouri. At least one well-placed source confirms the local scuttlebutt that Crutchfield received a larger NIL deal with the Tigers than what he would’ve with the Hogs. 

The end of Brown’s answer is something that makes complete sense in today’s recruiting landscape. Using valuable NIL resources on an unproven player doesn’t sound like the best financial advice. Unfortunately, when coaches from other schools start throwing out significant financial offers, it’s hard not to play the bidding game. 

Problems with the Portal and NIL

Overall, the transfer portal and NIL were good additions for college athletics. However, it has quickly gotten out of hand without any legislation or consequences for those who overstep the mark. 

Whether you’re dealing with high school recruits, as Brown pointed out, or potential transfer players, tampering is becoming a regular occurrence and adds to an already chaotic process. 

“It’s a terrible system,” Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin said In a recent press conference. He doesn’t see any other sport where a “where free agency starts while the season is still going. So it really makes no sense.”

“You can leave, you can stay, you can go other places, coaches can call you and our season is still going,” Kiffin said. “It would be like before the NFC or AFC playoffs start in a couple weeks, all of a sudden, ‘Hey, free agency the week before opens.’ So, you can start recruiting other people’s players and fly them on trips and get them to transfer. So really, it’s a really bad system.”

Kiffin is simply pointing out it makes little sense to have the transfer portal open while bowl games and the playoffs haven’t even been played. This type of calendar really creates an environment where programs have to tamper to get a leg up on other teams. 

It’s like CJ Brown’s example of coaches reaching out immediately after Arkansas’ loss to BYU. Similar to a hungry lion ready to pounce on a wounded gazelle, coaches from other schools will jump on prospective players at the first sign of struggles.

The attempted poaching begins with the high school commits and these days just seems to continue on through college, especially for those players on struggling or mid-major teams. With the transfer portal opening so soon after the regular season ends, it’s hard for staff members of some teams to resist contacting potential transfers in the middle of a season.

The arms-race dynamic has always been a part of big-time college sports, dating back to Harvard-Yale rowing contests in the 1850s. Programs will do whatever they need to get even the most miniscule advantage over the competition. That includes pushing the boundaries and operating in gray areas of the rulebook.

Right now, though, it seems as if there is no strict rulebook to abide by. No law and order in this Wild West. 

For Arkansas football, that means picking and choosing your battles wisely. Until there’s either new legislation or the Razorbacks’ NIL situation begins to “print money” like some of the other national powers, paying extra for an unproven talent doesn’t seem smart.

Besides, if that means passing on certain prospects in favor of those of CJ Brown’s ilk, that’s probably best for long-term success anyways.

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Listen to the entirety of CJ Brown’s appearance on “The Morning Rush” here:

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CJ Brown’s Bonafides

The 6’1″, 185 pound wide receiver was a consensus three-star prospect by 247Sports, Rivals, ESPN and On3 …

*Rated the No. 79 wide receiver in the country and the No. 8 overall prospect in Arkansas according to ESPN … No. 84 wide receiver nationally and No. 6 overall prospect in Arkansas by 247Sports

CJ Brown spent some of his youth in Minnesota but after moving to northwest Arkansas played for head coach Jody Grant at Bentonville High School. He finished his senior season with 55 catches for 1,254 yards (22.8 ypc) and 15 touchdowns … Completed one pass for a 62-yard touchdown … Also rushed twice for 81 yards and two scores … Returned five kickoffs for 373 yards (74.6 avg) and three touchdowns during the 2023 campaign …

Birthdate: Aug. 12, 2005 … CHOSE ARKANSAS OVER: Kansas State, Louisville, Minnesota, Oklahoma State, Purdue, Vanderbilt and others.

via Razorback Communications

More coverage of Arkansas football and Arkansas recruiting from BoAS…

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