For the first time in three years, the University of Minnesota is holding its Coaches Caravan after the 2020 and '21 editions were wiped out because of the pandemic. On Monday night, the Gophers made the first of four caravan stops that run through late June, this one at the university's Landscape Arboretum in Chaska, giving fans a chance to meet and greet a handful of coaches.

Amid a backdrop of flora and fauna, football's P.J. Fleck, men's basketball's Ben Johnson, volleyball's Hugh McCutcheon and soccer's Erin Chastain, along with athletic director Mark Coyle, took to the podium to extol the virtues of their programs.

Since the last caravan in 2019, college sports have undergone monumental changes with the ongoing impact of the NCAA's transfer portal and the newfound freedom of payments to athletes for their name, image and likeness (NIL) reverberating throughout the country.

“These days, kids aren't willing to sit behind somebody. It's a way of life.”
P.J. Fleck on the transfer portal

On Monday afternoon, the NCAA's Division I Board of Directors issuing new NIL guidelines aimed at improper benefits through recruiting. The governing body of college athletics reiterated that boosters are not allowed to provide direct aid to student-athletes and that "collectives" that line up NIL payments are considered boosters. With reports of teams poaching other programs for players and boosters dedicating a specific amount to players who earn starting jobs, the NCAA hopes to clean things up.

How well the NCAA will be able to enforce the guidelines and how that enforcement stands up to legal challenges remain to be seen.

"College football and college athletics is changing drastically," Fleck told the caravan gathering. "There's no putting the genie back in the bottle."

Rather, Fleck sees a coach's job expanding to managing the transfer portal and dealing with the implications of NIL, which under NCAA rules, coaches and athletic officials cannot arrange.

"You've got to realize those two things were created for the student-athlete," Fleck added. "It's to benefit student-athletes. I'm for that, Hugh's for that, Ben's for that, Erin's for that."

Since the end of the 2021 regular season, Fleck has seen 18 Gophers enter the transfer portal, including standout running backs Ky Thomas and Mar'Keise Irving. Seven players have transferred to Minnesota, with guard Chuck Filiaga (Michigan), defensive end Lorenza Surgers (Vanderbilt) and cornerback Beanie Bishop (Western Kentucky) among those playing key roles during spring practice.

"It's part of the deal. Get used to it," Fleck said. "Transfer doesn't mean bad. We've benefited from it, but we've also had to give some to do that. These days, kids aren't willing to sit behind somebody. It's a way of life."

Johnson found out about the realities of the transfer portal last season, his first as Gophers coach. Ten players transferred from the Gophers men's basketball team. For the upcoming season, Johnson is bringing in three transfers.

"It feels incredibly better [this year]," Johnson said. "Not only to know who you have on your roster, and also staff. … You can really focus in on what we're going to get accomplished this summer."

Fleck sees adaptability as a key going forward with the changing landscape.

"It's incredibly difficult to navigate because there's not a lot of rules to it," he said. "That's been stated very clearly. We'll just continue to do it our way. You're willing to adapt, but you're not willing to change who you are as a person and what you believe in to build a program."

Added Johnson: "It's become more interesting, that's for sure. It'll be nice to have a year under our belt and we can all figure out what worked, what didn't work. … You just try to roll with the punches."