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Were Clemson players in transfer portal tampered with? What coach Dabo Swinney said

Ahead of the Gator Bowl, Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney took aim at what he sees as the biggest problem in college football right now: tampering.

“The portal’s not the problem,” Swinney said Thursday. “NIL’s not the problem. The problem is tampering. That’s the problem. That is the problem in college football, and that could be fixed easily, too, if they would let football people fix it. But we don’t usually get a vote in that.”

“But that’s the biggest challenge that we’re dealing with, is that aspect of it.”

Swinney didn’t directly say any Clemson players had been tampered with, but he criticized tampering unprompted twice on a Zoom call previewing the Gator Bowl days after his team had a number of surprising portal departures.

Starting wide receiver Beaux Collins, starting safety Andrew Mukuba, sophomore cornerback Toriano Pride Jr. and freshman defensive end David Ojiegbe are among eight Tigers in the portal as of Thursday. Clemson, in past years, has primarily lost veteran depth players to the portal.

In terms of interest from other schools, Collins is set to visit Notre Dame, Mukuba has been linked to Texas and Pride committed to Missouri on Wednesday night.

Nov 5, 2022; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Clemson Tigers safety Andrew Mukuba (1) warms up before the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 5, 2022; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Clemson Tigers safety Andrew Mukuba (1) warms up before the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Swinney first critiqued tampering when asked about any potential bowl game opt-outs for Clemson (8-4). He said that Clemson players “publicly in the portal” wouldn’t compete in the game and went on to critique tampering, insinuating that it may have happened with some of his departing players.

The NCAA bans schools from using name, image and likeness (NIL) deals as recruiting inducements, but everyone in college football agrees they’re often an under-the-table part of high school and transfer recruiting processes. Swinney’s among the many coaches to criticize tampering and call for reform at an NCAA level.

“It’s unfortunate that that’s just the way it is,” Swinney said. “I mean ... they (other programs) do, but they’re not supposed to talk to them until you get in the portal.”

Swinney brought up tampering a second time when asked about the difficulty of recruiting his own roster to stay put in an NIL and transfer portal world on top of regular recruiting duties. Clemson had on-campus meetings with players last week thanks to an NCAA calendar change regarding dead periods.

Swinney said tampering is “the biggest challenge” he and other coaches are facing.

“Agreed,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said.

2023 Gator Bowl

Who: No. 22 Clemson (8-4) vs. Kentucky (7-5)

When: Friday, Dec. 29, at noon

Where: EverBank Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla.

TV: ESPN

Betting line: Clemson by 7 points