College football coaches are dying to catch their breath as the transfer portal’s May 1 deadline halts roster changes
Eli Drinkwitz can hardly wait for next Sunday. He’s not alone.
“Hell yeah,” the Missouri coach told CBS Sports. “We’re all waiting for that day.”
May 1st marks the day when the transfer portal will be closed for this academic year. It will close for three months before reopening on August 1, the start of the 2022-23 academic year. Players on the May 1 portal can still transfer after that date, but the deadline provides a touch of roster security amid what has brought free agency to college football.
With just a week to go, there’s heightened anticipation for one final, dramatic bum run to broadcast freedom before the portal’s doors close.
The spring exercises will largely be over on May 1st. Positional battle losers have to make decisions. A bottleneck could form. Trainers everywhere are looking forward to exhaling as they get through the next week.
“Because then, [once it’s closed], Your team is your team,” said Drinkwitz. “You can get kids out of the portal by then, but you can’t lose anyone else. We all thought [the big push] should be this week and we haven’t seen it yet.
“We all thought, ‘This is going to be a mass exodus to the portal.'”
Judge for yourself. According to Susan Peal, who administers the National Letter of Intent for the NCAA, more than 10% of April’s FBS transfer portal entries (26 of 252) came last Thursday.
“Whether we see an increase after this week knowing we are going into the last week [is unknown]’ Peal told CBS Sports.
It’s just another example of the college model being reconfigured before our very eyes. So why not one last dramatic production before we take a three-month hiatus?
By Friday morning, exactly 6,610 players (across all three divisions) had entered the transfer portal in the last academic year. Together there are approximately 680 schools in these divisions. That’s about an average of 10 portal entries per school.
Another consideration: in the past three years, just over a third of all FBS players on the portal have been walk-ons.
It also confirms the aspect of the musical chairs of the portal. There aren’t enough roster spots when the music stops playing.
In the first three years of its existence, just over half of the FBS players who entered the portal were picked up by another school, Peal said. Trying to predict whether that number will fluctuate either way is too early to say, she added.
The numbers remain relatively flat year-on-year with 242 portal listings in April 2021 and 252 in April 2022 (with eight days remaining from Friday). The portal is still a moving target. All definitive conclusions about trends begin and end with Peal.
“To say nothing [third-party sites tracking] the transfer portal; They don’t have the real data,” she said.
For now, the May 1 deadline had to factor into the decisions of two starters from the state of Arizona who entered the portal on Thursday. Lead returning wide receiver Ricky Pearsall and All-American linebacker Eric Gentry, who was new for 2021, both left. There will be others.
“I spoke to a recruiter who said there will be 20 to 30 people a day until May 1st,” said Chris Hummer, who closely monitors the portal for 247Sports. “I don’t think many of them will be super-qualified guys.”
Does it matter here? For trainers, managing the portal has become a daily survival and progression. The predicted nature of Wild, Wild West Free Agency has evolved into Wild, Wild West on steroids.
Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin is the self-proclaimed “Portal King” who has welcomed 14 transfers to Oxford, Mississippi. The quality of this portal “class” ranked Ole Miss 1st on 247Sports. These transfers have played more than 250 combined FBS games.
The portal was implemented in August 2018 in response to decades of coaches being able to block players from transferring to the schools of their choice. We are only now coming to terms with its full effect. Over the years, the rules for in-conference broadcasting have been relaxed. The one-time transfer exception installed on August 1, 2021 has now turned the portal into a one-stop shop where all underclassmen can now pick up and leave without spending a year in residence.
It just seems like it took forever to get to this point.
USC coach Lincoln Riley and Alabama coach Nick Saban slammed the current transfer environment — as well as naming, image and similarity rules — in one Associated Press story last week.
Fair feelings except Riley is counting on Oklahoma’s Caleb Williams to be his quarterback. Williams has potential as a championship quarterback and that’s with his ZERO rating. Riley also dropped WR Mario Williams and cornerback Latrell McCutchin from his old program.
The NCAA isn’t coming to the rescue anytime soon. NIL arose because the courts found that the NCAA had illegally capped athlete compensation. Transfer freedom evolved, at least in part, out of concerns about similar legal liability related to restrictive transfer rules.
In both realms, a culture of conform or die has clearly emerged.
“I had no choice but to dive into the transfer portal,” LSU coach Brian Kelly told CBS Sports. “My preference would be to fill up the tank when it comes to the portal. I don’t want to build our program over this, but you had to do it [for now]. you can’t wait There is no three-year plan.”
For Todd Berry, “I Told You So” was a giant. The Executive Director of the American Football Coaches Association has spent months reflecting on his constituency’s views. FBS coaches would prefer the “Seasons” transfer portal – perhaps one after the regular season and one in the spring – to provide some reassurance on what has now become the biggest headache for coaches: roster management.
“We’re completely out of control,” Berry said. “[The portal is] killing high school recruiting, which is a shame. We’re killing the scholastic model, which is a shame.”
There are preliminary numbers that support the claim that coaches are more reliant on transfers at the expense of recruiting high school players. The latest figures from Peal show that the number of signed FBS high school prospects has decreased by 20% over the past two years. During the same period, FBS transfers doubled from 372 to 741. This number represents the total number of grantees who transferred from any division.
In fact, 2021 marked the first across-the-board drop in high school signers across all sports, according to Peal.
Next to all this, of course, is a huge asterisk. The NCAA granted an additional year of eligibility to all collegiate athletes who enrolled during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. This gave thousands of athletes who would otherwise have had no eligibility the opportunity to stay on the rosters.
“You have that factor and you have the factor, are coaches recruiting more transfers than those who left high school?” said Peal. “That’s yet to be known before we can see a few more years, ‘Is that the trend?'”
Berry said he knows a team that is down to 62 grantees due to transfer losses. The team, whose name he does not name, could not play a game today due to a lack of depth in a certain position.
The AFCA supports relaxing the 85 grant cap to address some of these shortcomings. As noted above, the NCAA has done just that during COVID-19 in the interests of health and safety. A big challenge for coaches now is getting back down to that 85 by next season.
“Our coaches believe that’s the only way, it’s the only other solution out there,” Berry said. “We are putting the health and safety of the players at risk if we don’t relax to the maximum.”
The problem mainly concerns football, which has never dealt with this type of turnover. Men’s basketball is a transfer culture. Even before the one-time exception was created, 40% of Division I players transferred before the end of their sophomore years.
“Two different sports and two different numbers,” said Missouri’s new basketball coach Dennis Gates. “For us it takes a player or two to make a big difference. In football… it takes a little bit more. Much more. We can find that one player in the portal that can change our entire season. They did find it [more than one].”