College football coaches eager to catch their breath as May 1 transfer gate deadline halts roster roll
Eli Drinkwitz is looking forward to next Sunday. He is not alone.
“Hell, yeah,” the Missouri coach told CBS Sports. “We are all waiting for this day.”
May 1 marks the day the transfer portal closes for this academic year. It closes for three months before reopening on August 1, the start of the 2022-23 academic year. Portal players by May 1 can still transfer after that date, but the deadline provides roster certainty amid what amounts to free agency in college football.
With only a week left, there is growing expectation for one last dramatic rush to transfer freedom before the portal doors close.
By May 1, spring practices will be largely complete. The position battle losers will have decisions to make. A bottleneck could form. Coaches all over the world are eager to expire if they can make it through next week.
“Because then [once it’s closed], your team is your team,” Drinkwitz said. “You can get the kids out of the portal by then, but you can’t lose anyone else. We all thought [the big push] was going to be this week, and we haven’t seen it yet.
“We were all like, ‘It’s going to be a mass exodus to the portal.'”
Judge by yourself. More than 10% of FBS transfer portal entries in April (26 of 252) occurred last Thursday, according to Susan Peal, who manages the national letter of intent for the NCAA.
“If we see a peak after this week knowing that we are entering the last week [is unknown]”Peal told CBS Sports.
It’s just another example of the collegiate model reconfigured before the eyes. So how about one last dramatic production before taking a three month hiatus?
As of Friday morning, exactly 6,610 players had entered the transfer portal over the past academic year (in all three divisions). Together, there are approximately 680 schools in these divisions. That’s roughly an average of 10 portal entries per school.
Another consideration: Over the past three years, just over a third of all FBS players on the portal have been walk-ons.
It also reaffirms the musical chairs aspect of the portal. There are not enough places on the list when the music stops.
In the first three years of its existence, just over half of FBS players who entered the portal were picked up by another school, Peal said. Trying to predict whether that number will fluctuate one way or the other is too early to tell, she added.
The numbers remain relatively stable year over year with 242 portal entries in April 2021 and 252 in April 2022 (with eight days remaining as of Friday). The portal is still a moving target. Any definitive conclusion to be drawn about trends begins and ends with Peal.
“To say nothing about [third-party sites tracking] the transfer portal; they don’t have the real data,” she said.
For now, the May 1 deadline has had to play into the decisions of two Arizona State starters who entered the gate on Thursday. Returning wide receiver Ricky Pearsall and 2021 freshman All-American linebacker Eric Gentry are both gone. There will be others.
“I spoke to a staff guy who said there would be 20-30 guys a day until May 1,” said Chris Hummer, who closely monitors the 247Sports portal. “I don’t think many of them will be super quality guys.”
Does it matter at this point? For coaches, managing the portal has become a daily matter of survival and advancement. The predicted nature of the Wild, Wild West’s free agency turned into the Wild, Wild West on steroids.
Ole Miss manager Lane Kiffin is the self-proclaimed ‘Portal King’, having welcomed 14 transfers to Oxford, Mississippi. The quality of this “class” of portal allowed Ole Miss to be ranked #1 by 247Sports. These transfers have played over 250 FBS games combined.
The portal was set up in August 2018 in response to decades of coaches being able to ‘block’ players from transferring to schools of their choice. We have only just accepted its full impact. Over the years, intra-conference transfer rules have been relaxed. The one-time transfer exception, installed August 1, 2021, has now made the portal a one-stop-shop where all underclasses can now pick up and go without staying a year in residency.
It just seems like it took forever to get to this point.
USC coach Lincoln Riley and Alabama coach Nick Saban criticized the current transfer environment — as well as name, image and likeness rules — in a Associated Press story last week.
Fair feelings, except Riley is counting on Oklahoma transfer Caleb Williams to be his quarterback. Williams has potential as a championship quarterback and with his NIL value. Riley also took WR Mario Williams and cornerback Latrell McCutchin from his old program.
The NCAA isn’t coming to the rescue anytime soon. NIL appeared because the courts determined that the NCAA had illegally capped athlete compensation. Freedom of transfer has grown, at least in part, due to concerns about similar legal liability for restrictive transfer rules.
Clearly, a culture of adapt or die has emerged in both areas.
“I had no choice but to dive into the transfer portal,” LSU coach Brian Kelly told CBS Sports. “My preference would be to complete the reservoir as far as the portal goes. I don’t want to build our program through it, but you had to [for now]. You can’t wait. There is no three-year plan.”
For Todd Berry, it was a giant, “I told you so”. The executive director of the American Football Coaches Association has spent months reflecting the views of his constituency. FBS coaches would prefer transfer gate “seasons” – perhaps one after the regular season and one in the spring – to provide some certainty for what has now become the biggest headache for coaches: management. workforce.
“We’re completely out of control,” Berry said. “[The portal is] killing high school recruiting, which is a shame. We kill the school model, it’s a shame.”
Preliminary figures support the claim that coaches are betting more on transfers at the expense of recruiting players from high schools. Peal’s latest numbers show the number of prospects signed to FBS High School has dropped 20% over the past two years. During the same period, FBS transfers doubled from 372 to 741. This number represents the total number of stock players transferred from any division.
In fact, 2021 marked the first widespread decrease in high school signers in any sport, according to Peal.
Of course, there’s a huge asterisk next to it all. The NCAA has granted an additional year of eligibility to all registered varsity athletes amid the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. This has given thousands of athletes, who otherwise would no longer have eligibility, the opportunity to stay on the lists.
“You have this factor and you have the factor of, do coaches recruit more transfers than those coming out of high school?” Peal said. “It’s not yet known until we can see a few more years, ‘Is this the trend?'”
Berry said he knows a team that is down to just 62 scholarship players amid transfer attrition. The team, which he will not name, was unable to play a match today due to a lack of depth in a certain position.
The AFCA supports the relaxation of the scholarship maximum of 85 to compensate for some of these shortcomings. As mentioned above, the NCAA did just that during COVID-19 in the interest of health and safety. A big challenge for coaches now is to get back to that 85 before next season.
“Our coaches believe it’s the only way to do it; it’s the only other way out there,” Berry said. “We are harming the health and safety of players if we don’t relax as much as possible.”
The problem mainly concerns football, which has never faced this type of rotation. Men’s basketball is a culture accustomed to transfers. Even before the one-time exemption was created, 40% of Division I players transferred before the end of their sophomore years.
“Two different sports and two different numbers,” said new Missouri basketball coach Dennis Gates. “For us, it takes one or two players to make a big difference. In football…it takes a little more. A lot more. We can find that player on the portal who can change our whole season. They’ve found [more than one].”