College Football Problems and Ways to Fix Them: Transfer Portal

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistApril 19, 2022

College Football Problems and Ways to Fix Them: Transfer Portal

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Since its inception in 2018, the transfer portal has sparked a busy era of player movement in college football.

    The well-intended purpose was to create a streamlined process for transfers and build a database where all programs could see who's looking for a new school. While the portal has helped facilitate many quality moves, its flaws are evident.

    Most notably, the number of players who enter the portal far outsize the group that finds a new spot. There simply aren't enough scholarships available for everyone, yet more than 2,000 players have headed to the portal in each of the last two offseasons.

    Between the NCAA's one-time allowance for immediate eligibility and the creation of name, image and likeness (NIL) guidelines, the trend is unlikely to slow down.

    The simple truth is the portal cannot be fixed entirely. But there are several ways to improve what's become a foundational piece of roster management in college football.

Portal Entry Rules

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    Young Kwak/Associated Press

    Based on the current rules, a player can alert his school's compliance staff of plans to enter the transfer portal right now.

    Or tomorrow. Or sometime next week. Or any point within three, six, nine months from today.

    From a general perspective, that's not a problem. All students, regardless of athlete status, should be allowed to move freely.

    Simultaneously, this creates a challenge for coaching staffs to monitor the available players and build a roster. More importantly, the athlete-specific issue is how this affects their educational standing. When players enter the transfer portal outside of a semester, it's possible their financial support can be pulled immediately.

    Should coaches have to watch the portal 365 days per year? Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps a handful of dead weeks should be part of the annual calendar, though most programs now have a designated person to track the names popping up.

    But to protect both academic and financial futures, making designated transfer windowsand these can be far more expansive than coaches may preferis critical.

Tampering, Tampering, Tampering

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    Roger Steinman/Associated Press

    You cannot eliminate tampering.

    Let's be very clear about that reality, because it's impossible to remove the whispers and proverbial back-room conversationsor prove who told someone to initiate a discussion.

    Given the volume of transfers and limited number of scholarships in play, the portal can be a place of uncertainty. Will coaches from other programs even call? If they do, are they offering a scholarship? If not immediately, will they eventually?

    Naturally, then, players understandably want to know whether they'll have a spot somewhere else. Why wouldn't they use any and every connectionnamely high school coaches, trainers or other influential peopleto find out? It only makes sense, despite that being outside of the rules.

    Our purpose here is to identify issues and offer corrections. But the genuine answer is that, unless the total lack of enforcement about tampering changes, any suggestion would be hollow.

Name, Image and Likeness

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    As if one-time immediate eligibility for transfers hadn't thrown a sharp enough curveball, welcome to the world of NIL.

    Now, the entire name, image and likeness conversation is a whole lot deeper than one sentence. The point is NIL has ultimately shaped a marketplaceyes, call it free agencyfor college football players.

    This isn't a problem! Allow the market to pay the athletes whatever they're worth, right?

    Where money exists, however, cheating will follow. Factor in impossible-to-stop-and-unregulated tampering, and the outcome is players being poached via transfers because they can make more NIL money elsewhere.

    "That creates a situation where you can basically buy players," Alabama coach Nick Saban said, according to Ralph D. Russo of the Associated Press. "You can do it in recruiting. I mean, if that's what we want college football to be, I don't know. And you can also get players to get in the transfer portal to see if they can get more someplace else than they can get at your place."

    The absence of consistent regulation is causing plenty of headachesand they are destined to continue until order is established.

The Annual Scholarship Limit

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Every program has 85 scholarships to award. Each year, a maximum of 25 players can receive one. There are ways to bend the rules if a player enrolls early (or delays enrollment), but the bigger issue is how transfers fit into the annual maximum.

    In short: Any incoming player counts as one, but an outgoing scholarship athlete does not add a counter.

    Considering the prevalence of transfers, it's common to see 10-plus entrants to the portal from a roster. Add those 10-15 transfers to 15-20 departing seniors, and a program may lose 30-some players in the offseason while bringing in 25.

    The math doesn't work out, clearly.

    As a result, the NCAA passed a one-year waiver that allows a team to replace seven lost transfers in addition to the 25 permitted. This type of changewhether it's five, seven or otherwiseneeds to become a permanent part of roster management.

    Yes, a powerhouse program will benefit the most. But it also allows a struggling team to replenish a depleted roster much faster and, in theory, become more competitive sooner.