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Five things we’ve learned about the NCAA transfer portal

Many talented players will learn that the grass was not greener on the other side of the portal.
Georgia quarterback Justin Fields (1) tries to escape from Georgia Tech linebacker Victor Alexander (9) in the second half of a game last season. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
Georgia quarterback Justin Fields (1) tries to escape from Georgia Tech linebacker Victor Alexander (9) in the second half of a game last season. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
Published Jun. 3, 2019

Through its first eight months, the NCAA transfer portal has done what it was designed to do: Make it easier for players to change schools without unnecessary roadblocks by their soon-to-be former team.

But the rule change has created unintended consequences and new challenges coaches must face, beyond dedicating a staffer (or several) to monitoring the database daily.

RELATED: What’s it like to be in the transfer portal? ‘It’s a lot’

After talking with SEC coaches and administrators during the league’s spring meetings last week at the Hilton Sandestin, here are five things we’ve learned about transfers in the portal era:

1. There aren’t enough open spots.

Not everyone in the transfer portal found a home like new Miami Hurricanes quarterback Tate Martell. (MATT BAKER | TIMES)

Big-name transfers get plenty of attention, like blue-chip defensive back Chris Steele leaving Florida for Oregon and promising quarterback Tate Martell heading from Ohio State to Miami. But for every Steele or Martell, there are more promising players who haven’t found a new home yet. Hundreds of Division I-A players are searching for roster spots that might never materialize. Of the 21 players who have entered the portal from UF, Florida State or Miami, more remain uncommitted (nine) than have signed with other Power Five programs (eight).

“They left a good school,” LSU football coach Ed Orgeron said, generally, “and they have nowhere to go.”

They have nowhere to go because…

2. Roster management is trickier.

Kylan Johnson's transfer to Pitt left a hole in the Florida Gators' linebacker corps. (MONICA HERNDON | Times)

Football teams are capped at 85 total scholarships and 25 new ones per year. The transfer portal hasn’t changed those limits. That means a program that has already added its 25 players can’t always replace one who enters the portal in the offseason, which makes it harder for teams to fill all 85 spots.

“I think that’s an added level of difficulty that you have to do when you’re managing your roster,” Ole Miss coach Matt Luke said.

Not surprisingly, coaches to ease that difficulty with more signing flexibility.

Expanding the limit would allow UF, for example, to restock its linebacker corps after Kylan Johnson and Rayshad Jackson entered the portal. More broadly, it would allow schools to round out their rosters with more depth.

“If we’re not at 80-85 consistently,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said, “then we’re not offering opportunities for young people.”

3. The portal is only part of the conversation.

Auburn wide receiver Nate Craig-Myers (3) makes the catch ahead of Central Florida defensive back Richie Grant (27) during the first half of the Peach Bowl NCAA college football game, Monday, Jan. 1, 2018, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Sankey said coaches spent a lot of time discussing two other issues that are feeding into the portal.

The first was the 2018 rule change that lets players appear in four games without losing a year of eligibility. It led to some midseason transfers, like quarterback Kelly Bryant leaving Clemson and former Pasco High/Tampa Catholic receiver Nate Craig-Myers bolting Auburn.

RELATED: Clemson’s Kelly Bryant becomes biggest four-game transfer so far

The second was the perceived spike in players receiving NCAA waivers to play immediately without sitting out.

“There seems to be inconsistencies as far as guys that don’t have to sit, do have to sit,” Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said.

Anecdotally, both issues are leading to more players entering the portal, even if a waiver or new home never materializes.

4. Honesty is even more important in recruiting.

Kentucky coach John Calipari argues a questionable call during the NCAA national championship at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas on April 7, 2014. (OCTAVIO JONES | Times)

This might shock you, but coaches don’t always tell recruits the truth. Sometimes they just say whatever a prospect wants to hear.

If a coach does makes unrealistic promises now with the relaxed transfer restrictions, he better be prepared to lose a player quickly.

“You better undersell and then over-deliver,” Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari said. “Because if it’s the other way, they’re going to put their name in there.”

5. Coaches are still figuring it out.

Gators coach Dan Mullen winces while looking at the scoreboard in the fourth quarter against Georgia last season. (Times)

There’s not enough data to see how much transfers have risen because of the portal, but coaches know they don’t have all the answers.

Georgia basketball coach Tom Crean said he should start calling junior-college coaches to see how they handle year-round recruiting and rosters that don’t get finalized until July or August. Is the fluidity a one-year blip? Will it stabilize because players see former teammates without landing spots? What other unintended consequences are still coming?

“It’s something new that’s been thrown on everybody,” UF football coach Dan Mullen said. “And it’s a huge work in progress that you’re trying to figure out.”

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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