College sports are changing rapidly. If you’re reading this, you probably already know this. The transfer portal era has created an entirely new way to build a roster, and the new one-time transfer rule for athletes has only fueled the movement. Now conferences are slashing intra-conference transfer rules, providing athletes even more freedom.
We’ve seen the impact this has had on the college basketball world over the last couple of offseasons, and now it’s beginning the change the way football programs operate. Instead of simply signing a group of 25 high school football prospects, teams are now leaving some spots open for potential transfers who are already experienced at the college level.
While the change is an obvious win for the athletes, it does come with some consequences. We saw one of those consequences play out at Tennessee as Jeremy Pruitt was fired for recruiting violations. Several key starters for the Vols entered the transfer portal immediately, with three former blue-chip prospects, Eric Gray, Wanya Morris and Key Lawrence, moving on to ready-to-win-now Oklahoma. Tennessee’s best player, Henry To’o To’o, ended up landing at Alabama and will now chase a national title this fall.
We’ve also seen top players from smaller programs leave for bigger and better opportunities, obviously hurting the competitive balance of the sport.
This has been brewing for quite some time, but now you won’t have the late August drama of figuring out whether or not the NCAA will rule a player eligible for the upcoming season. Tennessee has experienced that side of the equation with additions like Aubrey Solomon and Cade Mays in recent years.
Nick Saban warned of free agency in college football, and it’s officially here. NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah had an interesting tweet over the weekend, nothing how the transfer world could change the way coaching and support staffs are structured.
Every CFB program should already have an NFL style personnel department. A HS recruiting side & a transfer portal side. Draft + FA. Unfair to grade a recruiting class alone. Need to give equal value to transfer portal additions. Not long before additions are 50/50 HS/portal.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) June 27, 2021
There’s little doubt that each program already has plenty of focus on the transfer portal — it changes day by day, hour by hour and it’s only getting busier. The days of signing day being the only way to build a program are done, now it’s going to be a split effort. You’ve got the early signing period in December, while the transfer portal gets rolling after the season ends for each team. Then you have the traditional signing date in February, along with more transfer portal action following spring practices.
How does that affect responsibilities on a coaching staff? Typically a program has several support staffers dedicated to recruiting, building relationships at the high school level. Undoubtedly, some of those positions will now turn to the transfer portal world, tasked with evaluating those players on and off of the field.
To give you an idea of just how big of an impact the portal has had, consider this. Tennessee has lost 30 — THIRTY — players off of last year’s roster and recruiting class to the portal. They’ve been able to add nine. That’s an insane amount of roster turnover, which was fueled by a coaching change. Tennessee has just 15 players left from their once loaded 2021 class, pending the arrival of four-star athlete Kaemen Marley.
So while we knew Josh Heupel had quite the rebuild in front of him, you also have to consider the fact that he’s also doing it in a new era of total transfer freedom. “Free agency” is here to stay, and it would be fascinating to go behind the scenes and see how each program is handling it.