The valley of dry bones . . . thoughts on the chaotic transfer portal

March 8, 2022


The entire town of Creswell, Oregon is gone.

Vanished.

Sadly, never to be heard from again.

Sound preposterous?

Indeed, but essentially, that is what has happened since college sports uncorked the transfer portal in October of 2018. Since then, a population of more than 15,000 players have entered the portal yet only about half have found new teams.

Half of 15,000 is 7,500.

The population of Creswell is 5,768.

In the past three months, FBS programs have had 1,300 players enter the portal. That’s ten players per team and that is just in the FBS. There are three other divisions.

With so much movement taking place in such a short time, chaos and problems have soared.

Coaches are upset with such widespread tampering from outsiders that it reminds me of the days of the wild wild west where rustling the stock of others was rampant and the cowpokes who ruled were those with the biggest line of bull.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney was so disturbed by the tampering that that he called the transfer portal “crazy”, “sad”, and “total chaos”.

But, tampering from opposing teams isn’t the only problem.

In fact, it is a long way from being the biggest problem.

Let’s start with the grievous and immediate loss of scholarships as soon as players enter the portal. And let’s keep in mind that only forty percent will find another. Indeed it is possible for players in the portal to change their minds and get their scholarships back but that seldom happens and it seems only in situations in which the player is key to the team and changed his/her mind very soon after entering the portal.

All others discover that their time has come to saddle up and mosey in search of greener pastures. But as we’ve seen, most find that those romantic sunsets they thought they were riding into are less romantic than pictured and the journey ahead is an arduous trip through a valley of dry bones.

High school prospects have been negatively affected as well. Coaches have found that recruiting the portal players is easier and offers more assurance of getting a player who is older, stronger, and has at least some college experience. Their path is made even easier because portal players feel the desperation of a lost scholarship whereas high schoolers never had one.

Another problem that became particularly difficult last December was the inability of some programs to field representative teams for their bowl games because too many players of their players had entered the portal. In fact, that is exactly the reason why Texas A&M withdrew from its bowl game altogether.

And that brings up a question that might challenge your knowledge of the portal. I know it did mine. The question is:

If a player declares for the portal after his final regular season game but before
his team’s bowl game, can he still play in the bowl game?

I found the answer and I’ll answer it in a bit.

Fans are also grumbling. Many just don’t feel that their teams are their teams anymore because of so much player movement. Rosters change so fast that fans find it hard to muster as much familiarity or allegiance as they use to. Whereas they once rejoiced because the program recruited an elite high school quarterback, now they yawn because they think it will be years before they see him play — if ever.

The portal exploded with activity when the wise men of the NCAA gave portal players a one time grant of playing immediately for their new teams without having to sit out a year. And then, as if to pour fuel on an already-out-of-control dumpster fire of tampering, the wise men of the NCAA granted NIL rights to players which ignited coaches in lucrative locations to increase temptations to valued players on less-lucrative teams.

In the end, the wisest of the NCAA wise have caused the wealthiest of the wealthy to become even more wealthy.

Are there solutions to the madness of the portal?

I think there are but it will take guts from the NCAA to make changes and if there is one thing I’ve noticed about the modern NCAA is that it wilts when decisiveness and authority are needed.

I’ve found a few suggestions from which the NCAA might choose and I’ve also thrown in a few of my own ideas. The ones you like are mine. The rest came from unnamed sources.

EIGHT GAME RULE (EGR):

The intent of this rule would be to slow down the fervor of players to enter the
portal by limiting the number of games they can play in their first year at their
new school. This is similar to the current redshirt rule but instead will have
expanded eligibility for eight games instead of just four.

GRADUATE SENIOR RULE

Graduate seniors who have not previously used the portal will continue to have
immediate eligibility for all games. Graduate seniors who have previously
transferred will be subject to the EGR (Eight Game Rule).

REDUCE DURATION OF THE PORTAL:

Instead of the portal being open 12 months out of the year, limit its availability
to the months of January and February (after the national championship game)
and then again April and May (after Spring practices).

Over zealous coaches will still tamper like crazy but they can only do so during four off-season months of the year.

PROTECT PLAYER SCHOLARSHIPS

Players who enter the portal will have their scholarships protected for the first half
of their time in the portal.

Example: If a player enters the portal on the first day it opens, his/her scholarship
is protected for 30 of the 60 days of the open portal. If a player enters on the 20th
day, his/her scholarship will be protected for one-half of the 40 days remaining
that the portal will be open.

PERMIT PLAY IN ALTERNATIVE PRO LEAGUES:

Players who are unable to replace their lost scholarships are permitted to play
in alternative professional leagues such as the CFL or USFL or European
leagues. They can receive compensation and will not lose college eligibility.

LIMIT INCOMING TRANSFERS:

Place a universal limit of how many portal players each team can accept in a recruiting
cycle.

This change will stop coaches who overload their teams with portal players which
causes an unfair reduction in opportunities for high school players.

I don’t propose that all of these rules should be implemented together nor that they comprise the most comprehensive list possible, but they do give us a good place to begin the discussion.

Changing the rules of the portal must happen because college sports are beginning to spin into unintended atmospheres. We already have too much “big business” in college sports and the idea of rooting for the hometown team is decaying.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not yet ready to mourn the demise of college sports and I certainly don’t want to trip my way through a valley of dry bones.

Now, about that question of portal players and bowl games . . .

Yes.  Players can still play in their team’s bowl game even if they declared for the portal between the end of the regular season and the start of the bowl game.


 

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