An unprecedented confluence of events — the bloated NCAA transfer portal, a blanket extra year granted because of COVID-19 and the expected one-time transfer rule — threatens scholarship opportunities for football players and will eventually undermine the ability for coaches to keep full rosters.
“We’re going to see a situation this year where there could be up to 1,000 players in the portal with nowhere to go,” said South Florida coach Jeff Scott.
How will that happen? As of Wednesday morning, there were more than 750 FBS football players in the NCAA transfer portal. That number is increasing by dozens each day, and will only get bigger with the end of the semester. The players are looking to take advantage of the NCAA’s one-time transfer rule, which is expected to be passed early next year.
But that giant number comes with a jarring reality that has some coaches startled. The NCAA’s ruling this summer to give all fall athletes staying at their school an extra year of eligibility is going to expand rosters past the 85-man roster limit for next season. That will limit places transfers can go. (As of now, there’s a one-year waiver to go beyond 85 in 2021.)
The seniors returning for an extra year are going to limit opportunities for younger players within the program, which will mean even more transferring. Also, the one-time transfer rule is expected to lead to a flurry of Group of Five transfers looking to upgrade to bigger schools.
The ramifications come in a year.
The scary part of a player going into the portal is that they essentially give up their scholarship at their current school once they enter, which means players could end up dropping levels or not playing at all because of lack of opportunity. Not all players fully understand that risk. Scott points out that while coaches can monitor the portal for players, players lack a real time dashboard of which schools have what amount of availability on their roster. There’s no available statistical indicator of how limited spots are, which leads to bad decisions.
What are the ripples of the roster logjam? One Group of Five head coach pointed out two potential reverberations. He said that the real roster issues are going to come in 2022, as the exemption to be over 85 scholarship players is expected to be gone, but a majority of the roster still has an extra year. That’s going to potentially limit the amount of high school players in the class of 2022.
“What 2022 looks like is crazy,” the Group of Five head coach said. “Now that you have to get under the 85 threshold, it’s a scramble. What can you bring in in 2022? That’s a problem.
It’s kinda like running up credit card debt when your creditor gives you a couple of months off from making payments. Sooner or later, that bill is still going to come due.
There’s going to be a premium on coaches’ ability to manage their rosters. Nick Saban invented the genre, so I doubt he’s sweating any bullets over this. (He’s probably had a team of analysts sweating bullets over it for the past three months.) Kirby Smart has learned from the master, so I expect Georgia to be prepared equally well. In fact, this was the first thing that popped into my mind when I saw the final numbers on the size of the class he signed yesterday.
Flexibility is going to be king for the next two seasons. Be prepared.