TWO OF The busiest months of Brian Kelly’s coaching career were last November and December.
On December 3rd LSU played in SEC Championship Game. The transfer portal opened two days later. He had to prepare for the Tigers’ bowl game, strategize for the portal – between the entering own players and the players he coveted – and end the 2023 recruiting cycle all at once.
“The real key here was, how can we build in an opportunity in December to try to do all three things without overlapping them?” Kelly told ESPN.
The transfer portal, a database that allows coaches to contact student athletes who wish to transfer, has become an integral part of the college football Landscape since the start in autumn 2018.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, 2,405 NCAA football players entered the portal in the 2018-19 cycle. That number rose to 5,592 players last year and 6,202 from August 2022 to January 2023. Last December alone, 2,729 people entered the portal.
The NCAA enacted transfer portal windows for the 2022-23 academic year to attempt to regulate when players may enter the portal: a 45-day window from December 5 through January 18, and a second 15-day window that runs from April 15 to 30.
But while the windows should serve the structure, many trainers and HR managers at various conferences found the constant balancing act between portal, recruiting courses and bowl preparation during the holiday season too much at once.
“December is an interesting time”, State of Florida “And I don’t necessarily know what the answer to that is,” said hiring director Derek Yray.
With the spring portal window opening on Saturday, the coaches spoke to ESPN about how difficult it was to navigate the first window, concerns they have about the calendar, and what should change going forward.
BEFORE THE During transfer windows, student-athletes could enter their name in the portal whenever they wanted. This resulted in players moving right before or during the season, and without any assurance as to when a player might move, it became increasingly difficult for coaches to manage their own rosters.
Enter the transfer windows that brought a mix of definition and chaos to the process.
Retaining a team’s own roster has been an important piece of the puzzle that worries coaches and HR directors. Pennsylvania Personnel director Andy Frank said the windows indirectly encouraged people to keep a close eye on opposing squads throughout the season to gauge which players could help their own future squads.
He also said the windows have shut down entire recruiting and scouting departments while also trying to make up for the early signing deadline (December 21-23) for high school recruits. Rather than just visiting prospects on campus, staff also received transfer visitors and scoured the portal to find players who could help meet needs.
“We were in favor of there being no windows, and I would say if I came out, I’d still be in that place,” Frank said. “I don’t know if I’m a fan of the windows because one of the goals was to condense the process into a smaller time window. I actually think that causes more problems than it solves.”
The addition of the December transfer portal windows, when recruitment, bowl season and coaching merry-go-round are heating up, has made it busier than ever.
“You can get into situations like us,” he said TCU Coach Sonny Dykes, who led the Horned Frogs to their first place in the College Football Playoffs. “We’ve had five official visits in the week of the national championship game and you’re trying to prepare for that game. At the same time you are hosting transfers and it is just a very chaotic time for everyone.”
Yray said he was out with Florida State coach Mike Norvell in December. “I think we hit about 13 states in eight days,” he said. Still, he liked the structure of the window and thought they served their purpose.
“December, you’re going to have to make sacrifices somewhere, no matter how much work you put into it,” Yray said. “Well, I like the defined windows, but I think there’s a better way. I just don’t know what that needs to be to make it work in December.”
SEC FOOTBALL COACH In mid-February, they met to discuss various issues of the year and tried to find bogus solutions with the transfer portal, one of the hotly contested issues, Kelly said.
They came up with a hypothetical proposal that they felt would make most people happy: Teams would first focus on their high school recruiting classes and then move on to transfers. Kelly said some coaches don’t want the transfer portal’s decisions to affect the newly arriving class. So if they know what recruits they have, they can use the transfer market to fill in gaps.
“We don’t want to move the signing date any further back because then you have visits and coaches working in July, so that was a non-starter,” Kelly said. “We would stick to a date in December, then maybe a few days later, that’s the transfer portal [window], and you can work on that. So you leave one behind, then you get the next one in front of you and now you can manage those two things.
One problem with this, Yray noted, was that while teams knew which new recruits would be signing, they didn’t know which players would be leaving their programs.
“I think you still need to know who’s leaving your roster before you sign those high school guys or any of the Transferportal guys,” Yray said. “For us, if you move the date of the transfer portal back, we usually start classes in the first week of January. Our ability to get them to school on time so they can start on time and start training is important to us where the current date is.”
Dykes added that the NCAA rules that were put in place were originally designed to make graduation more comfortable for athletes, particularly when it comes to academic credit transfer – “It’s not like we wave a magic wand and all of a sudden it’s a kid at school,” said Frank — and signed up for classes at their new schools.
“All of a sudden it switched, really overnight, and you don’t hear anyone talking about graduation anymore,” Dykes said. “So I think we need to study those things and make sure we’re doing what’s best for the student athletes, because in some cases we feel like we are, but we’re not when these guys don’t graduate .”
Another option could be to change the recruiting calendar if the NCAA leaves the portal windows unchanged. Finally, the early signing period has only been around since 2017. Yray and Frank both mentioned the idea of introducing a rolling signing period that would start at some point in high school but would allow a prospect to sign whenever they made a commitment would have offer.
“The problem with the later date is whenever that’s the first date you can sign, that becomes the signing date,” Frank said. “We saw it with the early signing deadline, right? We call it the early signing deadline, but this is the signing deadline now because it’s the earliest they can do.”
Frank has one point: 276 recruits in the ranking ESPN 300 signed on the first day of the early signing period in December. The… enter Signing day in Februaryonly seven ESPN 300 prospects remain uncommitted.
A The 12-team playoffs are coming up in 2024, and while the format is set, it’s unclear what the schedule will be. The broader college football landscape is constantly changing, and the calendar is just one thing that’s affected.
Some coaches believe the NCAA is headed on a collision course with antiquated rules and a changing atmosphere. Some believe that the way to avoid disaster is to blow everything up and completely overhaul the rules.
“We have to start from scratch and say, ‘Hey, these are the pillars,’ and we have to look at it very holistically,” Frank said. “I think what’s holding back big changes, which I think are going to happen at some point, is that we’re moving towards collective bargaining in some shape or form. I don’t know what it looks like, but I think we’re going towards it, and once we figure that part out, you revise the whole calendar and start over.”