How college football’s transfer portal is changing spring practice

Transfer portal has changed how players in college football can leave their program. Players are able to declare for the upcoming season with less pressure, and coaches will be more open about evaluating talent.

The “ncaa transfer portal football” is a new method of practice that is being used by college football teams. The system allows players to move between schools without having to sit out a year.

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CLEMSON, South Carolina — Last month, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney started his 14th spring practice by doing something he’d never done before. He stated that he was aggressively seeking to acquire a transfer when discussing his team’s offensive line depth — a position group that was widely criticized during last year’s 10-3 record.

There is a broad range of desire to participate in the transfer market among college coaches, with some enthusiastically embracing the possibility to add to their roster and others simply dabbling in the marketplace. Swinney, on the other hand, may be the least enthusiastic coach in the nation when it comes to the site, telling ESPN recently that he only plans to utilize it as a last choice.

Despite this, he was hanging the metaphorical “help wanted” sign on the locker room door at Clemson. The site spares no coach in this new age of unfettered transfers.

Swinney said, “The rules have changed, and you don’t have a choice.” “There are no high school students to recruit in May, and where are you going to fill the vacuum on your roster?”

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The difference between a championship season for a club like Georgia, who started Clemson transfer Derion Kendrick at corner, and Clemson’s 2021 season, in which Swinney was chastised for neglecting the portal totally, may be traced to which gaps can be remedied once spring practice concludes.

The transfer market grew slowly over the years, but when the NCAA changed its rules last summer to allow players to transfer (once) without missing a season, it blew wide open, making spring practice a delicate dance between coaches pushing players to improve without pushing them out the door and into the portal. Do you have a void to fill? Coaches might look for a replacement in the transfer market. Are you dissatisfied with your position on the depth chart? Before fall camp starts, players may hit the road to locate a new home.

Stanford coach David Shaw remarked, “There will be a group of players who go after the season and a group of men who depart in winter training.” “Another batch of boys will go at the conclusion of the spring semester. They’ll look at the figures and see where they stand, and maybe even look at the incoming freshman and think, ‘You know what, I could have a better shot somewhere else.’”

More than 1,000 athletes joined the site in April last year, even before the free one-time transfer regulation was made public, and roughly 800 more joined in May. More than 3,600 FBS athletes have already signed up for the site this year, and the greatest worry on many coaches’ minds as spring practices wind down is how many more will sign up shortly.


Dabo Swinney may be the coach who is least ready to utilize the transfer site. Ken Ruinard is a sports reporter for USA TODAY.

SWINNEY’S FIRST SERIOUS FORAY INTO THE TRANSFER MARKET WASN’T FOR A REPLACEMENT PART. He said that he was looking for a huge reward, like as a multiyear starter or an all-conference player.

Of course, such men don’t grow on trees, so if Swinney is successful in luring one to Clemson, someone will have to find a way out somewhere else. Coaches are often concerned that the grass is greener on another program’s field while they examine their own rosters in the spring.

“To put it that way, I don’t want to lose starters,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said. “You’re not going to be able to get rid of those men. The good news is that you can go out and acquire someone else if you lose them now, but they’re not simple to find. You don’t want to lose those folks, and you can’t afford to lose them if you want to keep winning.”

Few coaches at college football’s top programs, on the other hand, are willing to risk transfers who aren’t already stars elsewhere. They, like Swinney, are looking for tried and true products. That’s what occurred in the SEC this spring, as Alabama signed offensive lineman Tyler Steen, who had been a three-year starter at Vanderbilt before entering the portal in January, earning preseason All-SEC honors last year.

The move follows Saban’s harsh criticism of the existing transfer market, which, assisted by permissive limitations on name, image, and likeness, has created a de facto free agency that Saban deems “unsustainable.”

Saban said that colleges are giving significant financial incentives via NIL, which might be enticing to athletes in the portal, even if it isn’t always related to finding the greatest fit on the field.

Coaches, on the other hand, anticipate no meaningful progress toward a new system in the foreseeable future.

As a consequence, coaches say, the winter is as much about recruiting your own roster as it is about recruiting high school players, and the spring is a perpetual guessing game as to who will stay and who will go. Swinney pointed out that each new transfer a school takes in is likely to make a current player feel like he no longer has a purpose.

Swinney stated, “I’ve always tried to emphasize the importance of continuing the course,” citing his team’s history of late-blooming talents like Cornell Powell and Kevin Dodd. “We’ve had a number of such individuals, but in today’s society, it’s becoming more difficult for a man to remain, be patient, and seize an opportunity when it arises. But it is just the world we must adapt to.”


Kedon Slovis made the switch from USC to Pitt. Philip G. Pavely/Associated Press

The writing was on the wall for KEDON SLOVIS at USC. He’d developed into a standout as a freshman, and during the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season, he was just as good. But after a rough year in which injuries and a coaching change upended the depth chart, it was evident that he’d have to find a new home in 2022.

Slovis said that it was also evident that time was not on his side.

Early entrants at the high school level have increased dramatically in recent years, with would-be seniors graduating early to get a head start on college football and participate in spring practice. It’s not unusual for more than half of a team’s signing class to enroll in January, which puts a lot of pressure on transfers to do the same.

Slovis, who entered the gateway on Dec. 13 and committed to Pitt a week later, said, “For someone in my situation, who is going to graduate this semester, that was a serious concern for me.”

As a consequence, players are departing their present teams before the regular season concludes to guarantee they can join a new squad in time for winter training and spring ball. Between September 1 and November 30, 2021, more than 2,000 athletes used the transfer site, with more than half arriving in November to locate a new home in time for the semester commencing in January.

Penn State defensive coach Manny Diaz remarked, “We don’t have a spring practice issue.” “When individuals transfer, we have a significant difficulty throughout the regular season. And why are they acting in this manner? In order to be enrolled in the January semester, you must be at least 18 years old.”

Many coaches believe that the NCAA should implement “transfer windows,” which are specified deadlines during which players may join the portal, restricting mobility during the regular season and spring practice.

“I think it’s a horrible look for players to go into the portal and take excursions and visit places as a quote-unquote recruit during the season,” Shaw said. “That, I believe, is a distraction for both the coaches and the players. It’s a poor incentive for such people, in my opinion.”

Shaw proposed a player movement window from January through June, with the portal shutting in July to provide coaches some feeling of roster certainty during fall camp and the regular season.

The NCAA, on the other hand, is hesitant to control what looks to be a free market. As one Power 5 coach told ESPN, there’s little faith in the NCAA’s ability to unring the bell, and in the wake of Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s effective warning that the NCAA’s amateurism model violated basic antitrust tenets in the Alston case last summer, there’s a near-constant fear that limiting players’ ability to earn revenue or change teams will result in more litigation.

But, if the NCAA is unable to prohibit migration, Diaz wonders whether there is a method to simply disincentivize players from departing during the season by lowering the need for spring ball participation.

Instead of hosting one extended spring contact session, Diaz advised holding intermittent minicamps, where coaches may work closely with their players for numerous practices over a shorter period of time, such as camps in the early summer. Diaz believes that by diminishing the significance of spring practice and enhancing summer engagement between players and the coaching staff, fewer players will feel compelled to enter the portal in November in order to practice in April.

Diaz was quick to point out that this may break the spring game tradition and raise concerns from coaches concerned about injuries (spring affords a longer window to recuperate for the season than, say, a June minicamp), but he thought the benefits would likely exceed the disadvantages.

“The issue is that [the existing method] simply doesn’t fit with our season, the bowls, and whatever the playoff is,” Diaz said.


David Shaw proposed a player movement window from January through June, with the portal shutting in July to provide coaches some feeling of roster certainty during fall camp and the regular season. Photo by Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire

AN OFTEN UNpredictable terrain has entirely supplanted the once-slow tempo of spring ball.

Swinney’s Clemson team is an excellent example of how this is already taking place. He hasn’t yet recruited his all-conference offensive lineman. Swinney, on the other hand, had to deal with a spring in which a few veterans had already moved on and a slew of others were limited to exercise bikes and mild jogging routines while recovering from ailments. The squad was quite small, especially on offense.

The good news is that a lot of the younger players and reserves received a lot of playing time. That’s one approach to keep a roster pleased and reduce the amount of players who want to leave.

Swinney added, “We’re providing a lot of work to players that need it, and it’s a terrific opportunity.”

The bad news is that there are so many moving parts in spring ball that it may seem like a tornado of trades rather than an opportunity to resolve position disputes.

Look no farther than the QB shuffle that began with Slovis’ departure from USC.

The former Trojan is now at Pitt, where he had a hit-or-miss spring game but is still the favorite to start for the Panthers. Slovis said the spring was crucial for him because it allowed him to learn the playbook while bonding with his new teammates.

Caleb Williams, the Oklahoma transfer who will replace Slovis at USC, won’t have to spend nearly as much time studying the playbook when he rejoins former Sooners coach Lincoln Riley.

Then there’s the quarterback who will take Williams’ place at Oklahoma. Dillon Gabriel dropped out of UCF and was scheduled to start at UCLA in January. The chance to join the Sooners came up only hours before he had to start school, and he leapt at it. He’s now the offense’s seasoned quarterback.

And if that merry-go-round doesn’t sound like a charming return to college football’s origins, the spring won’t get much more settled as teams wind up their spring games in the following weeks. A fresh wave of roster changes is on the way, maybe even at a location that has fought hard to escape the instability so far.

College football’s transfer portal is changing spring practice. This is because the NCAA has introduced a new rule that allows players to request a release from their scholarship after they have graduated. Reference: lsu football.

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