Transfer portal is a dizzying ride

It didn’t take Deion Sanders long to make an impression with his new team.
Sanders, who took over as Colorado’s football coach over the weekend, met with his new players on Sunday night and, with cameras rolling — it is Deion, after all, so there are always cameras around — told his players that it would be wise to just put their names in the NCAA’s transfer portal as soon as possible.
The video, released on social media on Sunday night, made more than a few people uncomfortable but hey, welcome to college football’s new world.
It wasn’t the most stable world to begin with — coaches leave for new jobs, players transfer — but with the NCAA’s new rules, it’s wide open, with revolving doors that spin faster than ever.
It’s the world that everyone was clamoring for in recent years. It was unfair, the argument went, that players had to sit out a year after transferring, while coaches could leave at any time. The transfer portal made sense, but like everything else in college sports, there are the unintended consequences.
Players who don’t get much playing time as freshmen suddenly become targets from opposing coaches, and rather than stay around and work to get better, they go somewhere else for a situation that looks much more beneficial, but may not be. And coaches like Sanders are more likely to come in and clean house right away, sending players packing who might not have another home lined up.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz met with the media via Zoom on Sunday night after the Hawkeyes accepted a bid to the TransPerfect Music City Bowl, but almost all of the discussion was about all of the changes to the Hawkeyes’ roster.
Quarterback Alex Padilla, a backup to Spencer Petras the last two seasons, entered his name in the portal last week, which he could do as a graduate — Padilla will graduate from Iowa next week and has two years of eligibility remaining. Wide receivers Arland Bruce IV and Keagan Johnson, along with running back Gavin Williams, announced their departures last week and Bruce confirmed on Monday his name was in the portal, the first day underclassmen could enter it.
At the same time, Ferentz is adding a quarterback, Michigan’s Cade McNamara, in the portal, and the Hawkeyes are looking at other players as possible additions.
Even the usually conservative Ferentz knows it’s time to go shopping.
“You have to change your framework, your perspective,” Ferentz said. “Every guy we recruit, our goal is to have them graduate from Iowa and finish their careers at Iowa and if that's not possible, then we'll look for guys that maybe are interested in doing that.”
Ferentz is already heading into the bowl game without his two top quarterbacks. Petras, who suffered an arm/shoulder injury in the loss to Nebraska in the regular-season finale, needed surgery on the injury and won’t play. Padilla is already off the roster, so that leaves redshirt freshman Joe Labas and freshman Carson May as the only quarterbacks available.
December is always a month when coaches question just who will be available for a bowl game — there’s not just the portal, there are those players who might want to prepare for the NFL draft right now and decide not to play one last game. That’s why Ferentz sent his own message to his team — be all-in, or the Hawkeyes will move on without you.
“That's kind of my encouragement when I talked to the team yesterday, was just take some time here, deliberately take some time over the next few days and make sure if you want to be here, you're here and your feet are here and full-fledged and part of the team,” Ferentz said. “Because we've dealt with this in the past, and I imagine most colleges have, where a guy's trying to make a decision, do I go to the NFL, don't go to the NFL, and it's not good for anybody when you get in that situation.
“I would venture it's going to be the same way with the portal, ‘Do I leave? Do I stay?’ It's just a different time in sports right now. So my encouragement to our guys is if you're serious about playing in this game, then let's go, and if you're not, then wait back, and then we'll handle each situation individually in terms of the players.”
Ferentz said he doesn’t take it personally if a player chooses to leave.
“It’s kind of a sign that we're moving into different times,” Ferentz said. “So you just have to accept it, I think, and you deal with it. You always hate to lose any player from the program. I said that earlier, and I do mean that sincerely. But (Pittsburgh Steelers coach) Mike Tomlin, I think, was quoted saying, ‘You don't want a hostage in the building either.’ So if a guy's not really interested — and those are his words, not mine — but if a guy's not a hundred percent on board, it's probably best for everybody just to go separate ways, and then our task is to look at the portal and look at the transfer market and try to learn more about them, just like we would any recruit that we're looking at coming out of high school, and try to bolster the roster.”
By Monday afternoon, the portal seemed jammed with all kinds of familiar names from big-time programs. The NCAA’s new portal rules allow a transfer window now, and then another one in the late spring after teams complete their spring workouts.
It’s a world of spinning doors these days, and it’s a dizzying ride.
John Bohnenkamp is an award-winning sports reporter and a regular contributor to Pen City Current.
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