CU’s Karl Dorrell and CSU’s Steve Addazio have a common football opponent in 2021: The Transfer Portal
The hardest part? Like any break-up, it’s making the call.
It’s not you, Coach. It’s me.
Well, OK, maybe it IS you.
“For sure, (it’s) making that call to the coach you spent so much time with and gave all that effort for them, then telling them you’re going to leave,” explained CU Buffs tight end Matt Lynch, who made one of those calls about this time a year ago. “That part does (stink).”
Last winter, Lynch, a former standout at Legacy High and reserve-quarterback-turned-tight end at UCLA, elected to enter the NCAA transfer portal rather than play out his post-graduate season with the Bruins in 2020. A few months later, he announced he was transferring to CU for grad school, and having received his degree from UCLA, was eligible to immediately join then-new coach Karl Dorrell.
Not that it made a farewell phone call to coach Chip Kelly any easier.
“I got through it,” Lynch recalled with a laugh. “Chip, he was super cool about it and understood where I was coming from. We built up a good relationship, where (he said), ‘If you ever need anything, let me know.’”
Those break-up calls have become more frequent in recent years for graduates looking for a change of scenery in their final collegiate ride. But thanks to the coronavirus pandemic and a wave of new NCAA guidelines — some temporary, some permanent — liberalizing transfer rules and taking away the penalty of sitting out a year for all scholarship athletes, those calls are becoming rampant.
“It’s going to be crazy,” said CBS Sports Network college football analyst Aaron Murray, a quarterback at Georgia from 2010-13 and former protégé of ex-CSU Rams football coach Mike Bobo. “Now, in college football, it’s like, ‘Oh my goodness,’ it seems like every single year, there’s three or four guys (per school).”
Only this year, it’s 10. Or 11. Or more. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told the Associated Press that as many as 2,500 football players had entered the portal as of late last week.
It’s the Wild West out there, with newfound student-athlete freedom and uncertainty over future roster sizes combining to make player movement among college football programs easier — and riskier — than ever. It’s also one of the defining, underlying NCAA narratives of 2021, from Boulder to Fort Collins and beyond.
“Stick it out as long as you can”
In addition to Dorrell and CSU counterpart Steve Addazio recruiting outside the program this winter, they’re also having to, in some cases, re-recruit their own guys. The Buffs, who saw a coaching change from Mel Tucker to Dorrell a year ago, had 10 players enter the portal during the 2019-20 school year, according to 247Sports.com’s database. The number for 2020-21 was at three as of early Friday afternoon.
CSU, which also underwent a coaching change after the 2019 season, this one from Mike Bobo to Addazio, had 11 in ‘19-20. The Rams were at eight for ’20-21 as of early Friday.
“But I would not be surprised if that (movement) happens throughout even our own team,” Dorrell said late last month, “with guys that maybe haven’t played much, and maybe they think they should’ve. Those are situations that could occur.”
The glut of so-called “college free agents” is the confluence and collision of two factors: One, student-athlete reforms that had been fermenting for a while; and two, the pandemic, a dust storm nobody saw coming at this time a year ago.
The NCAA is expected to approve legislation as soon as this week allowing a one-time transfer without the penalty of sitting out a season — a measure that would go into effect Aug. 1. Fall and winter sport students can notify their schools of an intention to transfer by as late as May 1, with an extension of July 1 in the case of a head-coaching change or the non-renewal of a scholarship.
Combine that with the COVID rule allowing fall athletes an extra year of eligibility if they desire it — turning 2020, essentially, into a “mulligan” season — and a one-year NCAA waiver to expand college football rosters past the 85-scholarship limit in 2021, and it’s as close as we’ve seen to an NFL-style open market.
Freshmen and sophomores who see their paths blocked for another year by an older returnee may look elsewhere, as freshman CU defensive end Jason Harris, a 4-star recruit from the Class of 2020, did in transferring from the Buffs to Arizona.
By the same token, upperclassmen at smaller schools may see depth-chart vacancies in Power 5 leagues — Dorrell just lost starting left tackle William Sherman, for example, who declared for the NFL draft after the Alamo Bowl — as an opportunity to play against elite competition in their peer group.
“I hate the fact guys leave after one year,” ESPN football analyst and former Connecticut and NFL quarterback Dan Orlovsky told The Post recently. “I would like the transfer portal to be only for guys that have been in college for three years.
“When I was younger, I would’ve transferred (after) my freshman year at UConn if the transfer portal was there. Thank God I didn’t. Thank God my father looked me in the eye and said, ‘Son, you gave them your word. Figure it out. Work at it.’ And so I don’t like that so many young kids are just like, ‘I’m out.’ But I understand that there are benefits to it, that people have reaped the benefits of it.”
And the math gets further complicated by another sticking point: the limitations, or “cap,” on potential signees every year. Programs are limited to 25 additions, maximum, per recruiting cycle. Those 25 slots are counted against a school whether that player qualifies academically or not.
“I’m kind of the belief that you try to stick it out as long as you can,” Murray said. “I love grad transfers. I’m perfectly fine with that. (It’s) the guys who want to go somewhere else to play, someone who came in for a year, is getting a little (antsy), because they didn’t get the starting position, and now they want to go somewhere else.”
“I always blame social media”
Or, in a few cases, somewhere else after that.
Former CSU quarterback Patrick O’Brien, a California native who sat out the 2018 season with the Rams after leaving Nebraska, entered the portal following CSU’s COVID-shortened 2020 campaign and landed at Washington, his third FBS program since 2016. In both Lincoln and Fort Collins, O’Brien elected to move on after a coaching change.
While Lynch feels for O’Brien, he has fewer sympathies for freshmen or redshirt freshmen emulating their basketball counterparts.
“A lot of these high school recruits, they’re not seeing the field right away, they get frustrated,” the Buffs tight end said. “I’ve seen it super strongly with freshman classes all over this year, and having struggled in this weird season, immediately wanting to (try) other opportunities, but they’ve just got to trust the process.
“You’ve got to be special to play as a freshman. And if you’re not, it takes some time … you’ve got to stick to that commitment.”
In an effort to keep some sense of commitment, and continuity, both Lynch and Orlovsky would prefer the portal for college football tweaked so as to be available for players who’d either completed their degrees or completed their third season of eligibility — whichever comes first.
That might not bring order to the Wild West, mind you.
But it could restore a little sanity.
“I hate to hate on my own generation,” Murray said. “I always blame social media, but these kids, now, every year, with recruiting (sites) and everything, they’re pumped up to think they’re ready to go take on the world and go win a Heisman their freshman year.
“And it’s a big jump, man. And every jump — from high school to college, from college to the NFL — is not easy. Very few guys are ready to go start as a freshman and go dominate, or as a rookie and go dominate. You need that year to mentally and physically get right and get ready. (Kids) don’t want to do that.”
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