The transfer portal opens in less than a month.
A year ago, sources were bracing for the portal to open. Phrases like “‘I’m expecting total chaos” and “it’s going to be on steroids” were commonplace, as many expected college football’s version of free agency to clash with NIL.
The portal will reopen at midnight on Dec. 4, the day after the College Football Playoff field is revealed. As opposed to a 45-day window in December, that number has shrunk to 30 and it closes on Jan. 2. Athletes on CFP teams will be allowed to enter an additional five-day transfer window in January.
And the overall consensus is that nobody is hitting the panic button like November 2022.
NIL collective leaders have told On3 they’ve become more experienced in handling the portal. Some programs will build their rosters via free agency; Deion Sanders has already made that clear at Colorado.
But in other cases, funds will be deployed to retain talent. And as the overall NIL market has settled, so have some of the hard-to-believe numbers that have been tossed around in the portal the last two years.
“I don’t expect the cash pool to be as large,” a leader in the collective space recently told On3. “Obviously some players will go in to chase a bag of cash, but the leading factor for an athlete’s decision to leave is to play immediately.”
The portal window shrinking will only help. Some expect athletes will have less time to make visits and place bidders against each other.
Some expect trends to carry over still. The portal provides the opportunity for programs to retool over a short period of time. For first-year head coaches, the portal could provide the quickest turnaround time. And the elite players in the portal will still demand a high price.
“I don’t think it’s going to be chaos,” added an SEC collective leader. “But that top 10%, depending on the quality of talent, will still be able to drive the market.”
Could last year’s data show portal trends?
According to data from The Athletic, more than 2,400 FBS scholarship players entered their names in the NCAA transfer portal from August 2022 to 2023. The data shows entries continue to increase year over year.
Taking away the players who withdrew from the portal, went pro, or retired from the game, the total for the 2022-23 cycle was 2,303 FBS scholarship transfers. Portal windows worked, too, as 82% of all transfers were initiated when the windows were open.
In the 2022-23 portal cycle, 98 FBS scholarship quarterbacks transferred to other FBS programs. While plenty of offensive and defensive linemen entered the portal, finding players with experience starting at the Power 5 level was the real wild card. Projecting talent at the line of scrimmage is just as hard as identifying a quarterback.
“I could see the numbers dip a little bit based on the sheer amount of portal entries we had last year,” a Big Ten personnel director said. “I haven’t been hearing it’s going to be quiet or busy.”
Former Power 5 transfer QB weighs in
John Rhys Plumlee is now the starting quarterback at UCF, leading the Knights in their first year playing in the Big 12. When he transferred from Ole Miss to Orlando in the winter of 2022, the move wasn’t fueled by NIL or facilities.
Securing playing time was his primary focus.
“The transfer portal for me, it was just like, ‘Hey, let’s get on the phone. Let’s talk scheme, like, how do you want to use me?’ You know, ‘what’s the opportunity there?'” Plumlee told On3. “And at the end of the day, a weight room is a weight room, right? Like I don’t care where I’m working out, as long as I’m working out. There was a little bit less of the glitz and glamour, more of the X’s and O’s. Hey, let’s play football.”
NIL wasn’t ever part of the decision. But playing in two different programs at a high level of college football, he understands entering the portal can be a business decision. His biggest fear for players is making a business transaction, yet never seeing the field.
Do the dollars and cents make more sense than playing the game and making a case for the NFL draft?
“NIL wasn’t a piece for me, right?” he said. “Now I know that it is a huge piece. It’s hard to gauge because if you get in the portal and a collective wants to give you money, then you go to the school and you don’t play. It’s an area that’s kind of hard to tread through for some.”
Plumlee believes the driving reason behind the portal is athletes want a fresh chance to make an impression and play. The data backs that up, too. Thirty-six freshmen or redshirt freshmen made up the portion of quarterbacks in the portal.
Schools and collectives will make some absurd offers, though.
“I wasn’t getting the opportunity to play football as much as I wanted, so I think that’s a big driving reason behind getting into the portal for a lot of guys,” Plumlee said. “Now, of course, you got some guys that are doing it because they think they can maybe take a step up or make some money in the portal off of it.”