62 MAC players in the transfer portal & it’s still not free agency

Per personal announcements, newspaper, and 247sports.com reports, I’ve counted 60 MAC players that have put their names in the transfer portal. Ever since the end of the season, I’ve been keeping track of the updates here. That’s just guys I found, I’m sure there’s at least a handful of others out there that are transferring that I’m not aware of.

This offseason has been a very important one for the NCAA-issued transfer portal, which made things easier and more streamlined for college athletes to open up his or her recruitment yet again, because it was the first year of its existence. The response from a lot of fans when this came out was very positive in many circles, but the cynical crowd dubbed it as college football’s free agency.

This isn’t free agency-free agency, because these are college kids with limited time to play and can’t get paid like professionals, but it’s hard to ignore the turnover.

What’s also hard to ignore is where these guys are transferring to. Most of the 62 transfers haven’t landed on new programs to play for yet, but 22 of them have. And of those 22, nine have ended up at Power 5 programs with Jarret Doege being the most recent. On Thursday, the two-year starting quarterback for Bowling Green, announced that he’s going to West Virginia to play for Neal Brown, his older brother’s former offensive coordinator.

MAC-to-P5 transfers

Name POS, School New school
Mike Danna DE, CMU Michigan
Jarret Doege QB, BGSU West Virginia
James Gilbert RB, Ball State Kansas State
Kyle Junior DE, BGSU Oklahoma State
Tyler Mabry TE, Buffalo Maryland
Riley Neal QB, Ball State Vanderbilt
K.J. Osborn WR, Buffalo Miami-FL
Wyatt Rector QB, WMU Florida State (enrolled as greyshirt player, pending a waiver to play this year)
Ryan Roberts OL NIU Florida State

The only guys on this list not entering P5 programs as graduate transfers are Doege and Wyatt Rector. Rector was late add to the 2018 recruiting cycle and felt like he didn’t get a fair shot in his short time in Kalamazoo. He’s gone to Florida State, which is close to home, but joined the team as a walk-on/greyshirt candidate. If the NCAA approves his waiver to let him play right away, then he’ll be scholarship this year.

Doege, too, is going to submit a waiver to play right away for the Mountaineers if he hasn’t already. Whether he starts playing this year or next, he’ll have two seasons to offer since he never wore a redshirt. Even if he’s allowed to play right away, he’ll have to beat out a couple of other talented guys, plus grad transfer Austin Kendall for playing time. Whether he plays this year or not, Doege’s definitely in a good situation.

Consider what the end goal is, especially since it’s D-I athletes we’re talking about here.

Juniors have been allowed to leave college early for the NFL Draft since 1990 when “two dozen outstanding players” became the influencing class for change in college & pro football. According to a study by Sports Illustrated before this year’s draft, from 2014-2018, 28.9% of players who choose the NFL Draft instead of one more year of college ball end up going undrafted. This year was no different with 29 percent of players (30 of 103 underclassmen) going undrafted. The obvious MAC name to become a statistic here: Tyree Jackson, who had enough hype to make you think he should’ve been a third or fourth rounder.

College kids are noticing these numbers. Maybe not so much the near-30% undrafted figure, but that there’s now usually 100 or so players going to the NFL, that means 100 or so extra [starting] positions from 129 other FBS teams (as well as FCS, junior college and other schools) are up for grabs, on top of all of the other players across the country that have graduated from school, were ruled medically ineligible to play, kick off and quit from teams.

Still, as The Athletic spelled the situation out: looking at those headlines as opportunities for potential transfers to slide in and be contributors can end up being fool’s gold.

“I think when a lot of these kids decide to transfer, they think there’s enough spots open,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said. “But there are no spots available.”

In the 2019 recruiting class, Power 5 schools finished with an average of 22 signees. These recruiting staffs can get creative with their accounting and find ways to squeeze in more than 25, but the point is this: if you signed 22, you can only take three, four, maybe five transfers this offseason. There are extreme exceptions — Miami signed 17, so the Hurricanes have been able to bring in eight transfers — but in general the limit of 25 initial counters doesn’t allow for many portal acquisitions.

One Power 5 recruiting coordinator told The Athletic he’s receiving emails every day from hopeful transfers. His staff already signed two this offseason and now has “very, very little” room for more. That’s the case across the country right now, and too many transfer players don’t realize how many doors are actually closed.

“They have no idea — NONE — that the NCAA put in the hard 25 initial rule in,” another Power 5 staffer said. “They think anyone can go anywhere.” (The Athletic)

Leaving school early in one way or another for better opportunities does pay off for some guys, but not all. I don’t have the hard data in front of me, but we can assume that it doesn’t pan out well for most. To be clear here: not everybody in the transfer portal is trying to play at the Power 5 level. Some guys just want to be somewhere else instead, no matter the playing level. Some guys just quit and end up being musicians instead. Some guys are just done playing football altogether and some guys leave because of a head coaching change. On that last bullet, 21 MAC players that have hit the transfer portal have come from teams going through a head coaching change: roughly a third of the population.

I don’t think kids want to transfer. I’m willing to bet that most of these guys want to choose the right college for them right out of high school, maybe even be more passive about their student-athlete experiences. These players know it’s risky as hell to leave, and most don’t. The overwhelming majority of football players don’t leave after a year or two because of a depth chart dispute months before the season begins.

I think if kids do want a transfer, they’re going to need some guidance. Not just their peers that are either teenagers or in their young 20’s, but an adult opinion that’s focused on transfer behavior and what the real-life results have happened through the portal vs. the reasons players took advantage of it. I’m hesitant to say that there needs to be a committee of sorts to give potential transfers a more informed decision, like how underclassmen have the College Advisory Committee to decide whether they should go to the draft or stay in school, because it’s still such a new system that’s geared to help kids make a good decision quickly, but what we’re going to see (and probably already seeing, but we just don’t know for sure yet) is that this system might end up helping kids make a regrettable decision too quickly.

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