College transfer portal leaving high school football players in a pinch

Florida Athletics photo / New Florida football coach and former Murray County quarterback Billy Napier is not going to sign an abundance of players this week in the early period that starts Wednesday. The Gators had just seven commitments as of Monday evening, while rival Georgia had 25.

Remember when chaos in college football recruiting involved hat ceremonies and player decommitments?

Welcome to the early signing period of the 2022 cycle, which starts Wednesday and is filled with countless unknowns outside of Alabama's Nick Saban and Georgia's Kirby Smart once again landing the cream of the crop.

"It's an unprecedented cycle to say the least when you consider the mass wave of coaching changes, the transfer portal, the extra year of eligibility - all of these things have had a huge impact on recruiting," longtime ESPN analyst and former Georgia Tech quarterback Tom Luginbill said Monday afternoon, "and that's not to mention the pandemic over the last couple of years and the challenges it has created for so many programs and coaches and player evaluations."

The December period was instituted in 2017 as a way to give those prospects who had their minds decided the opportunity to wrap up the process and eliminate some of the unnecessary mayhem that could occur in January and early February. That has served its desired purpose, as nearly 80% of Bowl Subdivision recruits have signed in December, but the early period also has been accompanied by more in-season firings of coaches in order that successors could be found quickly to avoid the imploding of signing classes.

Of the top-12 programs during the 2021 recruiting cycle, a staggering seven now have new coaches - LSU, Oregon, Southern California, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Miami and Florida - with LSU, USC, Miami and Florida having changed through firings and hirings. New Florida coach Billy Napier admitted last week that he's not about to rush into things, as evidenced by the Gators having just seven commitments as of Monday evening.

"The reality is that you're getting in the game and there are like three minutes left in the fourth quarter," said Napier, the former Murray County quarterback, during his introductory news conference. "The last thing we want to do here is make mistakes. I wouldn't be surprised if we don't sign many at all."

Said Luginbill: "I think that's really smart. When he arrived at Louisiana, they didn't sign a single player out of the high school ranks in the early signing. You're better off not signing bodies just to sign bodies."

Luginbill believes the abundance of coaching changes - there has been movement at the top of 28 of the 130 FBS programs this year - is tied to the early signing period but that the transfer portal has been an even bigger component to the volatility.

"Whether you're a sitting coach or a new coach, you're trying to manage what has now become an 85-man, free-agent roster, so you're not just dealing with recruiting," he said. "You're dealing with who's coming and who's going and this extra year of eligibility, so it's a mathematical nightmare."

Last week, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said that the NCAA's oversight committee is debating the possibility of eliminating December's early signing period or moving it back to January. Sports Illustrated reported that no formal proposals have been submitted and that discussions between the oversight committee and the recruiting subcommittee would continue into January.

"If I'm the czar of high school recruiting and I'm looking to at least tweak this for the better, I would either go back to one signing day or move the first period to the third weekend in January and move the second period to the end of February," Luginbill said. "The transfer portal and the extra year of eligibility are things that were unforeseen five years ago, and I would make the entire month of December a dead period. Let every program catch their breath and make the hirings and massage and manage their rosters to where they have a much better idea of who's going out the door and who's coming back in.

"I would also create transfer portal windows, with one of them in the first two weeks of December and the other in the first two weeks of May after everybody has completed spring football."

Tennessee, interestingly enough, is among the more stable programs in this cycle despite falling behind in January, when Jeremy Pruitt was fired and Josh Heupel hired. Heupel was asked about the early signing period following practice this past Saturday.

"It is what it is at this point, and I'm excited about it being where it is right now for us inside of this program and to be able to finish off the recruiting cycle in this way," he said. "As early as recruiting gets started, and I'm talking about with sophomores and juniors, I think it's good to put a quicker end to the process than it being in February."

This year's early signing period has been overshadowed by the portal, with quarterbacks such as Auburn's Bo Nix, USC's Kedon Slovis and Texas A&M's Zach Calzada revealing their intentions to transfer within a 15-hour period earlier this week. The first 10 days of this month alone contained 279 FBS players entering the portal.

"The person who is being pinched in this is the high school player," Luginbill said. "There are fewer scholarship availabilities for the high school player than there has ever been before. If a school wants to hold four or five scholarships until the spring or summer for the transfer portal, multiply that by 130 schools.

"Texas State is entirely recruiting through the transfer portal and not at the high school level, and I think that's a dangerous path to go down. There has to be something to help mitigate this bleeding a little bit."

Contact David Paschall at or 423-757-6524.