HOOVER, Ala. — The NCAA transfer portal giveth to the Missouri football program this offseason.
But even as a potential bowl ban faces the program in 2019, the portal did not taketh away.
The NCAA sanctioned Missouri with a one-year bowl ban in February for "academic fraud" after a tutor was found to be cheating for players by taking exams and in at least one case "an entire course" for a team she was supposed to be helping, a decision that the school is appealing. In addition to football, the Missouri baseball and softball programs also received postseason bans.
In the wake of that, opposing football coaches started to indirectly gauge the interest of Missouri football players to see if any wanted to transfer, considering they would not be able to participate in a bowl in 2019.
None made the leap.
On top of that, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey seemed to indicate Monday at his opening news conference at SEC Media Days that there's at least a chance that the ban is lifted and the Tigers — who won nine games in 2018 — will be able to compete in the postseason. Sankey noted that the infractions appeals committee "certainly has an opportunity, it appears," before adding, "I'll leave it at that."
Missouri added Clemson graduate transfer quarterback Kelly Bryant to the fold, giving the Tigers a realistic chance to remain competitive after losing Drew Lock in the second round of the NFL draft. Coach Barry Odom's team also added Jonathan Nance, a graduate transfer receiver from Arkansas who led the Razorbacks in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns in 2017.
But most importantly was the fact that the Tigers didn't lose anybody. Monday, Odom alluded to a number of reasons why.
"I think number one, the leadership of the team inside of the locker room by our players, you look at the things they've done together, the investment they had with each other, the brotherhood, the love and the care for each other," Odom said. "I think they drew a line in the sand and said this is what we're going to do in 2019 as a team together, and they stood by it. That's a close, close group, and I think those opportunities that were presented to us are going to help us as we get down into the fall into the season."
Odom didn't sound as though he ever really was concerned about losing players. When asked about it back in February, he seemed more irritated about the fact that "four schools," one being Tennessee, had reached out to Missouri players to gauge their interest. But conversations with players Monday suggested that he had no reason to be concerned, because players weren't going anywhere. Linebacker Cale Garrett said he never considered leaving, nor did defensive back DeMarkus Acy, who noted that "Missouri has given me everything I'd ever want."
"I think it says a lot about our entire program as a whole," Garrett said. "Just looking first at the locker room at the type of players we have, most of us are guys that have come up together since freshman year, either as redshirts or true freshmen. We have been through a lot together. We have been through 4-8 seasons, we have been through 7-5 seasons and 8-4 seasons and all that. I think we want to go out together.
"We also know that we have a really good football staff, not only football-wise but also in strength and conditioning that genuinely cares about us and gives us their best on a daily basis. A lot of us understand that the grass isn't always greener on the other side; it is greener where you water it. We all want to grow together and go out the right way."
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