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CHICAGO — Big Ten football coaches are asking for clarity as the NCAA tightens transfer guidelines and makes it tougher to pass through the so-called "transfer portal" unscathed.
The subject spurred frequent discussion at Big Ten media days in Chicago this week, and there was a consistent refrain among the 11 Big Ten coaches surveyed by writers in the USA TODAY Sports Network:
"What is confusing is who gets a pass to the field and who doesn't," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said, "and that didn't just start this past 12 months, either. It's been a little confusing to figure out who can get a waiver and who can't, what are the actual criteria."
In June, the NCAA Division I council tightened the language from a 2018 package that had made the waiver process more subjective as players tried to gain immediate eligibility after transferring.
In general, the NCAA has required college football and basketball players to sit out a year after switching schools — save for graduate transfers — but a recent wave of waiver approvals, including the likes of Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson in 2018 and Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields in 2019, prompted the NCAA to rethink the guidelines that granted waivers on a case-by-case basis if the athlete could document "mitigating circumstances outside of the student-athlete’s control and directly impacts the health, safety or well-being of the student-athlete.”
The NCAA added "extenuating and extraordinary" to the language in June, but even that could subject the waiver process to a certain level of subjectivity.
"It should be clear to what the rules are for youngsters when they transfer. My opinion is that every student-athlete should have a one-time ability to transfer and not have to sit out a year," Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. "If they transferred a second time, the previous rule we had where they had to sit out a year of eligibility (holds). I'd keep the graduate transfer rule in place that we have right now."
Some Big Ten coaches also called for more scholarships in order to address the growing number of players entering the portal, and while many agree the portal is good for college football overall, there was some concern that it could evolve into a version of free agency. With that in mind, here's what Big Ten coaches said about the transfer portal:
Kirk Ferentz, Iowa
“Just some clarity on that whole thing would really help, too. I understand how the portal works. That's pretty clear, pretty decisive. What is confusing is who gets a pass to the field and who doesn't, and that didn't just start this past 12 months, either. It's been a little confusing to figure out who can get a waiver and who can't, what are the actual criteria. I'd like to see that get cleaned up a little bit. We haven't been really active in it a whole lot. You mentioned we had a couple guys that have transferred that are non-scholarship players, and I don't think they were scholarship players at their given institutions, and I expect them not to be ready this year. I imagine they'll have to redshirt, that's my understanding at least. We're not counting on that to build our team or really even supplement our team.
"And conversely, we've had players -- I think we've had four quarterbacks leave our program as grad transfers and go on to other schools and done very, very well, not only for themselves but they've led their teams in a really stellar way, and I understand that a little bit better because there's only one seat when it comes to a quarterback typically. So I get that part a little bit and I think that was a good thing for the four individuals. And ultimately it's kind of like everything we do in college football, it should be about what's best for the players, and I think in all four of those cases it worked out, so I'm perfectly happy and comfortable with that. But going back to the original question, I just think we could use a little bit more clarity in terms of what happens once a player decides to leave a school, what are the actual ABC's of the whole thing."
Tom Allen, Indiana
“I think the thing we’ve talked about as coaches that I think needs to be addressed is the number of initial scholarships we can sign. Right now, we’re limited to 25. Sometimes, you sign all 25 on signing day. Well, if you do that, you can take no additional guys the rest of the year. So if the guys go in the portal during the spring, which a lot of them did, they don’t have a place to go. There has to be a plan, if that process is going to stay the same, they’re going to allow them to do it the way they’re doing it right now. Even if a guy can play or not play (right away), that isn’t really the issue.
"If we can’t take them in our program, because we don’t have enough initials, it really doesn’t matter. So to me, I think the next step is adjusting that component to say maybe you get 30 you can sign, in a given year, or if you lose some, you can replace those guys, however we decide to do it. I just think there has to be some way of us being able to take advantage of it if a kid is in it. Because right now, they’re in the portal, with no place to go. That’s the issue everybody’s running into. I just think you’ve either got to affect the way they can go in the portal, or a more common response is probably going to be, how can we open up more opportunities for kids to go other places, if they choose to go in the portal."
Jeff Brohm, Purdue
“The transfer portal, I know they’re trying to make adjustments and figure out ways to make it easier for all. The thing I do like about it is each individual should be allowed to transfer wherever he wants, and that allows that to happen. The fact that you know who’s out there wanting to transfer is a plus, but quite honestly, a lot of these guys know where they’re going before. There’s been action before someone goes in there and a lot of times they know where they’re going, and I don’t blame them. Once you go in there, there’s a chance you might lose a spot where you’re at. How to fix it? I don’t have the best answer, but I do think there needs to be adjustments to it. In the end, you want what’s best for the players.”
Paul Chryst, Wisconsin
“We had a good discussion at our Big Ten meetings. I think everyone has gotten to the point where if someone wants to transfer, they should be able to transfer. I think the thing that is driving everyone nuts, including myself, is who is (immediately) eligible and who is not?... I think right now it is so random. And if you hire the right (attorney), you’re in. It doesn’t make sense to me. It seems really random.”
Mark Dantonio, Michigan State
"The portal has been interesting. I think there have been over 2,500 names in the portal. You almost have to recruit that as well as your high school seniors. (Jayden Reed) was the only individual we really looked at and visited (with) from the portal. If you have a need, you look to (the portal) to try to satisfy that."
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Ryan Day, Ohio State
“For me to answer that now is hard, because it’s so complex of an issue. It’s easy to just say one way. But there’s ripple effects that go on with it. I’m concerned with it, but I also see both sides of the argument. I can see where the kids want to be able to go from different schools and have that freedom, but also, if it gets crazy it turns into free agency and you almost lose what college football is all about. So I really want to get a year under my belt of being a head coach and then after the season really look forward to sitting down with some of the other head coaches, administrators, ADs and have those conversations. And try to figure out: What is the best solution moving forward. But I know and I’m smart enough to know I don’t have all the answers right now.”
PJ Fleck, Minnesota
“I’m not sure I’m qualified to fix the transfer portal. I do know it’s healthy for college football. I think providing student-athletes to go other places if they’re not having the ability to play there. I think we need to be able to look at — we still don’t want to take away competition with young people. Any sense of adversity, any sense of competition, we don’t want our student-athletes to run from or hide from. That’s what being a student-athlete in collegiate sports is all about, creating that competition, learning how to fail and grow, succeed. How to handle that success. So I don’t ever want to take away that. But I do think we need to trim some fat away from the steak of having some more rules to make it fit for everybody. I think there’s 2,500 people in the transfer portal. Not all of those people are going to get scholarships. I think there’s a misperception of, if I enter there, all these people are going to offer me. That’s not true. So we’ve got to do some work on it, but I think it’s healthy. But I think there’s got to be some guidelines that we set in at some level to be able to protect, I think, the game.”
Scott Frost, Nebraska
“This is America, the land of the free and the home of the brave. And people ought to be able to take advantage of any opportunity that they want to. Getting initial eligibility really needs to be addressed, to become immediately eligible. Potentially, that could eventually turn college football into a free-agency market, where kids are jumping around, where schools are recruiting kids from other schools. It could get messy if we don’t set it up the right way. It’s just my opinion, but I think we need to be careful with how those rules are laid out to make sure it doesn’t affect the integrity of the game.”
Jim Harbaugh, Michigan
"My opinion on it, which I can give you: It should be clear to what the rules are for youngsters when they transfer. My opinion is that every student-athlete should have a one-time ability to transfer and not have to sit out a year. If they transferred a second time, the previous rule we had where they had to sit out a year of eligibility (holds). I'd keep the graduate transfer rule in place that we have right now."
Mike Locksley, Maryland
"(After everyone enters at once), then all of a sudden there's not enough scholarships left (across the country) for all these guys that bit the cheese to go into the portal thinking they'd be eligible to play immediately. So we have too much demand and not enough supply from a scholarship standpoint. So fixing that and making sure we legislate it a little better would be the two areas I'd fix with it."
Lovie Smith, Illinois
"Maybe more transparency as much as anything on how the process kind of goes a little bit when you deny it or grant it... Sometimes divorce is a good thing in life in general, so for players to take that approach and have an opportunity to move on, as long as we're all going by the same rules, I'm OK with whatever we have in place and OK with the current rules that we have in place."
Big Ten football beat writers in the USA TODAY Sports Network contributed to this report: Nick Bumgardner and Chris Solari of the Detroit Free Press, Mike Carmin of the Lafayette Journal & Courier, Mark Emmert and Chad Leistikow of The Des Moines Register, Zach Osterman of the Indianapolis Star and Jeffrey Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contributed to this report.
USA TODAY Sports' Dan Wolken contributed to this report.