Tramel: Transfer portal has upstaged National Signing Day — and there's nothing wrong with that
When the Baker Mayfield craze hit Norman in 2015, I called my pal, OU historian Mike Brooks, and suggested we do an all-time Sooner transfer team.
It never got off the ground. Not enough players to fill out all 22 positions.
Soon, that won’t be an issue, with OU or OSU or any other major-college football team.
The traditional National Signing Day arrives Wednesday with all the fanfare of a water bill. Every school gets virtually all of its high-school haul in December, and January now trumps even that letter-of-intent celebration.
January is when college football free agency blooms, with transfers.
The Sooners have five players coming in from fellow Power 5 squads — Penn State quarterback Micah Bowens, Arizona offensive lineman Robert Congel and the Tennessee trio of safety Key Lawrence, tailback Eric Gray and offensive tackle Wanya Morris.
The Cowboys have three incoming transfers from Division I-A squads — Utah State tailback Jaylen Warren, Wake Forest defensive back Trey Rucker and Miami-Ohio offensive lineman Danny Godleveske.
The transfer portal giveth, and the transfer portal taketh away.
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A bunch of Sooners have headed elsewhere — quarterbacks Tanner Mordecai to Southern Methodist and Chandler Morris to Texas Christian, tailback T.J. Pledger to Utah, safety Robert Barnes to Colorado, flanker Charleston Rambo to Miami, tight end Jalin Conyers to Arizona State, linebacker Jon-Michael Terry to Tulsa and defensive tackle Zacchaeus McKinney to Hawaii. And news of defensive back Brendan Radley-Hiles entering the transfer portal surfaced Tuesday night. Some good players on that list.
At OSU, tight end Jelani Woods went to Virginia, and defensive end Amadou Fofana, wide receivers Dee Anderson and Landon Wolf, offensive lineman Trent Pullen and tailback Deondrick Glass all are transferring, too.
Welcome to Extreme Makeover: college football addition.
The introduction of the portal a couple of years ago has facilitated transfers, as has relaxation of eligibility rules.
Time was, virtually every transfer from any four-year school to a Division I-A program had to sit out a season. Now, virtually every transfer can find a path to immediate eligibility.
In 2006, the NCAA implemented the graduate transfer rule — get your degree, and you could play elsewhere right away. Then came more exceptions. Players leaving schools that had just received NCAA penalties. Players whose coaches had jumped ship. Players with extenuating family circumstances.
And now, with the NCAA’s proposed one-time transfer rule, no reason necessary.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Sitting out a year was good for coaches keeping players and administrators counting scholarships, but wasn’t so good for athletes who wondered why they had to sit while their coach could bolt and coach elsewhere immediately, or why athletes in almost every sport had no such barriers.
But when players enter the portal, it’s open range. A feeding frenzy.
Lincoln Riley called it a “rat race, people just scoop people up,” but it’s hard for Riley to be anti-free agency. A variety of transfer policies brought him Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts.
And never before has OU had such massive transferring, each way. Get this. The Sooners are bringing in more scholarship transfers this off-season than they had on the entire roster last season — wide receivers Theo Howard (UCLA) and Obi Obialo (Marshall), and offensive lineman Chris Murray (UCLA).
Four-year transfers were rare in the old days. OU had safety Monty Johnson in 1969-70 after he famously transferred from Texas. Quarterback Houston Nutt transferred from Arkansas to OSU in 1978. Quarterback Darrell Shepard transferred from Houston to OU in 1980. A few others.
And some great players left our state — Troy Aikman from OU to UCLA, Glyn Milburn from OU to Stanford, for example.
In the last decade, OSU started mining the graduate transfer rule for defenders like Josh Furman (Michigan), Tyler Patmon (Kansas) and Michael Hunter (Indiana), plus tailback Barry J. Sanders (Stanford) and offensive tackle Aaron Cochran (California).
The Cowboys had five prominent such transfers on its 2020 team — defensive linemen Israel Antwine (Colorado) and Collin Clay (Arkansas), cornerback Christian Holmes (Missouri), flanker Tay Martin (Washington State) and offensive lineman Josh Sills (West Virginia).
Those numbers will grow. And signing day becomes a little less important.
“Sadly, in some ways, the value of a high school player, from a college’s eyes, with all these rules that have come in, has probably dropped,” Riley said.
“Just because a high school player could pick up and leave … whenever they want. It’s one of the repercussions and one of the consequences of the decisions that have been made or have the potential to be made. So it’s definitely gonna be different.”
The difference is clear. College football has its own version of free agency. And that’s only right.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.