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Column: The College football calendar needs a retrofit

Let’s try to keep up with the times. 

NCAA Football: CFP Press Conference Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Innovation without regulation breeds chaos — at least that’s a hypothesis we might draw from the recent changes impacting the college football universe. Many of the changes had the brightest intentions, like opening the transfer portal and NIL opportunities for college athletes, expanding the college football postseason, or even an early signing period for high school athletes.

Now, with several seasons with the transfer portal under our belt, three semesters of NIL deals wrapping up and an agreement for an expanded College Football Playoff, we can take a breath and look at some of the unintended consequences that have resulted from these — and more — changes.

And if there was a season where all of this chaos accumulated and exploded, it’s right now. Merry Christmas to all.

That’s because we are in the middle of bowl season, two weeks into the transfer portal and over a week from the start of the College Football Playoff. The Heisman was awarded the weekend before last. Moreover, the early signing period for high school athletes begins today.

With all these events coinciding, it’s nearly impossible for athletes at the high school or collegiate levels to make informed decisions. In some cases, it can be beneficial to make the first move a la Michigan’s Cade McNamara transferring to Iowa where he will almost assuredly win the starting role. However, in most situations, there is fog of new freshmen inbound, undeclared draft prospects and coaching carousel changes that make the transfer portal information system muddy at best.

First, we must acknowledge that the transfer portal is a good thing, but it’s not a panacea. Many players have found new programs that fit their skills or outlook better. Many others did not find a new home and lost out on a scholarship as a result. The number of undergraduate players entering the transfer portal nearly doubled from 2020 to 2021, and an estimated 16% of all FBS football players entered the transfer portal in 2021. Of the more than 2,500 undergraduate and graduate transfers, just 54% of scholarship transfers successfully enrolled at a new school.

To state the obvious, that means that 46% of transfers gave up a college scholarship and did not find a new one, which has serious developmental and financial consequences. Players might be looking to make a move for a variety of reasons (coaching change, not earning a starting role or even homesickness) and coming out the other side with a scholarship might not even be their priority. However, for those who are, while high-profile transfers get a lot of coverage (looking at you, Caleb Williams), most transfers are not on that level.

So what to do about it? In our personal lives, we know organization can solve a myriad of challenges. That’s true for college football, too.

For starters, the NCAA might consider not opening the transfer portal until after spring ball wraps. I know folks will be mad about this one, but at least players would get through another semester with their programs and have a clearer understanding of where they sit in the lineup once players have officially left for the draft and early enrollees have joined the program. In other words, the waters are less muddy. And perhaps then we might avoid seeing some of the serial transfers who moved after the regular season ended only to get shut out during spring camp and forced to move again.

Similarly, we should also leave the College Football Playoff be, since the only time there will be certainty of information for draft prospects is after the CFP is decided. For some reason, TCU quarterback Max Duggan announced his intention to enter the NFL Draft before the Horned Frogs’ game against Michigan in the CFP semi-final. While it’s his prerogative, the transfer portal becomes more challenging when decisions are made before the season is actually over.

We can assume that many of the top prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft will come from the likes of Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan and, yes, TCU. For players from other programs, it would help to understand who from these programs is leaving and who is choosing to return.

While these shifts would not solve all the challenges brought on by changes to the landscape, they would at least serve to bring some order to the chaos that has ensued in this wild season.