College football's transfer portal has created a 'chaos' for high school recruits; here's how to fix it
DETROIT — There were 113 hard-fought yards against powerhouse Brother Rice in the state quarterfinals. There was the six-touchdown onslaught — three rushing, two receiving and one on a 95-yard return — in the semifinals. There was the 207 yards rushing and two more TDs in the title game against Muskegon.
Altogether, Sterling Anderson Jr. scored 15 touchdowns in the state playoffs alone as he helped Detroit King High School win a Michigan state championship last month. It was part of a nearly 2,000 all-purpose yard, 21 TD season, even though King’s starters often sat after the first quarter of early season games.
Anderson, a senior running back/slot receiver/return man stands just 5-foot-8 and never expected colleges to flock to him like he was an elite five-star recruit, the way they did his King teammate, Oregon-bound quarterback Dante Moore.
Still, the kid is an elusive, hard-charging runner who can really play.
Yet, as national signing day approaches a week from now, Anderson is still awaiting a Division I offer. He is one of the hundreds of similarly talented players — D-I talents without D-I options — caught in the limbo of college football’s currently crowded, and confusing, December schedule.
“We thought the playoffs would show everyone what he can do, but we are still waiting,” said his father, Sterling Anderson Sr.
Blame the transfer portal. Blame the coaching carousel. Blame a lack of leadership or foresight, but this is reality. The sport is currently trying to cram free agency (the portal), the draft (national signing day), the postseason (bowls begin Friday) and the coaching carousel (23 of the sport's 131 programs will have new head coaches) into a couple-week stretch.
It’s not that D-I recruiters don’t think Anderson isn’t good enough. "What an absolute stud,” said one Mid-American Conference assistant. "His athleticism is incredible," said another.
It’s just that, due to the transfer portal, no coach is sure what their needs even are.
Are their returning backs leaving? Are they staying? If they have an opening, should they offer Anderson, or could they have a shot at, say, an older, more established, high-major running back who might want to transfer down? Anderson is going to be a good college player, but an experienced 22-year-old might already be a good college player.
It has left high school football full of Sterling Andersons, who aren't expecting Alabama to call, but figure someone should.
“It’s messed up right now,” said Anderson Sr. “With the players entering the portal or arriving through the portal, these coaches say they don’t know what the roster will look like tomorrow.”
College football needs a calendar adjustment because the current system isn’t good for anyone — coaches, players, recruits — and will only exacerbate problems going forward.
The solution isn’t simple, or certainly not all encompassing, but the easiest thing to do is eliminate December’s early signing day (Dec. 21 this year) and move the traditional signing day back from Feb. 1 to the middle of the month, or even March.
The sport needs time for things to settle. It needs clarity about rosters to be established. It needs head and assistant coaches to move into new jobs. A Midwest assistant who might be advocating for a recruit is suddenly hired on the West Coast where priorities are different.
And recruits and their families need to have a better idea of where they can fit in best and which schools really wants them.
Right now, coaches are trying to pick through a 1,000-player transfer portal to plug holes on their team while guarding against unexpected departures that can change plans. “It’s chaos,” said one Big Ten offensive coordinator. "Everyday, every hour, is something new."
Yet it’s the current calendar that is helping feed future transfer portals.
Some of it can’t be reasonably moved. Transfers need time between the end of the season and the start of the spring semester to find a school. And coaches will always switch jobs in December. The wheels of capitalism aren’t going to stop spinning.
It’s the high school recruiting calendar that can be moved, to the benefit of almost everyone.
While elite programs want to lock up elite recruits up as soon as possible, the benefit of that has been quickly outweighed by the circus of the portal and not knowing who to extend an offer or when.
A number of high-major programs are leaving swaths of their roster available for transfers rather than offering high school recruits. Michigan State has just 10 commitments. Ole Miss and UCLA just 12. Historically, every program signed about 25 prep players.
Each of those schools have plenty of high schoolers waiting in the wings and if they don’t like what they get out of the portal, they could offer 10-15 kids in the next week. It’s a stringing-along process that then impacts programs down the food chain.
If a Big Ten school is telling a recruit it may take him, then the recruit likely won’t commit to a MAC school that is desperate for him, which means the MAC school may hold a spot for him in hopes it works out rather than take someone else who's desperate for them.
“The early signing day is impacted by the transfer portal because they have to hold scholarships for the transfer portal kids,” Anderson Sr. said. “We understand, it’s just we don’t know what’s available.”
Perhaps the only tangible impact of eliminating the early signing period would be on the small number of high schoolers who graduate early so they can enroll in college in January and get a jump on preparation. Yet they don’t have to sign a letter of intent on Dec. 21 to start classes on, say, Jan. 3. They could just enroll on Jan. 3. These are the least likely recruits to flip anyway.
Everyone else could wait.
That would allow coaches to have a better idea if they need this recruit or that. And that would allow recruits to have a better idea of who will be coaching them and give as much information as possible before making a commitment that — lacking such knowledge — is often doomed to fail.
A month after lighting up the competition in a state title run, Anderson Jr. could go anywhere from Power Five to D-II. It’s not his ability that is his biggest issue. It’s that he was a far better player as a senior than he was as a sophomore when most scouting opinions and recruiting lists are formed.
As such, it’s a game of musical chairs.
So eliminate the early signing period and push high school recruiting back. The business of player acquisition has changed. The calendar needs to follow.