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Signing day becomes transfer season as portal remains packed

The transfer portal remains packed as college football’s second signing period arrives. a glut that has the sport’s leaders pondering ways to clean up a roster management mess.

The most notable free agent came off the market Tuesday when former Oklahoma quarterback Caleb Williams made his long-anticipated transfer to Southern California official.

Still, according to Rivals.com, about 48% of the more than 1,250 scholarship players from Division I’s Bowl Subdivision who have entered the portal since August had not announced new schools as of last week.

With the traditional signing period beginning Wednesday, the number of players exiting the portal will continue to rise. But all of those players looking for scholarship offers combined with the seemingly constant movement of athletes — and coaches —— is seen as a problem.

“I’d also suggest we’re still pretty early into this,” Mid-American Conference Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said. “You’ve got other factors involved that are causing additional churn. I still don’t know that we have a clear sense of what this will settle out as. But I understand the angst involved.”

Most schools now lock up the bulk of their high school recruits during the early signing period in December. While there are still some uncommitted blue-chip high schoolers heading into signing day, January has become a transfer season in college football.

“You basically have a year-round free agency in football, which is obviously a major issue,” Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin, who has put together one of the nation’s best transfer classes, told reporters Tuesday during a conference call. “It’s why they don’t do it in the NFL. It is what it is. We’re just trying to make the best of the rules and the situation.”

A confluence of recent NCAA rule changes and short-term tweaks made in response to the pandemic caused an unprecedented traffic jam.

Last year, the NCAA changed its rules to allow athletes in all sports the ability to transfer one time without sitting out a season at their new school. The newfound freedom, a long with the lifting of the NCAA’s longtime restrictions on athletes earning money for use of their names, images and likenesses, has incentivized players to explore their options.

On top of that, hundreds of players have an extra year of eligibility at their disposal after the NCAA provided a giveback for athletes who were in college during the pandemic-altered 2020 season.

The extra year makes building rosters with transfers more desirable for coaches.

Arizona coach Jed Fisch called bringing in college players with three or more years of eligibility remaining “dream portal” opportunities.

Schools can only have 85 scholarship players at the start of the season, and NCAA rules signing limits to only 25 per season. To help teams compensate for portal losses, the NCAA is allowing them to sign as many as seven additional players this year only — for now. Expect coaches to push for it to become a permanent part of college football.

Another possible alteration to the transfer rules being discussed by athletic administrators at the NCAA committee level is creating windows in the calendar when players could access their one-time, restriction-free transfer.

Athletes would still be permitted to enter the portal at any time, but doing so outside designated periods, possibly at the end of each semester, would require them to sit out the following season.

That might not stem the tide of players diving into the portal, but it would likely trim the number entering midseason.

“They quit the team in November with three weeks, four weeks to go, thinking that by entering the portal (early) they have a better opportunity to go to another institution because they will be the first in the portal,” West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons said. “Well, that hasn’t played out.”

The future of the early signing period is also up for debate. The three-day period in mid-December was implemented in 2017. That has accelerated the firing and hiring of coaches — which further complicates placing any restrictions on players.

If coaches can be on the move at any time — even with a team still in contention for the College Football Playoff — why can’t players?

All of this is still so new. Instead of more tweaks, there is some support for stepping back.

Over time, athletes will learn the perils of entering the portal and eventually all those players with an extra year of eligibility will pass through the pipeline.

“The students will be more savvy,” Steinbrecher said. “And the schools will become more savvy in how they interact and manage and respond.”

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.appodcasts.com

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More AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25. Sign up for the AP’s college football newsletter: https://apnews.com/cfbtop25

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