Portal Madness


Robert
Apr 6, 2021
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22 Comments

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I started to write the Omar Payne LLUOI post and I realized that the post was more about the Transfer Portal than it was about Omar Payne. So that post becomes this post and then I'll write another one for Payne. This one is more or less a continuation of the post I wrote on Friday about Changing Landscapes in college basketball. If you haven't read that one, start there and then come back here for part two.

I noted in that post that the rule to be voted on by the NCAA has the phrase "one time" in it. Meaning, you can transfer one time without having to sit out. If you transfer after that, the old rules apply: you sit out a year from competition and then the next year you are eligible. The obvious takeaway there: say Adam Miller were to play four years in college. Then it's better to be the second school to land him, not the first. The first school loses him after one year. The second school gets him for one, maybe two, possibly three years.

Brad Underwood covered exactly that in his press conference yesterday. When asked by Jeremy Werner if there's anything you can spot in high school athletes you're recruiting that might lead you to believe they'll stick around and not put their name in the portal after one year, Underwood joked that when Jeremy figures out what that is to let him know. And then he said this:

"The advantage to the Transfer Portal is that they've transferred and they can't again. You get a chance to get a student athlete for more than one year, potentially. So there's some advantage in retention, there's no doubt. But that's the downside to a freshman. They could obviously leave or, if they're good enough, go pro."

OK, so, yeah... there's about a dozen things to cover from just that one quote. Where my brain goes:

  • First, the obvious: is the Transfer Portal now more important than high school recruiting?
  • Was 2021 the last year for the "here are the top-100 high school recruits" lists? Hybrid lists from here on out, right? But how do you do a hybrid list when you don't know the transfers until April?
  • Speaking of high school recruits, this whole thing is awful for them, right? Marginal recruits are going to have to go to a mid-major to prove themselves first, yes?
  • I mean, just think of the numbers. If, in 2015, 80% of high major scholarships were filled by the early signing day in November, what percentage will be filled this November? 35%? Everyone will wait until spring, right?
  • Is APR dead? How do you even calculate Academic Progress Rate (and Graduation Rate) when so many players are transferring?
  • Perhaps most importantly, has "the best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores" been replaced by Underwood's "that's the downside to a freshman"?

Let me take a few of these questions and stretch them out a bit.

School Two

This is at the core of Underwood's quote. This is the very specific "advantage" to the Transfer Portal he's referencing. You add a freshman and he might leave after only one year (like Adam Miller). You add someone else's sophomore and he's cap tied.

Basically, he's saying that School Two is the prime spot now. Think about it. Coaches have always tossed out the "the best thing about freshmen is they become sophomores" trope, but they're willing to put up with freshman mistakes because there's such a thing as the Sophomore Leap. But if you tell coaches that the freshmen can leave immediately - you deal with all their mistakes and then some other school gets the payoff of the sophomore leap - then coaches have to be saying "uh, why would I recruit any freshmen?".

Perhaps I should clarify that. A freshman like Cade Cunningham, obviously, will be recruited again. A freshman like Hunter Dickinson will also be recruited again. But with such a big risk attached (they can leave whenever they want), wouldn't it maybe be better to wait around until after the season and then try to be School Two for a bunch of these guys? They can play immediately, they got their freshman year out of the way elsewhere, you get the benefit of their sophomore leap, and they're now transfer-restricted. A lot of coaches will start thinking that way, right?

Yes, there's a big risk of a market crash. By the end of the school year I'm guessing there will be something like 1,500 players in the transfer portal. Say some coach sees those statistics this year, says "that's it, I'm chasing one high school recruit this summer and then saving four scholarships for the portal next spring", and then the portal market crashes and only 600 players transfer after next season. That coach is then left holding his scholarships with many of the incoming freshmen already committed elsewhere.

But will they be committed elsewhere? Will we see very few high school players sign during the November signing period followed by a free-for-all in the spring as coaches fill rosters with high schoolers and transfers? I mean, if coaches are going to be hesitant to bring in freshmen, then that means more will be on the market in the spring. Does this whole thing just mean that spring recruiting is the new "fall visits followed by November signing"? Will everyone skip being School One in hopes of being School Two?

Transfer Portal vs. High School Recruiting

Here's something I tweeted a few weeks ago:

One of the responses to that first post said "he knows Missouri will be awful next year". My question: "does he?". Do we know if anyone will be awful next year? We used to - just look at the players graduating and the players who signed in November - but do we really "know" anymore? How can the national writers write their "Way Too Early Top-25" articles today? Who could possibly say at this point?

That's why I'm openly questioning if the top-100 list is obsolete. I'm not saying there won't be AAU Tournaments and I'm not saying that there won't be top-100 lists at the end of the summer. I'm just saying that the list The Athletic put together - transfers and high school recruits all mixed together - seems like the only way to do it at this point. September and October visits used to be THE timeframe for college basketball. Final Four trips were made and broken with those decisions. Now, I'm not sure you can say that. If Underwood is noting that being School Two is important, it feels like much of college basketball will move in a School Two direction.

OK, yes, I'm pushing against the edges here. I'm taking each point and seeing how far it might go. But I feel like that's the best way to approach a "did college basketball recruiting just substantially shift?" moment like this. Before, you'd land a player ranked 55th and think "he might struggle as a freshman but by his junior year...". Now, you look at him and think "maybe we should wait until April and grab one of the dozen shooting guards who have already proven themselves at this level?".

The guard who is transferring from Davidson to Kentucky (Kellan Grady) is way better than the freshman guard ranked 31st they have in their 2021 recruiting class (Nolan Hickman). So how can we have "recruiting class rankings" that don't even acknowledge Grady as part of the class?

More About The Freshman Thing

Please note that I'm not just saying "players today won't have any loyalty and that's why coaches won't recruit freshmen - they'll be afraid that freshmen will just leave on a whim". I'm saying that letting freshmen be someone else's problem might be attractive to certain college coaches.

Years ago, freshmen were ineligible. The NCAA wanted all freshmen to adapt to college first while practicing with the team and then they'd be eligible once they were sophomores. That rule didn't change until the 1972-73 season. As I recall (well, not as I "recall" because I was born during the 72/73 season which now that I think about it might have been the reason for the rule change), the changes were made because of Title IX and all college athletes needing to be immediately eligible.

So at the time, you had your "roster" (sophomores, juniors, and seniors) and you had your "prep-year" kids (the freshmen who could only practice). That's probably not the best way to put it because "prep-year" sounds like "prep school" but now that I type that out maybe that is what I'm trying to say. Are we headed for a two tier arrangement where only a few recruits go straight from high school to the college court and everyone else is searching for the place where they prove themselves with one or two "prep years"?

Let's use the only player signed so far in the 2021 class: Luke Goode. He's ranked 94th in the 247 Composite rankings. Probably isn't expected to be a big contributor next season (needs some weight room work, needs to adjust to the college game). Still a solid recruit - could be a big contributor in the future.

My question here. In the future, will a Luke Goode do that "adjust to the college game" year somewhere else? If Brad Underwood has a scholarship available for a wing, will he use it on a freshman or sophomore transfer from some mid-major while Goode spends a year or two at Ball State building film for better offers?

Again, I'm not talking in absolutes here. Coaches will see high school players they think are a perfect fit and will want to lock them down immediately. I'm just saying that with this seismic shift in college basketball, will players like Goode be viewed on this "needs to prep somewhere else first" tier? Will coaches look at their rosters like a 1966 coach would look at his roster (seniors, juniors, and sophomores) with freshmen being viewed as "if he's not ready to immediately contribute, he should prove himself elsewhere"?

I'm asking.

Watershed

Yes, the rule change will go into effect in 2021 (once they finally vote on the delayed vote). That's what's bringing about all of my questions. But the way this season played out is probably contributing to it as well. Lots of questions I could ask there as well. The biggest being "is the Kentucky/Duke model dead?".

I don't think it's "dead". But I do think 5-star guard Devin Askew transferring OUT of Kentucky and Davidson guard Kellan Grady transferring IN is a big sign that even Kentucky is saying "yeah, maybe this transfer thing is better than playing a bunch of 5-star freshmen". That's now two transfers coming in for Kentucky (including West Virginia big man Oscar Tshiebwe) after three this past offseason. On the flipside, their #1 recruiting class in 2020 just went 9-16, saw three players declare for the draft last week, and two others are transferring out. That leaves only Lance Ware (2 ppg, 3 rpg) from that #1 class.

But it's not just Kentucky. There was that stat someone tweeted in early February when Kansas fell out of the top-25 where the top 13 teams in all-time NCAA wins were unranked. Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, Kentucky, UCLA, and so on... none of the top-13 were ranked. I think that's a pretty good signal that there's a shift happening in college basketball. Tired: bluebloods. Wired: newbloods.

And the biggest difference, I think, is transfers. Of the 20 starters in the Final Four, eight were transfers. One more time: Twenty players started in the two games on Saturday. 12 were players the teams had recruited out of high school and 8 were recruited as transfers. The national champion Baylor Bears? Four transfers in their rotation: Davion Mitchell was a transfer from Auburn, Macio Teague was a transfer from UNC-Asheville, Adam Flagler was a transfer from Presbyterian, and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua was a transfer from UNLV. Baylor scored 86 points last night - 53 from transfers.

So this feels like a watershed moment, right? Yes, we'll remember the 2020-21 season because of Covid and no fans, but we also might remember it as the season when roster construction completely changed. Way Too Early Top-25 lists? Impossible the day after the title game. Top-25 recruiting classes? Meaningless rankings if transfers aren't re-ranked and included.

Juwan Howard had holes in his 2021 roster and he filled them with Mike Smith from Columbia and Chaundee Brown from Wake Forest. Chris Holtmann had holes in his 2021 roster and he filled them with Seth Towns from Harvard and Justice Sueing from California. Brad Underwood has holes in his 2022 roster and he's going to fill them with Omar Payne from Florida and {fill in at least two more transfers here}.

Remember the old Jim Calhoun "it takes two years for a great season to pay off in recruiting"? Well, now it needs to happen in the next three weeks. We need to take "we climbed as high as #2 in the polls" and immediately sell it to some transfers. The success of these next few weeks determines our success next winter.

It's a new world and we need to live in it.

Comments

HNLINI on April 6, 2021 @ 02:25 PM

So in this new world, what are the things that attract players to Illinois? Are the the same things that they have always been, or different? And how do new forces, like Name, Image, Likeness legislation, come into play?

Separately, doesn't this really put out there in plain and simple terms that college basketball has nothing to do with education?

Giovantischixstripz on April 6, 2021 @ 09:31 PM

I don't think it does. It just puts athletes on the same level as the rest of students who have the freedom to transfer without being withheld from activities for a year. I think the 1 transfer rule is good and necessary to avoid complete free agency and 4 colleges in 4 years, but how it is now with the politics of who can get a hardship waiver and who can't is a joke.

HNLINI on April 7, 2021 @ 01:11 AM

I agree that the prior system wasn't equitable to athletes; however, the analogy to regular students would allow for 4 transfers in 4 years (though the way most schools screw students on transfer of credits would likely mean that student wouldn't graduate in that period). I was referring more to the notion of holding the schools and athletic programs accountable for ensuring a reasonable number of these athletes graduate. Most will not become NBA or Euro-level professionals, and many that do will have very brief careers. Seems to me its going to turn into another way that the system takes advantage of these young adults. If the last year has taught us anything about college basketball, it is that the interests of the kids is not paramount. Making money is. Why keep up the charade? Just pay them already.

Giovantischixstripz on April 7, 2021 @ 11:00 AM

What percentage of basketball players graduate now? I don't think this rule will change that much. Those who have professional opportunities will still go pro before graduation, and those who don't will still generally graduate, even if it is at a 2nd school.

larue on April 7, 2021 @ 12:36 PM

I'm sure there are schools exploiting athletes, but I'm pretty confident that at Illinois any athlete who wants to graduate will do so. They might be pushed into a less demanding major that would be better for them in the long run, but if they want to leave with a degree they will get all the support they need. There's even a fund to pay for their education after their eligibility is used up.

larue on April 7, 2021 @ 12:38 PM

OK, so I can't edit. Meant to say that they might be pushed away from a major that would be better for them in the long run.

HNLINI on April 8, 2021 @ 12:06 AM

Motivated kids will still graduate. APR was a powerful motivator for the programs to ensure that other kids didn't fall through the cracks. Not sure what happens to it under transferpalooza.

Alaskan Illini on April 7, 2021 @ 07:07 AM

Apples to orange comparison with the “regular students”. I can’t conceive of any scenario in which “regular students” would transfer from a full ride at school A and receive a full ride at school B. If you’re thinking of non-revenue sports athletes transferring, it’s a closer analogy, but those non-revenue athletes typically have a partial scholarship - again, I don’t think we’d see a rush for opportunities in those sports.

I’m 100% with you on the hardship transfers . . . there is “negative consistency” (registered trademark of Alaskan Illini ??) in that whatever appears most likely, will be the least likely scenario when it comes to what type of hardship is to be approved.

Giovantischixstripz on April 7, 2021 @ 11:11 AM

You are right, it is an apples to oranges comparison. I'm sure there are cases of academic full rides being able to transfer to another school and land another full ride, but there is generally less motivation to do so than for an athlete looking for more PT, exposure, etc.

The main point though is it doesn't make sense for your letter of intent to limit you from looking for a better opportunity if things aren't working out for you. And I don't think that alone really does all that much damage to the already thin facade of college sports being a mainly academic and not economic endeavor. I don't think that will change graduation rates much.

HNLINI on April 8, 2021 @ 12:13 AM

The only academic equivalent I can think of is in some of the higher tech post grad research fellowships, where schools poach promising talent from one another by waiving grant money, stipends, etc. I've heard rumors of it happening among really talented undergrads from underrepresented populations for academic purposes, but I've never seen tangible evidence of that occurring. I don't disagree with the premise of freedom of choice for players, I just think its a rest area on the way to the ultimate equitable resolution, which is to pay the players.

Alaskan Illini on April 8, 2021 @ 06:45 AM

The minute the players are paid, they are professionals, and should be playing in a professional league.

The ultimate result of paying professional college athletes will be the death of all college sports, similar to what is seen in Europe where they have club sports, but not intercollegiate sports.

Again, I fault the NBA and the NFL for implementing rules that establish barriers to entry into their ranks until the athletes have completed at least one year of college. The students become unpaid interns for the professional leagues, as there are really no viable alternatives (development leagues). Until that is fixed we will always be presented with these problems. . . .

HNLINI on April 8, 2021 @ 08:36 PM

They are essentially professionals right now. College athletics in a revenue sport is a full time job. They just aren't getting paid. Everybody else involved in men's college basketball and men's college football is making an enormous amount of money off of these kids' effort (and name and likeness).

Pay attention to the NBA draft this year and look closely at the number and % of G-league ignite kids who get drafted relative to CBB players. The "game" is changing.

HNLINI on April 8, 2021 @ 08:36 PM

They are essentially professionals right now. College athletics in a revenue sport is a full time job. They just aren't getting paid. Everybody else involved in men's college basketball and men's college football is making an enormous amount of money off of these kids' effort (and name and likeness).

Pay attention to the NBA draft this year and look closely at the number and % of G-league ignite kids who get drafted relative to CBB players. The "game" is changing.

BananaShampoo on April 6, 2021 @ 03:10 PM

You mentioned you were working on the Omar Payne LLOUI. Will there be one for Mr. Reggie Bass, as well?

BananaShampoo on April 6, 2021 @ 03:10 PM

You mentioned you were working on the Omar Payne LLOUI. Will there be one for Mr. Reggie Bass, as well?

smadeck on April 6, 2021 @ 03:56 PM

Are you purposely not counting Jared Butler as a transfer since he never played a game for Alabama?

neale stoner on April 6, 2021 @ 05:35 PM

I believe there were 800 plus players in the portal last year, and around 200 ended up without a Division 1 chair when the music stopped. Eventually it will settle down when kids see there is risk.

The Olaf Rules on April 6, 2021 @ 07:50 PM

"what are the things that attract players to Illinois?" I think many of the same things as always: (1) available playing time, (2) proven track record in getting players to the NBA, (3) winning, (4) "other benefits" (you know what I am saying here).

If NIL becomes a thing, I think Illinois has good metrics to sell in terms of fan-engagement, merch sales, TV exposure, etc. Chicago and St. Louis are two good-sized markets that will always support Illini players to some extent, and the more that Illinois becomes a "national brand", the more that could financially benefit a player.

Efrem on April 7, 2021 @ 09:59 AM

I think we're all looking at this from the wrong perspective. It's not "why do the freshmen want to leave and why should we recruit HS players?" The question is "what can we do to create an experience for all players so they don't want to leave?"

This reminds me of the reaction of taxi companies and drivers when Uber came into big cities. Instead of making the Taxi experience better for customers they did all kinds of dumb stuff to protect their old business model. And watched customers flock to Uber and Lyft.

The NBA has made player empowerment a thing that is definitely impacting college sports too. We need to lean into this and embrace it or we'll be like the cab companies. This is an opportunity for Illinois to lead and set the example. I hope our current AD gets that and doesn't massively blow it like Gunther did during the huge expansion of college sports back in the late 90s

One other question you should have added to your list @Robert: will we be prepared when the rules changes to allow unlimited transfers with no sit out years. Because that will definitely eventually come too

Giovantischixstripz on April 7, 2021 @ 06:56 PM

I don't think its possible to create an experience for all players so that they don't want to leave. Take Tevian Jones for example. Aside from any academic issues, he just wasn't a good enough player (his talent was, his understanding of the game wasn't) to carve out a major role for us. He wanted to experience getting major playing time in college basketball, so he transferred to a level he could do so. Alan Griffin supposedly had some stuff going on in his personal life that motivated his move, nothing the staff can do with that. Adam Miller wanted to be the Ace Wolf, but Curbelo has taken the reins of the team going forward, so he likely transfers somewhere where he can improve his on ball skills more. None of those situations could have been predicted when they came to U of I, and don't necessarily speak poorly to their experience here. The key as always will be finding the right guys to replace the ones who inevitably leave.

HiggsBoson on April 8, 2021 @ 09:54 PM

All of this is making me tired -- and less interested in college sports.

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