Up To Speed - Portal Edition

May 3, 2023

I used to do that thing where I'd put up a GONE FISHIN' sign when I'm on vacation. I know there are some people who check for new articles regularly, and when I'm on vacation, I want them to know that there's a reason there's nothing new on the site.

But quite often, while on vacation, there will be something I want to write about so I'll find a couple hours after my wife has gone to bed to write up whatever was on my mind. So am I ever really "on vacation"? Isn't it just "the posts will be less frequent during this period because my days are being spent looking at mountain peaks and not sitting at a desk"?

It's the same as retirement. I'm going to write about the Illini until I can't use a keyboard anymore, so I'm never really going to retire. I don't have some "once I'm done working, I want to do {thing} with my days." The thing I want to do with my days is watch, study, research, and write about the University of Illinois by attending every single game. To stop doing that in order to sit in a house in Florida and stare at the ocean would drive me insane. Loren Tate has it right. Retired in 1996, still writing about the Illini at age 91.

I have other things I want to do with this keyboard. There are books I want to write. But I don't think I'll ever retire. Nor will I ever go on vacation. I'll basically live my daily life and then grab this thing when the words hit me. Like right now, here in a coffeeshop near a lake in Idaho.

Portal Clarity

If I could change one thing about how the media reports on the Transfer Portal it would be the elimination of "Smith to transfer" headlines when someone enters the portal. Yes, Smith is likely going to transfer. But Smith might also return. I just want everyone to remember why said "portal" exists.

When the NCAA eliminated the sit-out rule, it changed college football and basketball. Other sports that didn't require a sit-out year for transfers (like volleyball or tennis) had been dealing with this issue for years, but now it had arrived for the revenue sports as well. A player could be a Michigan Wolverine one season and then an Ohio State Buckeye the very next season.

Once the rule changed, it was a bit chaotic. Players were publishing their transfer letters on social media as a signal that other schools could then contact them. If the school called before the official paperwork was in, then the school could face sanctions for tampering with someone else's roster, so the players needed to be able to announce "I can now be contacted by other schools" in some way.

The solution to that was the portal. A player fills out the paperwork to transfer and then those conversations can happen. A school can look in the official portal, see what players can be contacted, and contact the players they're interested in. Yes, there are still "an SEC coach will call the kid's high school coach to put the word out that they'd be interested if the kid happened to enter the portal" scenarios happening, but the portal allows for a clear line to be drawn. These athletes can be contacted by other schools, these athletes cannot.

Which means that often, a player will put their name in the portal just to have a "legal" conversation with another school. I'm going to say that again in a second paragraph so that you understand the importance of this point.

Often, a player will put their name in the portal just to have a legal conversation with another school. If they were to have that conversation without their name in the portal, the NCAA would get involved. But as long as they put their name in there, that conversation can take place. The portal, in this sense, is simply a "here are the players who can have conversations" list.

There's a risk, of course. The moment a player enters the portal, their scholarship can be given to someone else. A player might have a conversation with two other schools, not like what they hear, go back to the coaching staff and ask for their spot back, and be told "sorry - we thought you were leaving so we moved on to someone else." If you tell your new girlfriend that you're not ready to be exclusive and you still want to see other people, there's a chance she doesn't like the idea of you seeing other people.

But there are also a lot of examples of players returning. Just in the last 24 hours I saw that one of BYU's leading receivers will be returning and Michigan State's starting cornerback will return. They put their name in so that they could have some conversations, they didn't like those conversations (or the phone didn't ring), and they stuck with their original school.

Everyone always carries this ultra-cynical view of the portal, laughing when kids can't find another spot and preaching loyalty above all else. I get it, but I also remember how Kofi entered the transfer portal in order to have some (legal) conversations. He ultimately returned to Illinois and became a first-team All American. His week in the portal, to me, was more about him making sure he had the right spot for 2022 in order to further his career. If you're a "he's dead to me" person when someone enters the portal, just remember that Kofi was dead to you. (And every portal player we add is some other fan's "dead to me.")

The thing I want everyone to understand here: "has placed his name in the transfer portal" does not mean "has cleaned out his apartment and will be playing somewhere else next year". It probably means their gone, but not every name in the portal is the same. They fall into one of these four (general) categories:

  1. They want out and are looking for a fresh start elsewhere.
  2. They have proven themselves at that level and want to move up to a higher level (MAC to Big Ten, for example).
  3. They were informed by the coaching staff that they'll likely never get on the field/court and are looking to transfer down for playing time.
  4. They want to have conversations with other schools about potential transfer moves.

For the first three, "Smith is in the transfer portal" means they're almost assuredly gone. But for #4, Smith isn't really "transferring." Smith is considering a transfer and would like to have some conversations elsewhere.

This has been "the portal exists for 'legal' conversations" with Robert. Thank you for attending. We will now move on to portal things you actually care about.

Football Portal Closed

The spring window for football transfers closed on Sunday. Grad transfers are still allowed (if a player has graduated and still has eligibility, they can transfer somewhere else this summer), but for underclassmen who don't have their degree, the last day for them to enter their name into the portal was Sunday. Players with their name in will still be choosing their destination (or choosing to return) in the weeks ahead, but That Player You Were Worried Would Transfer cannot transfer at this point. As for me, this means I can breathe my sigh of relief that certain Illini players from St. Louis who followed their high school coach to Champaign and might also follow him to Purdue now that he left with Ryan Walters will not be doing such.

On my scholarship chart (always unofficial because we never know which walkons are on scholarship for good and which walkons are on scholarship only for one year), I have us at 82 scholarship players next season. Which means we'll (likely) be adding three players from the current portal. That's not a hard and fast number, of course. We might see a player return tomorrow and we're back up to 83. We might see two players decide to quit football this summer and we're down to 80. All we know is that the portal exits (besides grad transfers) have come to an end.

If we do add three players, where might we add them? My guesses, in no particular order:

1. Center - This is based on the fact that the staff had a transfer center coming in this spring (Avery Jones from ECU) but he flipped to Auburn at the last minute. If you were going to bring in a center, you don't feel like you have the depth at center that you wanted to have at center, so you're going to go look for another center. Science.

2. Nose Tackle - On the first depth chart I did for 2023, I had Te'Rah Edwards at NT backed up by Verdis Brown. After Verdis announced he was entering the portal, I had Edwards backed up by Raashaan Wilkins. Now that Wilkins has entered the portal, well, I think it indicates we're still in the market for another NT because neither Brown nor Wilkins were the guy.

3. Tight End - There are a ton of names at tight end on the roster. So this isn't related to Naivyan Cargill being removed from the roster. We added tight ends in our class last year and we added tight ends in our class this year. We even added one from the portal (Tanner Arkin, a sophomore from Colorado State). But I still feel like all of the 2022 and 2023 tight end additions are a year or two away, meaning I'd like to see us add a one-year (fifth-year senior) guy. Especially one who can block.

I'm thinking purely in terms of the 2023 roster here. There are depth concerns for the future, but in my mind, those are future portal fixes. These last three scholarships for 2023... I'd like to see them go to three spots that will shore up the 2023 depth chart. We went through spring, we know the immediate concerns - let's go fill them.

Basketball Portal Still Open

The basketball portal still has another 10 days. The NCAA Rule for basketball is a portal window open "60 days after championship selections", so 60 days after Selection Sunday. That window closes May 12th.

Just like football, that's only the window for players to enter their name in. Players can still be selected from the portal after May 12th. So May 12th will be "here are the players who will be returning", and then there's two more steps.

1. Will any players who entered their name into the draft return?

2. Will we add any other players out of the portal?

As you may know, I basically put basketball on mute until that carousel stops spinning. Once we know the roster, we discuss. The panic last spring (followed by the addition of Shannon and Mayer) and the panic this spring (followed by the addition of Domask, Harmon, and Guerrier) should mean that there will be no 2024 spring panic. But we all know what will happen. My plan: ignore it all again and wait for the portal additions.

So let's just note where everything stands at the moment. You probably know this already, and if you're not interested in a roster recap (with no speculation on what we might do), I'd suggest you stop reading now. If you want to check in on where things stand at the moment, here you go:

Returning: Dain Dainja (JR), Luke Goode (JR), Sencire Harris (SO), Ty Rodgers (SO), Niccolo Moretti (rs-FR)
Arriving via the portal: Marcus Domask (SR), Quincy Guerrier (SR), Justin Harmon (SR)
Arriving from HS: Amani Hansberry (FR), Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn (FR)
Could still return but testing NBA Draft: Terrence Shannon (SR), Coleman Hawkins (JR)

(I list Hawkins as a junior there because, technically, he could return in 2024 for his senior season and then return in 2025 for his Covid year. I doubt that will happen, but that's where his eligibility stands.)

If both return, the roster number stands at 12. If both depart, the number stands at 10. The cap is 13, but I doubt we max out at 13 (in order to have a scholarship available mid-season for a potential Dainja-like transfer or Moretti-like international addition).

So this one seems pretty simple. If both return, there's your roster. If one returns, maybe we add one. If none return, maybe we add two more.

What's that? You knew all of this already? Well, I haven't looked at it since the season ended, so I needed this for me. Always remember the rule:

Up To Speed posts are to bring me up to speed, not you.


ktcesw on May 3, 2023 @ 02:22 PM

Enjoyed this, Robert!!

Thaillini22 on May 3, 2023 @ 08:17 PM

What about both returning, plus RayJ?

wesd2005 on May 3, 2023 @ 09:40 PM

Does Hawkins have a Covid year to use? I thought the players eligible for the Covid year had to have been playing in '19-'20.

accy88 on May 4, 2023 @ 12:32 AM

The covid year for basketball is '20-21'. The only thing the '19-'20 BB season lost was post season.

wesd2005 on May 4, 2023 @ 12:03 PM

Yeah I was mistaken. I guess if it had been the other way, Feliz might have been back for 1 more year.

For losing the postseason in '20, those players should have been given the opportunity for another year as well.

Joe Edge on May 4, 2023 @ 06:33 AM

Absolutely nothing wrong with: '... my days are being spent looking at mountain peaks...' Gazing at mountain peaks clear the cobwebs from the mind, and invoke thoughts of great heights being achieved... Good piece Robert...

uilaw71 on May 4, 2023 @ 07:07 AM

Robert, you are well on the way to being to your readers what Tate has been to his for so many years. Even at 91, you would remain productive and I dare say relevant.

jhanlon on May 6, 2023 @ 09:48 AM

Thank you, Robert. Enjoy your time at the lake..

GilThorpe on May 6, 2023 @ 04:54 PM

enjoy yout time in Idaho, but more importantly , enjoy the time with your son and family

Leechcass on May 14, 2023 @ 08:43 AM

It has occured to me that maybe we should be refering to our transfers as "Adoptions" to go along with the FAMILLY theme.

on July 3, 2023 @ 03:59 PM


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