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Exploding NCAA transfer portal numbers may affect high school football recruiting

Knoch defender (87) Jake Murphy tackles a Central Valley ball carrier (3) Rylan Jeter in their season opener against Central Valley at Knoch High School on August 27, 2021.

Slippery Rock University coach Shawn Lutz refers to it as the era of “instant gratification.”

Seneca Valley High School coach Ron Butschle says college football has become a “transient business.”

The NCAA's transfer portal is the focus of both descriptions — and is beginning to make life difficult on prospective high school football recruits.

Since August, no fewer than 1,300 college football players have entered the transfer portal, giving college coaches another avenue to fill out their roster.

“This definitely affects the recruiting of high school players,” Mars coach Scott Heinauer said. “If you're a college coach, would you rather get a kid out of high school to fill a need or a player who's already had a couple of years of collegiate experience?

“A kid could be recruited by a school and figure he's headed there, only to find out that school got somebody more advanced at his position through the portal. This is a problem that needs addressed.”

Lutz admitted that SRU has seven to nine transfers coming in for the 2022 season. Those are spots that would have gone to high school players in past years.

“We're graduating 16 key players from last year,” Lutz said. “We're using the portal to replace some of that experience we're losing.

“It's a situation where everyone else is doing it and you have to keep up. There's so much pressure on coaches to win today and this is a viable tool you can't ignore.”

The Rock still figures to have a high school recruiting class of 15 to 20 players, though Lutz conceded that transfers eat into the scholarship budget.

“All of that money comes from the same pot,” he said.

While a few Butler County gridders wind up at Division 1 college programs, the bulk of the top talent from this area winds up in Division II.

Butschle said the WPIAL has served as a pipeline for Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference schools for a number of years and is concerned impact from the transfer portal could threaten that tradition.

“It's just the world we live in now,” the SV coach said. “First, there was COVID, which is still around, now the transfer portal ... these are things we have to navigate through.

“I would just hate to see high school seniors lose out on potential scholarship money because of all of this.”

Talk has surfaced about moving the high schools' college signing dates back, something Slippery Rock High School coach Larry Wendereusz would be highly in favor of.

“Give the transfer portal a chance to happen first,” Wendereusz said. “Once all of that clears, college coaches would have a better idea of what they need in terms of high school recruiting.

“I think that would make sense.”

Heinauer agreed.

“That would be a good idea,” the Mars coach said. “Lines need to be drawn here.”

Butler coach Eric Christy described the portal as “nothing more than a free agent system for college football.” He added that fewer collegiate opportunities for high school football players could affect the game at the prep level.

“If football scholarship opportunities fall off, (high school) kids may quit and play another sport,” Christy said. “We're trying to get more kids to play football. We don't want to get them turned off of the sport.”

Grove City College coach Andrew DiDonato said the transfer portal has not affected his program nor Division III football in general — but did not rule out the possibility of it happening in the future.

“Things like this tend to trickle down,” DiDonato said. “I know it's affecting the divisions right above us. It may be a case where it just hasn't reached us yet.”

Grove City brings in roughly 40 freshmen football players each season. The Wolverines' roster is annually around 110 players.

“A few guys fall through the cracks, some become student coaches, but most of the kids stay with the program,” DiDonato said. “We get a few transfers here and there, but they're kids we recruited from high school. We already know them, they know us and they're revisiting us. It's not like using the portal ... the familiarity is already there.”

The NCAA transfer portal appears to be here to stay. Collegiate players are free to come and go as they please.

Lutz said the whole thing began with college head coaches bouncing from program to program.

“Some of these coaches leave a program before the season is even over,” he said. “It all started at the biggest level, the power 5 schools. Players see coaches freely leaving, they have no problem with doing the same thing.”

“It (transfer portal) supercedes everything else,” Wendereusz said. “Has it affected high school recruiting? It definitely has.”

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