Thanks to transfer portal, options dwindling for suburban high school football players

Another college signing day has come and gone.

And with it, the window of opportunity for high school football players closed just a little bit more.

Blame a variety of factors for the dwindling number of scholarship offers, but the NCAA transfer portal ranks near the top of the list.

Started in 2018, the portal allows college athletes a one-time chance to switch schools without the move affecting their eligibility. No loss of a year and no sitting out.

It took a bit of time to get rolling, but the transfer portal now dominates the college football landscape. Tracking player movement has become its own silly season.

College coaches are leaning on the portal more than ever to fill holes. In a “win now” environment, they’re more likely to grab established talent than recruit and develop it.

Rivals recruiting expert “Edgy” Tim O’Halloran has seen firsthand the impact of the portal on high school athletics. Local football players, he said, have been forced to drastically lower their expectations for competing at the next level.

According to O’Halloran, players from five years ago who were good enough to receive offers from the Mid-American Conference might end up playing Division III in today’s portal world.

Division III is terrific football — just look at North Central College — but it’s a shocking shift from just a short time ago.

“The portal has fundamentally changed recruiting,” O’Halloran said. “You’re no longer just competing for scholarships with kids your same age in high school. You’re competing, in some cases, against 21- and 22-year-old men.”

Combined with the extra year of eligibility granted to college athletes because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the logjam of talent has developed into a perpetual source of frustration.

And because participation numbers at the high school level are starting to return close to pre-pandemic levels, the logjam is worsening.

“It all kind of hit at once,” O’Halloran said. “It’s been a one-two punch for sure.”

The trickle-down effect has hit every level of college football. High majors are getting more portal players, causing mid-majors to recoup talent from lower FBS schools. It continues all the way down the chain.

On top of that, colleges are trying to wrap up their recruiting classes earlier than ever before. During the recent window for college coaches to visit high schools, younger players were being scouted instead of uncommitted seniors.

If you’re not on the radar early, you may end up on the outside looking in.

For those hoping for a reversal of fortune, the horse already left the barn on the transfer portal. O’Halloran said it might be time for high school players and their families to look at recruiting from a different point of view.

If playing at college is an absolute goal, cherish a chance at the lower levels. Be thankful for the offer of academic money instead of an athletic scholarship. Recognize the value of having a foot in the door by becoming a preferred walk-on.

“It’s going to continue to get more cutthroat and more difficult to get that offer,” O’Halloran said. “People are looking for answers and no one seems to have them.”

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