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Portals & extended eligibility, roster management provides a new challenge in 2021

LA Lafayette Louisiana Monroe Football Napier
Posted at 9:13 PM, Jun 02, 2021

Who's staying? Who's going? Can you steal a player from a conference rival?

Once upon a time these conversations were about a select few. Those moves required the right circumstances (or paperwork) or maybe a JUCO surrogate. But these days the answer is simpler, thanks to the two most famous words in college sports - transfer portal.

"It's really a big picture management deal," said Louisiana football coach Billy Napier. "It's your current team, it's your roster management, player availability and that changes every day. It's very much an NFL free agency."

Some are calling the new transfer market the "wild west." New rules this year allow players one no-questions-asked pass, and that has made it a busy exchange. The Athletic reports more than 1,400 players have entered their names in the portal this year.

Wednesday, Napier announced the Cajuns had signed a ninth player from it, Alabama State star Michael Jefferson. It's the most incoming transfers for Napier since he arrived on campus.

"I think the transfer portal has been good to us," he said.

The new rules have completely changed the recruiting landscape, too. This winter Texas State didn't even sign a high school player. Head coach Jake Spavital is focused on players who could help the team win now.

But now recruiting goes beyond adding new players; coaches are working harder than ever to keep their own team together.

"It's going to be one of the more important parts of what you do. Our ego wants to tell us how important the coaches are, but the reality is the players play," said Napier. "It is going to be a test of the relationships you have within the organization."

Expanded eligibility, granted in the wake of the pandemic, muddies the waters even further. The 2020 season doesn't count against a player's eligibility. That allows seniors to come back this year; juniors, sophomores, and so on get a free season. To make room for that senior class, the NCAA is allowing teams to carry more scholarship players. But just for this season - next year teams are back on a 85 scholarship limit.

"You know it's a big math problem, and each team has its own set of variables," said Napier. "I think the big challenge here is the communication piece with those junior players. How many of those juniors decide to continue their career? They graduate and go back to their lives? Do they chase their NFL dreams or decide to come back?"

Some have called for the NCAA to extend scholarship limits, something Napier does not support. Coach is often quick to remind people everyone is facing this same challenge and that challenge is the new age in roster management.

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