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NCAA transfer portal limiting offers for high school talent

It was a year ago this week that Tyler Stott completed 28 of 43 passes for 416 yards and five touchdowns — including a 32-yard strike on the last play of the game — to give Desert Oasis a 42-39 victory over Chaparral.

It was a performance that not only showcased the senior’s skills but also entrenched him among the nation’s statistical passing leaders.

Despite being a traditional drop-back quarterback instead of the run-pass threat currently in vogue, the assumption was that Stott’s size (6 feet, 4 inches and 205 pounds) and pedigree (his uncle, Derek, was a former UNLV quarterback; his cousin, Bryson, is having a nice rookie season with the Philadelphia Phillies) would have produced several college football scholarship offers.

He had none.

Blame it partly on the pandemic that wiped out Stott’s junior season, precluding him from improving his skills and putting together a highlight reel that would impress recruiting coordinators.

But blame it mostly on the NCAA’s transfer portal.

Created to facilitate an athlete’s desire to transfer schools, the nebulous portal (actually little more than a database) instead has essentially morphed those college players upset by a lack of playing time into coveted free agents.

No time for freshman

“The transfer portal has reduced the amount of recruiting at the high school level — especially here in Nevada,” said Brant Smith, Stott’s coach at Desert Oasis. “The colleges don’t have to take chances on kids anymore. They get a little more physically and emotionally mature kid when they take him out of the transfer portal.”

Smith said Stott was a preferred walk-on at Old Dominion, meaning he was invited to try out. The Monarchs of the Sun Belt Conference are considered a minnow among college football whales (but did produce Taylor Heinicke, currently backing up Carson Wentz with the NFL’s Washington Commanders.)

“I think he started out eighth on the depth chart and has now moved up to fourth,” Smith said of Stott, the MVP of last year’s Vegas Senior Bowl all-star game.

Hayden Wolff, Old Dominion’s starting quarterback, is a redshirt sophomore recruited out of high school in fertile Florida. Backup D.J. Mack Jr. is a senior transfer from Central Florida. Third-string Brendon Clark is a sophomore transfer from Notre Dame.

So it goes in conferences a lot higher on the food chain than the Sun Belt.

New regulations allowing players to change schools via the transfer portal once without having to sit out a year were adopted in 2021.

Before the portal, coaches had to build programs by signing high school players and an occasional junior college prospect if a quick fix was required. But with so many free agents from which to choose — 9,567 athletes entered the transfer portal in 2021, with 50 percent enrolling at another school and most of the others still looking for one — now they simply manage rosters.

Saban pumps the portal

It is even happening at Alabama, where Nick Saban has plucked former linebacker Henry To’oto’o from Tennessee and wide receiver Jameson Williams from Ohio State from the free-agent pool.

“If you look at some of the (Group of Five) schools, why would you recruit players when you can take transfers?” Saban told ESPN. “You can only transfer once (without penalty). You know if you get 19 transfers, they’re going to be here.”

Conversely, “if I get a good (high school) player, he might leave. Why would you recruit high school players? That’s just a lot of opportunities the high school kids won’t get.”

Arbor View coach Matt Gerber agrees that players at his school worthy of FBS (Division I) offers no longer are receiving them.

“Not necessarily top-end recruits, but certainly your middle to lower D-I type are losing scholarship opportunities, that’s for sure,” Gerber said.

So much so, that a league for players in the Western U.S. bypassed for college scholarships is on the drawing board for 2023. Las Vegas would have two teams in the Rocky Mountain Prep Conference that would include players from Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and Arizona.

But even if the second-chance league comes to fruition, most high school seniors might be wise to forget Ohio State and take what they can get from Ohio Wesleyan. The D-III Battling Bishops are 1-2 heading into Saturday’s game at Wooster but still have 37 freshmen on the roster.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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