Scooter Hobbs column: Weaning off NCAA portal

Published 8:36 am Saturday, December 10, 2022

College football now has its Portal Season. Basically nobody knows what to make of it or do with it.

But it looks a whole lot like insanity topped with confusion and covered with unfettered chaos.

What if it ends up turning America’s best sport into nothing more than your fantasy league anarchy, with all the players thrown into a big pot and redistributed annually?

Who knows where it’s headed? The sport’s leaders have promised some guard rails, even as schools and itchy-footed players seem to be jumping the rails left and right.

Just before the Southeastern Conference championship game, Georgia head coach Kirby Smart commented on LSU’s use of the portal under new coach Brian Kelly last year: “I would argue they did the best job (of any team) of filling holes and creating roster opportunities for guys coming in.”

Kelly just hopes it’s not habit forming, and swears and promises that it won’t be.

Admittedly, Kelly had little other choice when he took over a depleted program that famously had only 39 scholarship players.

And no doubt LSU would not have been anywhere near Atlanta for the title game if the Tigers had been forced to stick to traditional rebuilding methods.

It wasn’t all about the portal, although the Tigers did have seven starters and several key backups in Atlanta who were among the 15 transfers they loaded up with last year. They also have four Freshmen all-Americans and two others who made the freshmen all-SEC team.

Still, it’s not the way Kelly says he envisions further rebuilding and sustaining the program.

He’s trying to quit, wants to give it up cold turkey. Or at least get to the point where you’re just dipping into it to, as he said, “top off the tank.”

Eventually. But maybe just this once, one more year — this year at least — to level the playing field a bit more.

You see what’s happening here, right?

As coaches tiptoe around it, somewhat warily, the portal seems to be viewed as almost semi-dirty, the cheap way of getting it done — as opposed to the annual fracas of high school recruiting — and more of a quick-fix last resort.

Georgia, for instance, hardly touched the portal last year and doesn’t seem too interested in it this year. It sure didn’t seem to hurt the Bulldogs in the SEC Championship. It’s a mature program.

Still, no school can afford to ignore the portal.

Least of all LSU.

But even Kelly seems to be almost apologizing in advance for probably taking only a slightly smaller plunge into it.

“We are not just open for business,” he said right after the SEC title game. “We’re not just putting a sign up saying, ‘Hey, we are going to take whoever.’ They have to be the right fit.”

He said he has his own guard rails in place.

He’d prefer — but certainly not insist — that his transfers be from Louisiana. I guess he figures that those expatriates would have some knowledge of, if not fanatical allegiance to, the state’s Flagship U.

He mentioned the “right traits” which probably has something to do with good citizenship and not being a known knucklehead.

Mainly, though, he seems to be talking about massaging the portal to blend with the incoming freshmen classes.

“We want to bring both of these along,” he said. “We don’t always want to be a turn-it-over program where we are bringing in transfers and turning the program over.

‘You’ve got to do that by recruiting freshmen and giving them the opportunity to step on the field and develop. You can’t do that if you keep bringing in freshmen at one position and then bringing a portal guy in and putting him in front of them.”

The jury still out on whether it’s addictive — or even if that is a bad thing.

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at scooter.hobbs@americanpress.com