Nebraska QB removed (Luke McCaffrey)
Luke McCaffrey, shaded out, gets ready to throw a pass in the Nebraska Red-White Spring Game. McCaffrey has since transfered from Nebraska and changed positions. Photo by Craig Sullivan. Edited by Kevin Weis

Going from a Big Ten quarterback to Conference USA receiver, all in under two years is quite the change for a player.

Former Nebraska Quarterback Luke McCaffrey was able to play in seven games for the Cornhuskers in the 2019-2020 season. Coach Scott Frost had even called him “the future.” That did not matter though as McCaffrey entered the transfer portal.

It appeared to be a good decision when he landed at Louisville. That however, was short lived. 

McCaffrey left the Cardinals after a handful of spring practices and was back in the portal, this time heading to Rice. There, he had a rocky year which eventually led Owls coach Mike Bloomgren to say McCaffrey has been moved to receiver. 

portal 1024x1024 - The Transfer Portal Conundrum
UNL professor Matt Waite looked at what position groups had the most transfers in the 2021 portal class.

Currently about half [49%] of the players in 247 Sports Transfer Portal Tracker do not have a spot, and last year 38% did not end up with a place to go.

The total number of players in this year’s transfer portal is 1,254, according to as of Jan. 24, 2022. That includes almost as many quarterbacks as there are FBS programs. It’s a growing trend in college athletics, one that also does not appear to be changing.

So far, 54 have withdrawn and gone back to their original school. Twelve-hundred players will not be wearing the same jersey as their previous stop. 

Twelve-hundred portal players does not mean 1,200 new landing spots.

Only 625 of these college football players have announced new schools. Meaning late into January only slightly above 50% of players know where they will be going to college for the spring semester. 

That leaves 575 FBS players, the vast majority having had a FBS scholarship, sitting and waiting. Some may announce later, and some may never announce at all. 

“The startling numbers to me are the number of players that go into the transfer portal without a destination,” Nebraska sports data professor Matt Waite Said.

The Caleb Williams, Joe Burrow, and Casey Thompson portal success stories pick up most of the news. 247 Sports now re-ranks transfer portal players and has a new top 100. Of their top 100, 96 have found homes. 

“With all those success stories, you can be that if you are a good player,” The Athletic columnist David Ubben said. “Sometimes you are a better fit somewhere else and sometimes you can resurrect your career and find a really great spot.”

It certainly seems like when the portal is used effectively like the above examples it works out well for both the player and new team. Coaches can move freely so the transfer portal seems only fair for players to have that ability as well. 

“Those(success stories) aren’t false stories and they are not all that rare, but I do think they are outnumbered by kids who get themselves in probably worse situations,” Ubben added. 

For the 575 student-athletes without a scholarship there seems to be some unintended consequences. Once entering the portal a player gives up his scholarship and the team is not required to take them back. 

While over 1,200 kids have entered the portal that might not all be their decision. Coaching changes, assistants leaving, and being told they will not play can factor in as well. 

“The number of guys that are sort of asked to leave or sort of get run off when a coach takes over is not insignificant,” Ubben said. “I think that scenario is the minority but it is still a decent number of guys.”

While there usually is a high number of portal entries for a coaching change that doesn’t account for everyone in the portal. The portal is mostly filled up with kids who want a change of scenery. 

“Sometimes opportunities that kids believe are out there are not always out there,” Ubben said. 

Chris Hummer and 247 Sports published a study on the 2019-2020 portal cycle and only 38% of FBS portal scholarship players who entered the portal actually ended up staying in the FBS. The other 62% could have ended up at junior college, FCS, or stopped playing football. 

With multiple years of portal data it is clear that the portal operates like free agency. Good for the top free agents and bad for the unproven ones. The best free agents go into it with an idea of where they could land. 

“It’s pretty clear that tampering is a thing that happens in college football right now,” Hummer said. “At least the high level Power Five players, the former elite recruits, do have a pretty solid idea in mind of where they are going to end up. 

Hummer added that a lot of Group of Five kids enter and sometimes can receive more attention than they even anticipated. 

Additionally, some players just never find a home and never leave the portal. Players can end up in a sort of transfer portal purgatory. 

According to Ubben if players aren’t picked up he’s heard of players who have spent over a year in the portal and others who have had to go down levels in college football, some to FCS.

The transfer portal even has an effect on high school recruiting as well. According to Hummer in the 2021 recruiting class, 500 fewer high school players signed FBS scholarships in 2020. 

“I expect that trend to continue this year with the volume we have seen with the transfer portal and the squeeze we have seen trying to get back to 85,” Hummer said. “It is certainly having an impact on high school kids and it is taking away opportunities from high school players who would be on the fringe.”

There are many nuances to the transfer portal. There is widespread agreement that it is not going away. Coaches have left their teams mid-year and position coaches’ shelf lives at schools seems to be shrinking. 

The numbers show that most players have more to lose in the portal than gain. The top players will always have many suitors and landing spots. The fringe players and players without proven film are playing a dangerous game with their scholarships as the data has shown. 

Players have never had more power than they have now with NIL (Name, Image, and Likeness) and the portal. With greater power comes great responsibility.

Craig Sullivan is a senior Sports Media and Communication major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He works as an intern at HuskerVision and will be graduating in the Spring.