LSU quarterback TJ Finley officially entered the NCAA transfer portal Thursday morning, a development that came a day after news broke that the Tigers four-man quarterback battle was heading to just three players.
The sophomore and Ponchatoula High graduate posted a farewell message on Twitter that said in part that "change is never easy, but is needed for growth."
"I am thankful that as I embark upon this new journey that I have God and my family with me every step of the way," Finley wrote. "Until the next chapter."
Finley talked about his decision and his next move during an interview on The Jordy Culotta Show Thursday morning. The quarterback said he hasn't yet made a decision about where he will next enroll, but he said he'd received over 200 text messages over the previous eight hours.
The NCAA's newly ratified one-time transfer rule plays a main factor in Finley's decision. The legislation, which went into immediate effect last week, allows players to transfer to another university and play immediately if it's the first time the player has transferred.
The Southeastern Conference has yet to pass corresponding legislation that would allow players to transfer within the conference and be eligible to play immediately, but it's expected that such a rule could be passed during the league's annual spring meetings on the last weekend of May.
"I heard it's coming up," Finley told Culotta. "So it’s kind of wavering my decision on whether I want to commit in the next two weeks or if I want to wait for that rule to pass, because, you know, if I can go to another SEC school, I think that will help me in the NFL draft when a coach is looking at my stats.”
The 6-foot-6, 242-pound Finley had a 2-3 record as a starter last season and completed 80-of-140 passes for 941 yards, five touchdowns and five interceptions.
Finley started in five games as a freshman, stepping in for Myles Brennan when he suffered a season-ending abdominal muscle tear against Missouri in the third game of the season. Finley won the job over freshman Max Johnson at the time, but after inconsistent play over his five starts, LSU coach Ed Orgeron started Johnson in the final two games of the season.
Johnson then led LSU to come-from-behind victories against Florida and Ole Miss, and Orgeron rewarded Johnson with the first snaps of spring football because of his 2-0 record — an honor Orgeron later would say was purely symbolic and had no weight on the coaching staff's decision on who the starting quarterback in 2021 would eventually be.
The Tigers entered the offseason with a four-man quarterback competition, and, after Brennan and Johnson excelled in the spring game, it appeared those two had secured a lead over Finley and freshman Garrett Nussmeier going into the summer.
Finley said that he had been thinking about transferring since last season, and he felt that if was going to have time to compete for a starting job at a new school this year, he "would need to transfer in the summer" in order to have time to develop with his new team and compete with other quarterbacks on the roster.
"I felt that there was a need for me to get an opportunity to really show what I can do at another school," Finley said. "I felt like during the spring, I was given that opportunity and things went well for me. I actually had a very good spring. But you know, it was just too many guys in our room that could play immediately, and somebody had to make the decision which one out of the three — me, Max and Myles — which was going to stay and who was gonna leave and that nature."
All four quarterbacks shared equal snaps with the first team during LSU's spring game, and Orgeron insisted the competition would continue into fall camp, although there would be more separation into who would get more first team looks.
Brennan completed 12-of-20 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown in LSU's spring game, and Johnson completed 11-of-17 for 180 yards and two touchdowns. Finley completed 10-of-19 passes for 84 yards and two interceptions.
Finley's decision isn't unprecedented, particularly in an era where several high-profile college players have sought playing time elsewhere once they realized they had less chance to play at their former school.
Part of the reason why Orgeron re-hired Austin Thomas as general manager this offseason was to create a strategy that maintains a successful team in the transfer era.
LSU has been actively recruiting toward a stable of quarterbacks in what can be seen as a proactive response to the changing factors of roster management in today's game. The Tigers have three underclassmen behind Brennan. Five-star Walker Howard is committed to LSU's 2022 class. Quarterback royalty Arch Manning is a top target in 2023.
"We’re very disappointed any time anybody leaves our roster," Thomas told Culotta. "But at the same time, we understand — especially with a position like quarterback — there’s only one person who can play. We want competition. We want our guys here. We don’t want them to leave. But I’m not going to tell you we didn’t anticipate losing one here at some point.”
Now, the Tigers will begin fall camp with just three scholarship quarterbacks competing for the starting job before LSU opens the season at UCLA on Sept. 4.
Pending potential rule changes at the SEC's upcoming spring meetings, it's possible that Finley could end up on a rival league team on LSU's schedule. Finley said he felt his experience as a starter in the SEC gives him "an advantage over the guys who haven't played yet" and "raises a flag to these coaches."
Ultimately, Finley said whether the SEC allows players to transfer to another league school and play immediately is playing into his decision and whether he will commit to a new school within the next two weeks or wait for the rule to pass.
“There’s a lot that’s going into it right now," Finley said. "I have a lot of influences that cover different things. I kind of just have to get to myself, and me and my family and come up with the best decision that’s the best fit for me.”