Wes Fritz is the coach assigned with keeping his eye on the portal.
Daily, sometimes multiple times in a day, the Tulane recruiting coordinator logs into the NCAA's transfer database and sorts through the hundreds of names to see if there's a football player that his father, Green Wave head coach Willie Fritz, would be interested in adding to the team.
The database, widely referred to as the "transfer portal," isn't even through its first year of existence, and it has already become one of the most important and controversial components of roster management in college athletics.
The portal went live Oct. 15, 2018, four months after the NCAA Division I Council eliminated its old transfer policy, where players used to need permission from their school, and thus their coach, to transfer to another program.
Now, all collegiate athletes can approach their school's compliance department, declare their intention to transfer, and it is required that the athlete's name be entered into the NCAA's transfer database within two business days.
Every athletic department is given a private login, and once coaches like Tulane's Fritz spot a player of interest, they can reach out immediately to try and convince the player to join their program.
As of Friday night, nearly 1,000 Division I football players have entered the transfer portal at some point, according to 247Sports' portal tracker, and the NCAA's database updates continually.
"If you don't check it daily, you kind of get behind," Fritz said.
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Coaching staffs across the nation that use the database can sort athletes by division, sport and the date they entered.
Need a quarterback?
You could've chosen from the 110 Division I quarterbacks that have entered the portal since its inception, 61 from teams in Power 5 conferences.
How about a defensive back?
There's still 104 of them, 10 from the Southeastern Conference, who have yet to declare a new destination.
Call up the player, bring him in for a visit, and if the player can qualify as a graduate transfer or earn an NCAA transfer waiver, he can play for your program immediately.
LSU has added its first tight end commitment to the 2020 recruiting class.
High-profile athletes have moved from campus to campus with relative ease.
This offseason, former No. 1 dual-threat quarterback recruit Justin Fields transferred from Georgia to Ohio State and earned a waiver to play immediately. So did Tate Martell, a four-star quarterback who transferred from Ohio State to Miami.
The NCAA Division I council added new waiver guidelines in late June to try to narrow the situations in which a player could be granted immediate eligibility. But it's uncertain how much of an effect the new policy will have, or whether it will slow down college football's trend of transfers.
"It's like free agency," Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said. "That's kind of what is coming out. If there's a guy out there that you think can help and provide a need, it is big."
The first day of LSU's preseason football practice will be Aug. 2, the athletic department announced Friday morning.
'Out in the open'
For most of college football's history, head coaches built their rosters using two methods. The majority of the time, it was by signing high school athletes to scholarships. Sometimes a player would transfer from one college program to another — but by NCAA rule, the player had to sit out a year before becoming eligible to play again.
Then in 2006, the NCAA ruled that players who earned their bachelor's degree could transfer as graduates without penalty if they had any eligibility remaining. According to an NCAA report, 58 football players used the graduate transfer rule in 2013. In 2018, 166 football players became graduate transfers.
Under the NCAA's old permission-to-contact policy, universities still possessed plenty of controlling power over players. For example: Former Kansas State coach Bill Snyder stirred controversy in 2017 by blocking receiver Corey Sutton to as many as 35 schools before Sutton was finally allowed to transfer to Appalachian State.
And even if players were permitted to leave freely, without a unified database, coaches had to rely on their previous recruiting ties and colleagues from other college programs.
"Before, you had to do detective work," said Tulane's Willie Fritz, whose 37-year coaching career has included stops at high school, junior college, Division II, FCS and FBS programs. "Now, it's right there out in the open."
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The portal has provided contact to players that programs would likely never had noticed before.
Among Tulane's three transfer pickups, Wes Fritz found former Columbia defensive end Mike Hinton inside the portal — an ideal target for the Green Wave, Fritz said, since they have to consider their university's high academic standards.
Fritz did a Google search of Hinton's name, watched some of his game film, then called up Columbia's athletic department to arrange an on-campus visit.
Now, the 6-foot-4, 275-pound Hinton will provide additional depth to Tulane's defensive line.
"I wouldn't have had any clue he was transferring," Wes Fritz said. "I don't know anybody there."
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Missouri coach Barry Odom said monitoring the transfer portal has captured his coaching staff's "day-to-day attention," and they scan through it while considering the depth of their current roster and the needs they'll have in the future.
Missouri picked up three transfers this offseason, most notably Clemson graduate transfer quarterback Kelly Bryant. But Odom also acquired a potential quarterback of the future in TCU transfer Shawn Robinson, who will have to sit out next season because of traditional transfer rules.
"I think it's different for every team," Odom said. "Ours, we have been able and been very fortunate to hit on guys that have come in and helped us with immediate needs."
HOOVER, Ala. — Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey led off the league's media days by covering plenty of news.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart said "there is a bigger deal made of the monitoring" of the transfer portal in the SEC, adding "you'll probably see more guys exiting through the portal than entering through the portal to the SEC."
Indeed, as of Friday night, 129 players had transferred out of the SEC and 37 players had transferred into the league — a sign of a healthy talent pool for the conference, which had 11 teams rank among the top 25 recruiting classes in 2019, per the 247Sports Composite rankings.
"You don't want to build your program from (the transfer portal)," said Texas A&M's Fisher, who along with LSU and Ole Miss did not pick up a scholarship transfer player this offseason. "You can't do it that way. You have to build your program from what you recruit and how you develop guys."
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But less stable SEC programs have dipped into the transfer portal frequently.
Vanderbilt, which hasn't had a winning record in football since 2013, led the SEC with eight transfer acquisitions.
Arkansas, which signed just 18 recruits (seven fewer than the allotted maximum) before its program-low 2-10 season in 2018, picked up six transfers.
The Razorbacks added just two graduate transfers: quarterbacks Nick Starkel (Texas A&M) and Ben Hicks (SMU), who will both compete for the starting job in 2019.
"We were active in the transfer portal," said Arkansas coach Chad Morris, who is entering his second season. "I think it gives the student-athletes opportunities, which is great, and it gives our staff and our people that build the program opportunities, which is great."
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Another level of recruiting
The transfer portal has created another level of recruiting, and unlike high school recruiting, which is heavily regulated with NCAA rules, there are no restrictions for contact with players who enter the transfer portal.
Missouri's Bryant said it was "literally like the high school process" when he announced he was transferring from Clemson last season. He received text messages. Calls. All intended to set up a visit with the former Tigers starter.
Bryant, a senior in 2018, had retained his final year of eligibility thanks to the first year of the NCAA's new redshirt rule, which permitted players to redshirt if they play in four or fewer games.
But having just one year left to make a push for the NFL made the process "more stressful" than high school, Bryant said, because he had "one year to get it right."
LSU sophomore cornerback Kelvin Joseph officially announced he's back in the NCAA transfer portal.
Previous relationships helped.
Bryant said he "definitely considered" attending Arkansas, because Morris had recruited him in high school, but he chose Missouri because second-year offensive coordinator Derek Dooley used a pro-style offense that he'd created after spending the previous five years as a wide receivers coach with the Dallas Cowboys.
Soon enough, Bryant was faced with another decision on whether to transfer.
In January, Missouri was hit with a postseason ban for the 2019 season, plus a reduction in scholarships, after the NCAA ruled that a former tutor at the school violated rules by completing academic work for athletes at the school.
Devin White was named the male recipient of the 2018-19 James J. Corbett Award, the Allstate Sugar Bowl announced on Saturday, adding to a long list of accolades for the former LSU linebacker.
Faced with such sanctions, Odom was tasked with retaining a roster in a time period where it was easiest for players to leave.
"Just hearing coach Odom relay the message in the depth he did, he didn't hold back anything," Bryant said. "He could have kept some stuff from us. He just laid it out there for us, told us what we were against. ... He was also like, 'Anybody want to transfer, you can. Nobody's going to look at you any differently.' And so, nobody left. We're all still there."
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That's the flip side that coaches are still figuring out: How do you approach retaining talent in the transfer portal era?
"If somebody wants to be at South Carolina, great," said Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp, who signed one graduate transfer this offseason. "If they don't, go somewhere else."
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said "you've got to develop great relationships with your players," and that coaches have to be honest with them.
"Accountability to each other will be rewarded by guys not wanting to transfer," said Barton Simmons, 247Sports' national recruiting reporter. "That to me is a really good thing to incentivize. If we're incentivizing coaches to build strong cultures, who loses?"
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Florida coach Dan Mullen said coaches must also warn their players that the grass may not be as greener on the other side of the portal.
"There's more kids in the transfer portal than scholarships available," he said. "It would work out for some and not for others."
Out of the 993 Division I players that have entered the portal as of Friday night, 464 (47 percent) have not yet declared a destination.
"I suspect that's not as much an issue for a couple reasons," Simmons said. "That number of players in the transfer portal, it includes walk-ons, guys that might be ruled medically ineligible at their current school, guys that have academic issues that are being asked to leave — it's a little misleading to act like everyone in there is shopping."
'A developing story'
Nine months have passed since the beginning of the NCAA transfer portal era, and administrators, coaches and players are still figuring it out.
It hasn't gone without complication.
Alabama coach Nick Saban was one of several coaches to voice concern about the frequency with which the NCAA grants waivers to allow transfer players to play right away (although the NCAA reported its transfer waiver approval rate for 2018 was 68 percent, down two percentage points from the previous four years).
LSU coach Ed Orgeron said there should be time limitations on when players can enter the transfer portal, suggesting after spring football. The Tigers had six scholarship players enter the transfer portal before or during spring practice.
Even so, the transfer portal is "probably here to stay," Auburn's Malzahn said, and college football rosters, for better or worse, will be somewhat molded by players who are now more free to transfer than ever before.
"We're watching kind of a developing story," SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said. "We've had a year or more of freedom, and we're interested in what happens over time. I think we're going to be dealing with this set of questions and unknowns and sort of tensions for a while."
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