Blame COVID exemption, not transfer portal, for shrinking numbers in recruiting

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The portal is merely a symptom of the disease infecting high school recruiting numbers.

The true culprit for the shrinking numbers of prep recruits signing with FBS programs directly out of high school is the extra COVID year provided to every player who was on scholarship for the 2020 season. 

The 12 FBS programs in Texas still have over 100 super seniors on the roster heading into National Signing Day. Those same 12 programs signed 289 high school recruits in 2019 and 263 in 2020. That number dropped to 203 in 2021 and 210 in 2022. The portal came to prominence in 2018 but the number of high school players signed to schools didn’t slow up until after the free COVID year. 

The same group of 12 programs hold 223 current commitments in the 2023 cycle, with most of those players signed to national letters of intent in December. Expect that number to grow past 230 after national signing day on Wednesday. The trend suggests that the number of high school recruits will grow back to its previous form when the COVID players are washed completely out of college football after the 2024 season.  

No. of players signed by the 12 in-state FBS programs:

2019 289
2020 263
2021 203
2022 210
2023 223 (as of Jan. 30)


The backfill of scholarship players creates a trickle-down effect that impacts high school recruits. Without the natural attrition of graduating seniors, starting spots remained in possession of players returning for another year of school. Six of the 12 FBS schools still possess double-digit COVID super seniors. 

No. of COVID seniors remaining on squad heading into 2023:

Texas 3
Texas A&M 1
Baylor 2
Texas Tech 15
TCU 10
Houston  14
North Texas 12
Rice  8
Texas State 14


UTSA leads the way with 16. Quarterback Frank Harris is heading into his seventh season. He took a redshirt in 2017 as a true freshman and was granted a medical redshirt after missing the 2018 year. The 2020 year didn’t count for anyone, so that is three extra years of eligibility on top of the four provided to every player in the country. Top wide receivers such as Zakhari Franklin and Joshua Cephus would also be out of eligibility if not for the COVID exemption. 

“We used to know the guys who were leaving a few years before they were out of eligibility, so we could recruit accordingly to replace those guys,” one FBS coach in Texas told DCTF. “Now, I have no idea if my starter is leaving or coming back for another year until a few months or weeks before signing day. We have too many eligible players for the allotted scholarship numbers. Unfortunately, the high school kid gets the short end of the stick.” 

The portal is a scapegoat for the ills of college football. The new generation doesn’t lack stick-to-itiveness or toughness. They just lack opportunity. A sophomore quarterback sitting behind a senior knew that his opportunity to compete for the starting spot was upon him after the season before COVID. Now, who knows? That senior might come back for another year. Or a quarterback from a different school who was provided an extra year of eligibility because of COVID is still around and transfers to your school. 

“We’ve had to push a few guys out the door because we didn’t know they wanted to come back until we already signed guys to replace those roster spots,” one FBS coach admitted. “I’d guess about a third of the transfers in the portal didn’t go there by choice. They were a casualty to the numbers.” 

Transferring from one school to the next shouldn’t erase a scholarship opportunity for a prep athlete because the departure should open a scholarship at the previous program. Unfortunately, that isn’t true because there are still over 100 players on rosters across the state that remain eligible because of the free 2020 season. The 60 fewer players signed by the 12 FBS programs can be directly attributed back to the amount of super seniors remaining on the roster heading into 2023, not the amount of incoming players through the portal. Those players tend to be a wash when compared to the players leaving. Half of the FBS programs in Texas lost more scholarship players to the portal than they added. 

The 12 FBS programs in Texas are bringing in approximately 89 transfers at the end of January. About 120 players transferred out of those programs. The 223 incoming high school recruits represents the biggest influx of newcomers to programs. Only SMU is bringing in more transfers (18) than high school signees (16). Texas and Texas A&M are the only ones from the group that signed fewer high school recruits in 2023 than it did in 2022. 

Nature is healing. The transfer portal is a part of the vernacular in college football and it isn’t going away, but it isn’t the boogeyman. High school recruiting remains the lifeblood of college football, and the numbers are set to rebound to pre-COVID levels within another cycle or two as more players run out of eligibility and the normal amount of competition for the 85 scholarships possessed by each team returns. 

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