There’s one area of the college sports world that the coronavirus so far hasn’t shut down: the NCAA transfer portal.
That door remains wide open, names getting added every day, hoop players looking to change schools. Around here, players from La Salle, Temple, St. Joseph’s, Drexel, Penn, and West Chester are in the portal.
Players can’t just put themselves in. They have to alert their school’s compliance department, which puts the names in.
If the players could do it themselves …
“They’d do it after every game,’’ one coach joked. “They’d be in and out.”
We’ll get to ways the transfer process itself is impacted by the current crisis, but let’s start with names, a lot of names, of local players in the portal or now back out of it:
Getting your name in the portal is one thing, but the rest of the transfer process obviously gets affected by colleges’ shutting down campus operations.
Talking to St. Joe’s coach Billy Lange made sense, since he’s obviously someone who got up to speed quickly on the transfer portal last year, when he had to rebuild the Hawks roster after players transferred because of the coaching change. Greg Foster Jr. from Gonzaga sat out this season at SJU, and Dahmir Bishop came in at midsemester from Xavier.
“Here’s the things that wouldn’t change," Lange said of trying to evaluate players who are the right fit to bring in. “You study it, you see it, you watch the film, you make the calls, you gauge their interest.”
Then there are wrinkles.
“Where we all lose out here, the ability to work these guys out," Lange said. “If they visit, we can put them through a workout. If a player is transferring and there isn’t a lot of video data on him, that’s a big one. You can at least get a feel. I’m not saying it’s a perfect feel.”
When a player is transferring to get more playing time, then almost by definition he isn’t happy with what is already on film. Leaps of faith will have to be taken.
By the same token, players such as Heath and Sessoms, who succeeded so well that they are jumping a level, will have to rely on the tape from the lower level. More leaps of faith. (It will work out for both. Coaches are interested.)
A graduate transfer such as Betley, moving on from Penn since the Ivy League doesn’t allow athletes to take graduate school courses while staying a fifth year, at least has years of film to evaluate. But even Betley, who got hurt and missed five games in February after sitting out all of last season, has to be relieved he got back on the court and showed what he could. He scored 16 points and made 5 of 7 threes in Penn’s last regular-season game, against Columbia, which turned out to be the last game of Betley’s career with the Quakers.
“Betley has had every level call,’’ said one source close to him. “He is weighing where he is best fit and where he can get an MBA.”
Sessoms, a point guard who was woefully under-recruited out of high school, had a chance to fix that, and did, committing to Penn State over Marquette and others.
Croswell, a productive two-year rebounding presence at La Salle before leaving before the season had even ended, had a similarly interesting list before committing to Providence.
Heath said he’s been in contact with 30 schools, up to the Big East level. He didn’t want to list specific schools. The Colonial Athletic Association and Patriot League are two leagues that have had schools in contact, according to sources.
“Just about hard work and staying confident," Heath said in a text.
There are more wrinkles.
Lange pointed out that with so many colleges going to online courses, that could impact transfers — “people who need to accomplish certain things academically to be eligible to transfer.”
Coaches will have to look closely at academic progress.
“Without direct resources and tutors and mentors and study halls, you’re running a risk," Lange said. “I’m taking Player A. He’s got a C, but he needs a C-plus. At least if you know they’re busting their butt to go to everything that can help them, it alleviates some of that risk.”
Even communication becomes different, Lange said. FaceTiming is helpful to make a personal connection. Easier than a text.
“You can hide behind a text," Lange said. “Sitting in an office, or at a meal, you lose that human connection.”
Not being able to fly a player in makes it all harder and might make the recruiting more regional this time around, an assistant coach suggested. Makes sense that a head coach might not sign off on a player he hasn’t met in person.
While the NCAA has shut down in-person recruiting until the end of May, Lange is realistic that all spring recruiting could be shut down.