Ohio State football: Transparency crucial in transfer portal era

With more than a dozen official visitors in town, this is a huge recruiting weekend at Ohio State.

A one-month recruiting dead period starts Monday, and head coach Ryan Day and his coaching staff will no doubt welcome some time off to recharge for preseason practice, a grueling 12-game slate and — they hope — more.

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While recruiting never completely stops in college football, it does at least slow down at times during the year.

In the past few months, though, a new phenomenon has created headlines on a nearly daily basis: The transfer portal.

While the long-term ramifications remain to be seen, it has created a feeling transfer season is now 365 days a year, especially after a change in redshirt rules led to a rush of transfers a month into last season.

Coaches in Columbus and beyond are still trying to figure out how to deal with it.

Created with the idea players should be able to change programs — or at least explore the possibility — without their original school getting in the way, the portal is first and foremost about freedom.

Previously, coaches could set limitations on where players could go, and communication between the player and any potential new school was limited by NCAA rules.

Now entering the portal allows any coach to know who is looking for a new place to play, and representatives from any school — not limited to Division I — are able to reach out to find out if there might be mutual interest in joining forces.

But bringing the transfer process out of the shadows has had some unintended consequences.

While there used to be plenty of whispers about who might be interested in transferring, most of those died out before going anywhere. Message board fodder, sure, but not something the average fan necessarily ever heard about.

Now players can more easily take a look around the nation to see who else might be interested in having them on their team, but such research can scarcely be done without an accompanying headline on CollegeFootballTalk.com (not to mention the local paper, team blogs, etc. And, oh yeah, message boards).

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Multiple college football coaches have weighed in on the effect of the transfer portal, some taking heat for their resistance.

At Ohio State, Day avoided making headlines when he was asked about the portal.

His answer was too nuanced to go viral.

“It's a complicated issue, and it's one of those things I can't just give you a one-sentence-kind of answer to,” Day said earlier this month. “There are parts of it that I completely understand. There are other parts that make me very, very nervous about where the future of college football is going with it. But there's not an easy answer.”

He went on to confirm changes in the way players begin the transfer process has already altered the way he and his staff deal with recruits — and their own players.

“Well, I think the first thing is you have to be very clear when someone gets on campus what's going on,” he said. “I think that it's forcing coaches to be very clear in their communication of what the expectations are once they get here, then doing a great job of communication once they're here.”

That’s to try to limit the shock to the system a youngster might get when learning the difference between life as a recruit and life as a player.

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"When you're recruiting somebody, you try to show them the all the positives about your school,” Day explained. "We also need to talk to you about its pluses and minuses so that they understand those things when they get here — so at the minute something doesn't go well, they're not on the first train out of here.”

Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson shed a little more light on that subject.

He is in his third year as an assistant at Ohio State after six as head coach at Indiana.

Prior to that, he was a college assistant for 20 years, including nine at Miami University before stops at Northwestern and Oklahoma.

He has observed changes in the way many high schools practice between his stints as an assistant, which allow him to be on the road more than when he was a head coach.

“High school coaches have a difficult job keeping those kids engaged and making it fun (because) kids have a lot of choices,” Wilson said. "You see (participation) numbers of our sport going down, so you go watch practices and sometimes you’ll see a good practice, but sometimes you’ll see some athletic environments in high school where kids aren’t being pushed. And when you come here, you're going to be pushed in the weight room and academically.”

So how do coaches help players navigate from the fantasies of the recruiting world to the reality of life as a Division I athlete trying to juggle school books, playbooks and workouts?

Ultimately, Day said transparency is key.

Rather than worry about being able to brag about having a top-ranked recruiting class, coaches need to make sure the players who choose to sign with them are aware of what the following 3-5 years are going to be like.

"You might sign the No. 2 kid in the entire country, and then he jumps into the transfer portal in the next year, what is it?" Day said. "That doesn't mean anything.

"What matters is when they get here being successful on the field, off the field, getting their degree, getting a job after they're done playing football and having a great career. That's what matters. And so, we just talk about. That’s where in recruiting we make sure that all the recruits spend a lot of time with our players. Get in that locker room, get around those players, you know ask them because they're the ones who really know. So those are all parts."

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