Transfer portal ‘tampering’ front and center at SEC Meetings

Georgia coach Kirby Smart shakes hands with South Carolina coach Shane Beamer after beating South Carolina 40-13 on Saturday, Sept 18, 2021, in Athens. (Curtis Compton / AJC file)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Georgia coach Kirby Smart shakes hands with South Carolina coach Shane Beamer after beating South Carolina 40-13 on Saturday, Sept 18, 2021, in Athens. (Curtis Compton / AJC file)

MIRAMAR BEACH, Fla. — South Carolina coach Shane Beamer met individually with players after last season and thought he had a good idea who was coming back and who might leave.

A few days later, he got a rude awakening.

“I mean we lost four guys who were key contributors for us,” Beamer said during a break at the SEC Spring Meetings on Wednesday. “It was strange based on conversations I’d had with guys two or three days before they went in the portal. It’s interesting how things happen.”

Over the course of a couple of weeks, the Gamecocks lost running back Marshawn Lloyd to Southern Cal and defensive end Gilber Edmond and tight end Jaheim Bell to FSU. South Carolina also lost defensive end Jordan Burch to Oregon and quarterback Braden Davis to Syracuse, but those were expected.

The sudden change of heart of a couple of those players left Beamer wondering.

“I’m not turning in anybody for tampering, but I also think us head coaches are trying to do a good job with that,” Beamer said. “I’ve had other SEC coaches call me if they heard about something, and I’ve called other coaches as well, hearing different things. It might not be an SEC coach calling my guy directly, but it could be a high school coach or whatever it might be. There’s a lot of third parties involved. Don’t throw stones at glass houses, right?”

Tampering has been a major point of discussion this week at the SEC Meetings. For the record, it’s against the rules, and there are penalties for violators. But the reality is, violations are rarely reported and even harder to prove.

“Rumors are one thing,” Beamer said. “Proof is another thing.”

SEC coaches hope their discussions at the Hilton Sandestin Resort this week will initiate change. For starters, they’ve asked the league to lobby the NCAA to reduce the length of the two portal periods.

Currently, Division I football players have a 45-day window to submit their names for transfer beginning at the conclusion of championship games in early December until mid-January. A second 15-day window opens April 15-30 to correspond with the end of spring practice.

“I think the portal’s open too often and too long,” said Arkansas coach Sam Pittman, who was Georgia’s offensive line coach from 2016-19. “I think a kid knows whether he’s going to transfer or not. I don’t think he needs 45 days to figure it out. And, so, I would go for a two-week window, and you either get in or you stay with your program. I think that’s fair to the kids.”

Nobody really wants to hear it from millionaire football coaches, but the current system is working them to death. They’re having to manage the ingress and egress of the transfer portal while also evaluating and recruiting high school prospects and preparing their current teams for games and postseason play. That will become even more challenging after the College Football Playoff expands to 12 teams in 2025.

“Right now, May for a coaching staff is miserable,” Pittman said. “You’re out trying to find high school athletes, and you’ve got a coordinator and a position coach back on campus with OVs (official visits). Now, we’ve benefited from that, but I would hate to be an assistant coach right now. And June ramps up even more than May, so it’s a tough life right now. I think closing the portal a little bit more and the length that you can be in there would help everybody, and I don’t think it would hurt the kids a bit.”

Coaches insist they are not interested in restricting the movement of players. They simply want to reduce the amount of time they are having to deal with it while they also effectively manage their rosters.

But reducing the transfer windows are not in the interest of the athletes. They didn’t want windows in the first place. Meanwhile, the enticement of richer NIL deals to facilitate transfers has further complicated the situation for coaches — and enhanced it for players.

“Some of the behaviors that really raise questions about tampering and the use of NIL, those seem to happen later as the portal drags on, though not exclusively,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said. “The observation from our coaches is, ‘can we reduce those windows?’ I think there’s a need to engage. Our administrators have encouraged us to facilitate some interaction between our student-athlete leadership councils and our coaches’ groups so we can understand the pressures that have changed on our coaches from a timing standpoint.”

You won’t hear a lot from Georgia coach Kirby Smart on this subject because the transfer portal really hasn’t been a negative for the program. The Bulldogs did unexpectedly lose rising sophomore defensive lineman Bear Alexander to Southern Cal on April 15, the day the spring transfer portal opened. Alexander was whisked away via private jet and since has posted pictures on Instagram of his posh apartment in Los Angeles.

But, for the most part, the portal has been good for the back-to-back national champions. Georgia has done an exceptional job of keeping the players it wants while mining the portal for prospects who might shore depth-chart weaknesses.

“I don’t really get caught up in it,” Smart said earlier this week. “I worry a lot more about my roster and say, ‘How do we manage the people that we have so that they don’t want to go somewhere else?’ I focus on that. … We’re going to try to focus on our guys, and retention is probably more important to me.”

Conversely, some college football programs are trying to build their entire roster through the transfer portal. Colorado infamously has seen 73 players go into the portal and 42 come out of it to play for first-year coach Deion Sanders.

Beamer laughed when asked whether the transfer portal might be seen as a tool for other SEC programs to close the gap on Georgia and Alabama.

“I don’t see it affecting Alabama or Georgia in any way,” said Beamer, who was an assistant coach for Smart for two years. “They continue to bring in great players and recruit great players and develop them. Look at their recruiting rankings each year, they’re going all right. They have the No. 1 recruiting class, and Alabama’s right there with them each and every year. … But it helps other schools in the league to replenish their roster from top to bottom, better now than before the portal.”