Like a lot of CU football fans, Will Sherman would like to ask chancellor Phil DiStefano this: When will the Buffs start using the transfer portal as a sword instead of a shield?
“We’re not Stanford. We’re not Harvard,” Sherman, the former second-team all-Pac-12 offensive lineman with the Buffs and currently part of the Broncos practice squad, told The Denver Post. “We’re CU. I think we should be proud of who we are. Let whoever wants to come to CU come to CU. Work from that.
“We’re a great, prestigious university. I’m proud that I graduated from CU and got my degree from CU. I might even go back and get another one. But at the same time, I think we need to be more accommodating to guys in the transfer portal, just so that they look at it as an option. Because I feel like, right now, they see CU and it’s like, ‘Oh, I have to go through all these obstacles for my credits to transfer.’ And they just don’t even keep us on the radar.”
Among Pac-12 programs, only Stanford (one) and California (eight) from the summer of 2020 through the summer of 2022 acquired fewer football players via the transfer portal than CU’s 10, according to the 247Sports.com database.
In a post-pandemic world where Name/Image/Likeness (NIL) marketing opportunities and the portal have effectively brought free agency to big-time college football, top programs have largely re-trenched themselves as the poachers.
And there might have been no greater example of the two camps than last Friday in Los Angeles, when Sherman’s Buffs (poached) were run over by USC (poachers), 55-17. The Men of Troy, who improved to 9-1, featured 20 transfers from the 2021-22 recruiting cycle — including former CU starters such as wideout Brenden Rice and defensive back Mehki Blackmon, two of Sherman’s old Buffs teammates. CU’s roster, meanwhile, featured just five incoming transfers from 2021-22, as their record dipped to 1-9.
“Right now, it’s kind of hurting us with what we’ve got going on (at CU),” Sherman said. “If a football player wants to come to CU, we should accommodate him….We need all the help we can get. And then whenever the new coach comes, I’m sure he’s going to want to bring in guys he’s familiar with.”
The Buffs are expected to announce a replacement for coach Karl Dorrell, who was fired back on Oct. 2 after an 0-5 start, before the end of this month. And any candidate who’s done their homework would almost assuredly want to know from DiStefano and athletic director Rick George: a.) why the portal has felt like one-way traffic out of Boulder and b.) what can be done to shore up those leaks before they leave a stain.
“The quickest way to turn your roster around is through the portal, no question,” former CU football coach and current Buffs radio analyst Gary Barnett said. “And it’s a way (to do so) that you never had before. That’s why you see some (coaches) come in and do as well as they have (quickly).
“The good coaches are going to know how to use (the portal). And they’re going to have to be able to use it.”
When it comes to CU football and incoming transfers, in layman’s terms, the rub is this: under current university academic requirements, not every credit from every system carries over once they’re accepted in Boulder. This sometimes makes new student-athletes ineligible immediately and in academic limbo until the credits can be made up.
When the NCAA required FBS-to-FBS transfers to sit out a year after their move, Barnett noted, any concern over credits carryover at CU was moot, as that student-athlete would’ve effectively been out of the picture regardless.
But with the collegiate model transitioning to one of transfers getting immediate eligibility, players aren’t interested in a “gap” year because of academic discrepancies. Not when there are so many other options for instant playing time.
And if you’re not willing to change your philosophy, FOX Sports analyst Brock Huard told The Post recently, then you’re not going to win.
“You will suffer the consequences of guys transferring and leaving, and not just for the greener pastures of cash, which happened with a number of individuals (because of NIL),” Huard said.
Pac-12 football programs during the 2021-22 recruiting cycle averaged 8.1 transfers coming in, including an average of 1.5 imports who were considered 4- or 5-star prospects out of high school, according to 247 sports.com. CU, conversely, added five transfers in ’21-22, and none from the 4-star/5-star club. Every Pac-12 school save for the Buffs, Stanford and Oregon State added at least one former 4-star or 5-star prospect during that cycle.
CU has been a victim of that kind of star power this month, having faced three ranked teams to open November in Oregon, USC and Washington. The Ducks, Trojans and Huskies all feature transfers at quarterback, starting Bo Nix (ex-Auburn), Caleb Williams (ex-Oklahoma) and Michael Penix Jr. (ex-Indiana), respectively.
“What everybody’s starting to realize now is that, for 60-70 years, the NCAA had kept the playing field level in (almost) every regard, every measure,” Barnett noted. “(Those) leveling factors have been removed. And now, (university) presidents can’t hide, chancellors can’t hide, behind field-leveling rules.
“Now each school decides at what level they want to play at. Because it means changing your admission standards and especially, now, transfer standards. It means (determining whether to) pay kids and how much you want to pay them. So that every president, every school now has to decide, ‘OK, at what level do I want to play college football?’”
DiStefano has heard Sherman’s concerns, either directly or indirectly. And he told The Post that his desire is to have CU maintain the highest of standards on both the academic and athletic fronts.
“I’ve long maintained that having strong academics and strong athletics are not mutually exclusive,” the CU chancellor said via email. “I know there is a narrative that our lack of success in football is directly tied to our transfer policies but recruiting in football, like in all sports, is complicated and it’s not accurate to believe that our academic standards will prevent us from being successful.”
DiStefano said he and George have had “good dialogue on this topic” and he feels “confident that we will find solutions that support (CU) athletics while simultaneously upholding the academic mission of the university.”
When asked whether he would be amenable to modifying or easing academic requirements for transfers, the chancellor replied that he was “always interested in improving how we can best support our student-athletes.
“With that said, it would be inappropriate for me to unilaterally modify academic requirements at the request of a coach, AD, or any university employee … we will continue to be engaged in discussions about removing institutional barriers that will enhance our competitiveness without compromising our values and academic standards. This includes examining methods by which credits from other institutions can be accepted at CU and creating an admissions committee to assist with the evaluation of prospective student-athletes’ academic readiness.”
In the meantime, as with a lot of CU faithful, Sherman remains frustrated as all heck.
“Hopefully, (chancellor) DiStefano changes his mind,” he said. “But I don’t know — he seems pretty firm in his stance.
“(I) definitely want them to be a little more accepting in the guys they let in, (that) see us as a great university, a prestigious university. I don’t think that that will change if we let guys transfer their credits from other schools. You’ve (then) just helped the football team. And in reality, that would help the university.”
And how better to celebrate a new CU coach, and a new CU era, by handing him a new sword to wield on the recruiting trail?
“The transfer portal would definitely play a big role in our success just because everybody’s using it now,” Sherman said. “It’s either going to help you or hurt you. And I think in the future it should be able to help us.”