Sports

College football’s looming roster crisis, and how to fix it

A perfect storm is brewing in college football that could fundamentally change the way recruiting works and affect thousands of high school players in the process.

As coaching staffs are try to solve a roster management riddle that began with the COVID-19 pandemic and the return of “super seniors,” they’re also trying to adapt to a new era of free agency after the one-time transfer waiver has been approved.

Currently, teams are allowed to sign 25 players per year on an “initial counter,” which means the player is receiving financial aid in a sport for the first time while counting against the 85-man scholarship limit per team. But as teams lose players to the transfer portal in increasing numbers while also losing them to injury or academic issues, more teams are looking to the transfer market to fill spots. Administrators are quickly picking up on a major trend.

“Everybody is basically just suggesting, ‘I’m not going to recruit high school players anymore,'” said Todd Berry, the executive director of the American Football Coaches Association, who has been sitting in on conference coaches’ meetings along with the AFCA’s own coaches’ meetings. “Recruiting off other campuses is going to be the norm and high school recruiting is going to go away. I don’t think there’s any way around that unless the 25 initials gets changed. I don’t think that’s a hypothetical. I think that’s a fact, because I know what the coaches are going to do because we’re on these calls together.”

Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley reinforced Berry’s concern.

“There’s without a doubt going to be less high school players getting scholarships,” Riley said. “If a player leaves your roster, then you replace them with a transfer, you had to use an initial to bring the player on, and then you’ve got to use another one to bring in a new transfer. The more initials that get used up, every one of them takes away from a high school guy that you could sign.”

As more coaches sound the alarm on these looming issues, ESPN’s Andrea Adelson, Adam Rittenberg, Tom VanHaaren and Dave Wilson spoke to coaches and administrators about answers to the roster puzzle and how the pieces fit heading into the 2021 season and beyond.

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