The NCAA transfer portal became a thing in 2018, though its impact was turbo charged in 2021 when the requirement of sitting out a year was eliminated and then again not long after with the introduction of NIL.
Since then there has been a healthy debate of whether or not any of it is good for the sport, or if that should even matter because the players deserve the kind of freedom and opportunity both the portal and NIL provide.
Wherever you land in the debate, the truth is it doesn’t matter. This is the game now, and everyone — including Arizona — must play it.
For the most part they’ve done well, though things have taken a bit of a turn. Multiple key players — including leading receiver Dorian Singer — have entered the portal.
None of us know what his reason for leaving is, or if there is even just one. Regardless, you would have had to be naïve to not think someone like Singer could parlay his 66-catch, 1,105-yard and 6-TD season into a sweet NIL deal at a bigger, more high-profile program.
“The poaching thing is such a shame, if that’s actually going on,” Jedd Fisch said last week before Singer and others entered the portal. “It’s really not what it’s meant to be, that’s not what we’re looking for in terms of NIL opportunities.
“The idea is to be able to help the players on your team and not be enticed to leave for some other reason. I think that our family atmosphere, I think our program is built on a way that people want to be a part of Arizona football. We have a good collective, we have good sponsors in Tucson, we have people that want to help our players the right way.
“Our players have benefited from NIL and I think they’ll continue to benefit from NIL. Our boosters and our donors have made sure that our collective stays strong and that we can compete with anybody on the West coast and that’s what our plan is. I hope that nobody leaves our program for what we would consider a ‘better option’ financially. I hope that we can keep everybody here and then continue to bring in great players.”
If only it were possible to keep everyone, but not even the elite programs can. The allure of what could be is quite strong, and if it can pull people from the likes of Oregon, Texas, Clemson, Oklahoma and others then you better believe Arizona is also vulnerable, if not more so.
Such is reality.
Following a 1-11 season, Fisch and his staff hit the portal hard, benefiting from NIL and overhauling the roster to the point where it improved to 5-7.
This past season saw Arizona feature one of the country’s most dynamic offenses. The Cats beat a top-10 opponent on the road and also reclaimed the Territorial Cup by ending a losing streak to rival Arizona State. It was a good season, one that represented a big step in the right direction since the program bottomed out in 2020.
Unfortunately, however, Arizona has not improved enough to where it can legitimately compete with the country’s best (both on the field or with NIL, but has improved enough to where its players could be desirable for other programs.
Similar to worries about a coach doing so well that a larger program will come calling, the option now exists for players. And the more good player Arizona has and develops, the more good players who could leave for greener pastures.
This is likely the case with Singer, at least, and possibly a few others.
While Singer will surely land on his feet, the rest of the players who have made their way to the portal, or those who still will, may find the road to be a bit bumpier. Early returns on the portal show it is hardly a sure thing for most, and that is something each portal entrant will have to understand before making what could become a rather costly decision.
But for every player who has decided Arizona is no longer the place for them, we should wish them nothing but the best. Hopefully they get everything they are looking for.
For Arizona, this presents both a challenge and opportunity.
Without Singer and the others, roster spots — and potential roles — will be available. In many cases, including possibly at wide receiver, the replacements may already be on the roster.
For those that aren’t, though, it will be up to Fisch and his staff to benefit from the portal, selling their vision and this program to players who ideally will offer improvements at their respective positions.
It worked last offseason when the team added Jayden de Laura, Jacob Cowing, Hunter Echols, DJ Williams, Tiaoalii Savea, Tanner McLachlan and others, just as the prior season brought in Isaiah Rutherford, Jason Harris, Gunner Maldonado and Mo Diallo, to name a few.
You can’t build a roster through transfers, but you can supplement one. Arizona has missed on a handful of portal additions, but hit on enough and good things will happen.
Given that Fisch expected the roster to be turned over a good amount, you have to think they had a plan of sorts in place heading into this week and at least some expectation of who was going to transfer and who was or is considering it.
That’s not to say Arizona is going to be better off without Singer or any of the players who have decided to leave. Just, there is a lot of talent available and some of it is likely to find its way to the Old Pueblo.
Will the additions, both via the portal and in traditional recruiting, not only offset the losses but be enough to propel Arizona from five wins to bowl eligibility?
Here’s hoping, but in the meantime we are left to watch this offseason play out. It’s normally Fisch’s time to shine, and despite today’s frustration the future likely holds some promise.
After all you know what they say, the transfer portal giveth and the transfer portal taketh away.
Oh, do they not say that? They should.