The past two weekends, Jedd Fisch and his staff have hosted a slew of recruits that may include the final pieces of the 2024 recruiting class, which can begin signing on Wednesday. Also visiting were several active players who put their names into the NCAA transfer portal earlier this month, and a few have decided they want to join Arizona.
Oh, and there was practice on Friday and Saturday, the start of preparations for the Wildcats’ first bowl game in six years.
For the first time in the current era of college football, brought on by the advent of the portal and NIL compensation, the UA is dealing with December’s three-headed monster. It’s a good problem to have, but one Fisch and many other coaches wish didn’t have to be this way.
“It’s a unique time in college football to like balance it all out,” Fisch said earlier this month. “There’s been a lot of different things that are happening at the same time. There has to be a better way.”
The first year that college football had an early signing period was 2017, and since then the vast majority of high school prospects finalize their commitments during that 3-day window with many doing so in order to enroll in school in January. The transfer portal was approved in 2018, but it wasn’t until 2021—when the NCAA made it so all players could transfer once without having to sitting out a year, no questions asked—that it became a big part of the offseason.
Arizona, at least, has a bit of a gap between when the early signing period ends (Dec. 22) and it plays Oklahoma in the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio (Dec. 28). The same can’t be said for many teams competing in bowls, including those that were in the seven games held Saturday.
“How fair is that to the guys that are playing a bowl game on December 16?,” Fisch said. “They’re trying to prep for a bowl game and now you’re saying at the last second you got to try to also sign the players. At least we have an 8-day runway between the Signing Day and the bowl game. I think a lot has to change, it’s not where it needs to be.”
Fisch made several suggestions about how to change offseason roster management. One was to not open the portal until after the College Football Playoff title game, which this year is set for Jan. 8. That would enable players to possibly play in a bowl game before having to decide whether to look for another program.
“If you’re coaching a team like us, that is playing their first bowl game since 2017, that’s a big deal,” he said. “And the last thing you want to do is start losing players in the portal. And you’re asking donors and you’re asking alumni to come and support the game and they’re like, who am I supporting? So it would be a nice thing if they said, Hey, your team is your team, and when the football season comes to an end, that is the day of the national championship game, that is when the season comes to and end. At that point, you can enter the portal.”
Arizona has been fortunate, with none of the seven players from the 2023 team that have entered the portal being major contributors. The same can’t be said for Oklahoma, which has seen starting quarterback Dillon Gabriel already commit to Oregon for next year while safety Key Lawrence is committed to Ole Miss and both guard Cayden Green and running back Tawee Walker are in the portal.