COLUMN: What the transfer portal means for CMU?

CMU's redshirt sophomore and quarterback Jase Bauer celebrates making a touchdown against Notre Dame, on Saturday, Sept. 16, at Notre Dame Stadium.

The transfer portal has sent college sports into a frenzy since it was introduced in 2018. Collegiate athletics has not and will not be the same because of it.

Paying particular attention to football, arguably the biggest sport in the United States, the transfer portal is always a part of the conversation during all parts of the year, especially in the postseason.  

College football already has a landscape that has been consistently changing over the past few years. The 2023-24 season brought the final four-team playoff before changing to a 12-team playoff and power five conferences are realigning themselves to make room for more money in their pockets.  

These large conferences, like the Big 10, right in Central Michigan University’s backyard, have the money and the resources to use the transfer portal to their advantage, getting top recruits from not just the high school level, but also the guys from other colleges that enter the portal. 

But what does this mean for the Mid-American Conference and CMU? How do smaller Division I universities build talent when the grass seems to be getting greener on the other side?  

First, it’s important to understand what the transfer portal does and that there are rules for student-athletes who wish to enter. The portal gives athletes an opportunity to leave their current university and go play their respective sport at another university. Just because an athlete enters their name into the portal, does not necessarily mean that they have to leave and go elsewhere. Consider the transfer portal similar to free agency in professional sports.  

For college football in particular, there are two windows for undergraduate athletes to enter the portal and still be eligible to play immediately the next season. Graduate student athletes can enter the portal at pretty much any time. The first window opens the day after the College Football Playoff selection. The portal is this year closed on January 2. 

According to a report from Sports Illustrated College Football HQ, over 2,000 players entered their name into the portal close to the end of the day on the final day. Student athletes are allowed to transfer once without having to sit out any games.

If an athlete transfers twice it can get messy as they technically have to sit out for a year before being able to play again. It’s important to mention that the transfer portal is a private database used for communication between players and coaches from other schools.  

For Central Michigan, redshirt sophomore quarterback Jase Bauer entered his name in the portal the day it opened. Bauer was the starting quarterback for the Chippewas for the majority of the 2023-24 season. He is now committed to Sam Houston State, another Division I mid-major school. 

Bauer was not alone when he hit the portal. Redshirt junior Safety Trey Jones has committed to Texas A&M University from CMU along with redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Quindario Lee who committed to University of Minnesota.  

When I see heavy hitters that were key parts of last season, despite a losing record, it’s definitely hard to hold onto hope for upcoming seasons. 

Power five schools have one thing that mid majors do not. Money. 

Money to be contenders in the postseason. Money to recruit the top talent in the United States. Most importantly in this case, money that schools like Central Michigan don’t have. 

CMU has seen talent that has gone on to write history. For example, NFL star J.J Watt played for the Chippewas before going to University of Wisconsin. I think that we could have some history makers at CMU, but I’m also not naïve to think that the history won’t be written somewhere else.

Every player who enters the portal has their own reasons. The past two years the Chippewas have not had a winning record. Donors and alumni want to see winning records and hope in a program. 

One personality who has overtaken college football has been Colorado Head Coach Deion Sanders. Sanders played for Florida State and played for both the National Football League and Major League Baseball. Nonetheless, Sanders has been outspoken about using the transfer portal to his advantage, recruiting more talent from the portal than straight out of high school. 

Despite the hype around Sanders, in his first year as head coach he led the Buffaloes to a disappointing 4-8 record. Sanders brought back hope into Colorado’s football program despite having a losing record. 

My first thought when Sanders became the head coach at Colorado was, “So what?” I wasn’t born in the Deion Sanders era of sports. I had no idea the prominence he held across the country. 

As soon as players began to flock to Boulder, Colorado, I began to pay attention. I saw the potential plateau that came to fruition for the Buffalo, but I was fascinated by one man’s ability to turn college football upside down, if only for a couple months. 

He opened my eyes to the portal and what it could mean for us in Mount Pleasant. Can we afford a man like ‘Primetime’ Deion Sanders? No. However, we can afford the energy and hope that Sanders brought back into Colorado’s football program despite having a losing record.

What does the transfer portal and athletes transferring to and from different universities mean for schools like CMU? It means the games don’t end once the postseason is over. Whether MAC schools make it to a bowl game or not, it is going to be a competition to see who can try and recruit the best talent. 

What’s arguably harder is keeping the talent that is already at the university and building a winning program. What could separate us from our conference enemies like Western Michigan or Eastern Michigan? Our recruits.

The MAC is starting to become a starting point for athletes to go to a Power Five conference. Former CMU Marshall Meeder entered the portal after the 2022-23 season, committed to University of Iowa, and helped lead the team to the Big 10 Conference Championship game. 

I think the hardest thing is retention. Bigger schools are leeching onto conferences like the MAC. The MAC has National Football League talent come from it. We are capable of creating threats. 

We should be fighting back in whatever way we can recruiting transfers that maybe didn’t like the playing time they got at bigger schools, or the big university just not panning out and using that to our advantage. 

Which brings me back around to what I mentioned before: money talks. Nebraska football Head Coach Matt Rhule said in a press conference earlier in the 2023-24 season that, “A good QB (Quarterback) in the portal costs $1 million, $1.5 million, $2 million.”  

While schools in the Southeastern, Big 10, Big 12, ACC and PAC 12 can afford to dish out millions on top transfers, Central Michigan and universities like us cannot. How does CMU and others in the MAC like University of Toledo or conference championship winner Miami (OH) University compete?  

The answer is that it was already difficult to compete against the cream of the crop before the transfer portal, and even more difficult to compete now. Big schools pay smaller schools millions to play non-conference games in the hopes of a guaranteed win on their schedule.  

This does not mean that all hope is lost and that CMU will be an infinite lull. The Chippewas landed a solid transfer from Notre Dame, linebacker and receiver Nolan Ziegler.

If CMU can continue to land transfers and recruits like Ziegler, an All-American in his high school career, the Chippewas have a chance to be competitive again in the MAC.

The transfer portal is like playing chess not checkers. Instead of recruiting athletes for years through high school, the portal market moves fast, and athletes can commit to another school just days or weeks after entering. This means that schools have to act fast if interested in a certain athlete. In other words, strike while the iron is hot.