PULLMAN – Over the past few months, it was widely expected the NCAA would approve legislation allowing athletes in all sports to transfer without incurring a one-year penalty.
Washington State football coaches weren’t necessarily sweating bullets, but the biggest news story out of college sports Thursday was understandably a positive development for the Cougars.
“We kind of hedged our bet, right? We were told this has got a real good chance of going through, so we played the come a little bit and it rolled our way,” WSU coach Nick Rolovich said. “Now we feel like they’re all eligible and a lot of people can sleep a little better. There were some coaches waiting on that answer.”
In the long term, it could change how WSU handles transfer recruiting – something the Cougars already addressed this offseason with the hire of Josh Omura, the program’s new director of transfer recruiting. In the short term, it means WSU should have more depth at cornerback, linebacker and possibly running back this fall.
Rolovich’s staff signed three FBS transfers in February with the knowledge that only one of those – graduate transfer quarterback Jarrett Guarantano (Tennessee) – was guaranteed eligibility this fall. The other two, redshirt junior cornerback Chris Jackson (Michigan State) and senior linebacker Ben Wilson (TCU), were holding their breath until the NCAA adopted one-time transfer legislation Thursday.
A fourth FBS transfer, Wisconsin running back Nakia Watson, hasn’t signed his National Letter of Intent with WSU but would theoretically be permitted to play for the Cougars this fall under the guidelines of the new rule. According to CBSSports.com, athletes in fall and winter sports would have to enter the NCAA transfer portal by May 1 to gain immediate eligibility, while spring athletes face a July 1 deadline.
“I think everyone around the country was kind of being told it was going to go through,” Rolovich said. “However, it had to get to this point, it had to get to this point. I think it’s a fair deal. I think it’s good – I don’t know if they talked about the dates of notification, but I think that’s a smart aspect of it.”
Proponents of the one-time transfer rule seem to outnumber those who oppose it, but Rolovich, an advocate, also singled out one potential drawback when discussing the legislation during a postpractice Zoom interview Thursday. Programs with more players who transfer out, rather than transfer in, may be at a numbers deficit late in the spring without much time to make up the losses.
“There is, I think, an issue that multiplies on top of it, is the 25 initials,” Rolovich said, referring to the maximum number of scholarship players a program can add during a signing class. “We just need to make sure we don’t deflate teams too much – or their roster too much – in the summer where you can’t replenish it a little bit.”
The Cougars aren’t facing a deficit at the moment, but they’ve also lost a handful of key contributors to the transfer portal this offseason, including kicker Blake Mazza, receiver Jamire Calvin and safeties Ayden Hector and Tyrese Ross. Rolovich said he’s handled that aspect of college football’s transfer industry better than he did at Hawaii as a first-time head coach.
“I feel like if someone doesn’t want to be here, they should go and I don’t want to force anybody to come here as a recruit, I don’t want anybody to stay here as a part of the roster,” Rolovich said. “If they don’t want to be part of it – I went through a little bit of this at Hawaii, which was, to be honest, harder on me personally just because it was my first time, and that thing worked all right. So, with the guys that left, if that’s the best thing for them, that’s what they need to do and I feel like our team right now is as close as it’s ever been since I’ve been here.
“I know I haven’t been here long, but I know it’s a different team than we had in the fall. … I think the majority of people got both feet in and are excited to get a season going in the fall.”
Dead no more
The one-time transfer rule provided the biggest headline out of college sports Thursday, but the NCAA also made another announcement that offered a sigh of relief from coaches across the country.
Effective June 1, the NCAA will no longer enforce the recruiting period that was implemented on March 13, 2020, as a response to COVID-19. The NCAA’s Division I Council announced all sports will return to their regular recruiting calendar on the first day of the month. College football programs will enter a “quiet period” that allows recruits to make campus visits, but prohibits coaches from traveling to see potential prospects.
It’s especially a breath of fresh air for Rolovich. The dead period essentially started two months after he was hired as WSU’s new coach and was extended eight times through the COVID-19 pandemic. Like all programs, the Cougars will have to make up for lost time when the dead period is lifted, but Rolovich said they’ll prioritize prospects who plan to make their commitments over their summer.
“I think we’ve got to see who’s making their decision. I think the game-day environment is something our recruits will enjoy seeing,” Rolovich said. “But people that have said they’re going to make their decision before the season, probably going to get them on campus in June.
“So, looking at camp options across the country, looking at official, unofficial visits. Then we just have to abide by the county health regulations.”
COVID-19 vaccine rollout
Now that Washington residents 16 years or older are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, the Cougars plan to help facilitate vaccinations for football players who are interested in getting theirs. Rolovich didn’t have specific details and indicated vaccinations would be optional.
“I know we’re talking about making it available for our guys,” Rolovich said. “I don’t know the details on that, but that’s a little bit of a personal decision. I’m not going to get into that too much with these guys.”
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