Kentucky college football coach discusses benefits, shortcomings of NCAA transfer portal

·4 min read
EKU Athletics

Many coaches will discuss the importance of the NCAA transfer portal, but few have been so transparent about its intricacies as Eastern Kentucky football head coach Walt Wells.

Speaking on Saturday afternoon during Eastern Kentucky’s media day ahead of the 2022 season, Wells went in depth about the benefits and shortcomings of the transfer portal ahead of his third season as EKU head coach.

“It’s almost like being in the NFL and having one-year teams through free agency,” Wells said. “That’s really what it is. You don’t like it here or somebody offers you a better deal, and that’s going on. I get it . . . you’ve got to do you. I can’t control who you are. I can only help and advise and when it goes down, there we are.”

In a more than three-minute answer on the topic of the transfer portal, Wells explained how NCAA guidelines — which allow all Division I athletes to transfer once and still compete immediately — have both helped and hurt his football program.

One one hand, more than 10 players from last season’s EKU team that went 7-4 entered the transfer portal this offseason, including two players who found homes at FBS programs.

Defensive backs Jaden Woods (Akron) and Davion Ross (Memphis) both departed.

On the other hand, Wells said the portal has been “a huge advantage” for the Colonels, who have gained more than 15 players via transfer ahead of the new season.

Several of these incoming players have come to EKU from FBS programs like Appalachian State, Kentucky, Tennessee and Tulsa.

“Other than the time — there’s no break in it — it’s an advantage for us,” Wells explained. “If I lose a junior to the transfer portal, then I need to go out and get a junior.”

Roster replenishment has become easier for coaches like Wells thanks to the portal.

An example of this is former Tennessee offensive lineman K’Rojhn Calbert, who played in 33 games for the Volunteers.

Calbert said his relationship with Wells from when Wells served as Tennessee’s offensive line coach in 2017 helped seal the deal on his transfer to EKU.

“We just kind of kept a connection. I would tell him happy birthday, happy Easter, just stuff like that,” Calbert said of staying in touch with Wells. “It was never just, he was my coach and that was it. The dude invested in me coming into college, and so it just found its way to make it full circle.”

At the same time, Wells warned against the portal’s shortcomings and its current regulation.

“If they don’t put some parameters on this thing (the transfer portal), they’re going to run all the coaches out of the business,” Wells said. “We’re still recruiting, right now, we’re still recruiting for this season. At some time and point, you’ve got to be able to breathe.”

Wells said that less than two weeks ago, EKU had a player commit to the program on a Monday. Just three days later, the player was heading to a different school instead.

“If there’s no contracts and no repercussions, nothing’s going to happen,” Wells said. “The highest is going to get what they want, and it’s going to trickle all the way down to the lowest.”

While the portal is still keeping him occupied less than one month before Eastern Kentucky opens its season at Eastern Michigan, Wells said there’s no hard feelings between him and any of his former players who choose to leave Richmond.

“I tell our coaches, when (players) come in and tell you they’re leaving, nine (times) out of 10 they’re leaving,” Wells said. “It’s just like breaking up with your girlfriend. As soon as you tell her, ‘Hey, I’m done.’ It ain’t the same.”

“It’s new opportunities for people to come in for us and it’s good opportunities for people leaving our program. I’m not mad at those guys for leaving, they had to do what they had to do. I get it.”

2022 EKU football schedule

Home games in all capital letters.

Sept. 2: At Eastern Michigan, 7 p.m. (ESPN3)

Sept. 10: At Bowling Green, 4 p.m. (ESPN3)

Sept. 17: CHARLESTON SOUTHERN, 6 p.m. (ESPN Plus)

Sept. 24: At Austin Peay, 4 p.m. (ESPN Plus)

Oct. 1: SOUTHERN UTAH, 6 p.m. (ESPN Plus)

Oct. 15: SAM HOUSTON STATE, 6 p.m. (ESPN Plus)

Oct. 22: NORTH ALABAMA, 3 p.m. (ESPN Plus)

Oct. 29: At Southeast Missouri, 2 p.m. (ESPN Plus)

Nov. 5: CENTRAL ARKANSAS, 5 p.m. (ESPN Plus)

Nov. 12: At Jacksonville State, 2 p.m. (ESPN Plus)

Nov. 19: KENNESAW STATE, 3 p.m. (ESPN Plus)