Jan 6, 2022 - Sports

Free agency comes to college football

Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Caleb Williams (13) throws the ball off against the Oregon Ducks during the Valero Alamo Bowl football game at the Alamodome on December 29, 2021 in San Antonio, TX.
Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Caleb Williams. Photo: Adam Davis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Call it whatever you want, but free agency has come to college football.

By the numbers: More than 3,000 football players across all NCAA divisions have entered the transfer portal since Aug. 1. That includes over 1,400 FBS players — an average of 11 per team.

The backdrop: The portal was introduced in 2018 as a way to give student-athletes more freedom of movement. Then a pair of 2021 rule changes turned the offseason into a game of musical chairs.

  • Immediate eligibility: In April, the NCAA began allowing transfers to play for their new school immediately instead of waiting a year.
  • NIL changes: The NIL era began in July, giving athletes a reason to seek out programs that would maximize their earning potential.

The big picture: The transfer portal used to be a waiver wire for (mostly) backups in search of playing time. Now, even superstars are taking advantage, using it to explore their options and find the perfect fit.

  • QB Caleb Williams, a freshman phenom at Oklahoma, is one of many Sooners starters to enter the portal after Lincoln Riley's exit.
  • QB Dillon Gabriel, a three-year starter at UCF, is headed to Oklahoma less than three weeks after committing to UCLA (commitments from the portal are not binding).

The bottom line: Four years ago, players needed their coach's permission just to contact another school. Now, future NFL stars are getting an early glimpse of free agency — minus the contracts and rules.

Go deeper: Used to the coaching carousel? Meet the QB shuffle (SI)

Go deeper