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Preston: The transfer portal is changing the game in college lacrosse, too | COMMENTARY

Loyola Maryland's Chase Scanlan dives to score his first goal past Johns Hopkins goalkeeper Ryan Darby in the Greyhounds' 18-12 victory over the Blue Jays at Homewood Field in 2019.
Loyola Maryland's Chase Scanlan dives to score his first goal past Johns Hopkins goalkeeper Ryan Darby in the Greyhounds' 18-12 victory over the Blue Jays at Homewood Field in 2019.(Larry French / Baltimore Sun)

College lacrosse has been trying to get on the same playing field as football and basketball for decades, and it might happen soon because of the high number of players who might transfer.

There were several high-profile transfers in the offseason, as Loyola Maryland attackman Chase Scanlan went to Syracuse, Boston University attackman Chris Gray landed at North Carolina and Georgetown goalie Chris Brandau and Marquette defenseman B.J. Grill arrived at Maryland.

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And it’s going to increase because of the “transfer portal."

The transfer portal is a website that contains the identities and contact information of every college athlete who has requested a release from his current school.

Before it opened, every player who wanted to transfer had to talk with the coaching staff and reach some sort of agreement before they were allowed to leave. Now, all athletes have to do is contact a member of the school’s compliance office and their name will appear on the website within two days, making them eligible to move on.

In the past, lacrosse teams didn’t have to worry about transfers because there weren’t any high-paying pro leagues such as the NFL or NBA to offer incentive for players. But now that the process is so easy, and the Premier Lacrosse League has taken off, college lacrosse could become like the free-agent market in the NFL.

“I’ve been living it the last two years in college football and it’s really impacting coaches and how they have to continue to recruit their own rosters,” said Quint Kessinich, a former Johns Hopkins goalie who is now a sportscaster for ABC and ESPN covering college football, wrestling and lacrosse. “I’m seeing it in wrestling as well. Losing a wrestle-off at Iowa or Penn State, those guys are good enough to wrestle at any other school in America. So they hit the eject button.

“The same way with the quarterback position in college football. If they don’t get the [starting] spot, gone. You’re going to see it more in lacrosse, whether a player is trying to upgrade academically or athletically. It creates a lot of pressure on the coach to continually appease the kids on the roster or they will bolt.”

The transfer portal won’t hurt teams such as Maryland, Notre Dame, Virginia or Duke. Those schools might have some players transfer out, but most of the players leaving have already learned that they can’t play at a high level.

But let’s say the Terps lose a midfielder or two after the 2020 season. They might be able to lure a top middie from another school that was on the bench or find an aspiring young player at a lower-tier Division I school who is willing to transfer.

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“If I’m at a mid-major school and had a great freshmen season, haven’t I upgraded my profile?” Kessenich asked. “The top programs could pillage the programs ranked 40 through 75.”

A lot of former and current coaches are struggling with the transfer portal, and it’s easy to see why. All you have to do is look at some of the youngsters coming out of college and entering the work force.

A lot of them don’t stay at one job long. They are quick to move on if they don’t like something or they aren’t moving ahead as fast as they’d like.

Goodbye.

“Whatever happened to that time when we were teaching our kids about adversity, how to fight through it and overcome it?” said Dave Cottle, former Maryland, Loyola Maryland and Chesapeake Bayhawks coach. “Now, you see this jumping around everywhere from the club to the high school levels. Some of this is absurd.”

Former longtime Boys’ Latin coach Bob Shriver agrees with Cottle. While at Boys’ Latin for 36 years, he often heard freshmen grumble about playing time during that pivotal transition year from high school to college.

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In high school, only a few players are good. In college, everybody is good. It’s an adjustment.

“Truthfully, I am not a fan,” Shriver said. “It has become too easy for kids to just pack up and move on. They don’t have to sit in a coach’s office and talk about the ‘why’ they want to leave, they just do it. It is simply too easy.

“I completely understand that for whatever reason, kids want to try something else, but what happened to kids working through a problem, situation, playing time, et al and coming up with a solution? Three of the four starting quarterbacks in the [College Football Playoff] were transfers. It worked for them, but I still say, would the kids be better off working through the 'tough’ things that life delivers?"

Maryland lacrosse coach John Tillman agrees with Shriver and Cottle. Sort of. There are life lessons to be learned and taught, but if coaches have the right to free movement, why not the players?

According to Tillman, some of these transfers might be the results of early recruiting when players were making poor, uninformed decisions at a young age. Also, some players feel differently about the school they selected once they settle in.

“I think you’re seeing it everywhere, at the club levels, where guys aren’t necessarily happy with their team, their role, and somebody might present something move attractive,” Tillman said. “You see it in high school more now, and obviously it trickles to college.

“Part of this makes me hesitant. But they all have a right to change their minds, find the right place and be happy. It’s their journey, their opportunity and really not my place to be critical of a young guy who is doing what they think is best for him. I have to be understanding of that. I had my opportunity. This is about their life and their journey.”

Bringing in transfers is part of the pressure put on college coaches who face must-win situations. They have to keep current players on the roster happy but also make sure new ones fit in.

A disgruntled transfer can cause a lot of problems if they don’t fit the culture of the program.

“Sometimes it’s like inviting that drunken uncle to Thanksgiving. He’s just going to blow up the meal,” Kessenich said. “You’re attempting to bring a new kid into the family and it’s not always going to work right away. I worry about the life lessons being avoided and kids hitting the eject button and moving on too quickly. We’re on a dangerous slope here because once you start it, you’re committed to it.”

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