The recruiting circus, er, circuit in college athletics returned to normal this week after a pandemic disruption. Camps, AAU tournaments, campus visits and a whole lot of face-to-face salesmanship and schmoozing are back at full steam.
Coaches and recruits are developing relationships and trying to find the right fit. Summer events serve as auditions. Must be strange though, during this delicate dance, to know the transfer rate for college athletes keeps climbing higher and higher.
The first stop is no longer the last stop for many athletes. More like a layover until they reach their destination, putting a new twist on the saying, "It's not where you start but where you finish."
The transfer portal and one-time transfer exception have fueled fundamental change in college sports. Athletes have been given more power and control over their individual situations — rightfully so — and that freedom has inspired unfettered mobility to a degree that now resembles free agency.
Here are rounded-off totals for Division I athletes who entered the transfer portal this year: 2,400 in FBS-level football, 2,770 in men's basketball and 1,660 in women's basketball.
That is a lot of athletes looking for new schools.
Some might hate this transformation taking place within college sports, but don't misconstrue it as a passing fad. This is the new normal, so get used to annual roster churn.
If multiple athletes transferred out of a program five years ago, the outside perception was negative, that something must be wrong with the coach or the climate. Now it's just business as usual. The door swings open, some leave and some enter.
Athletes transfer for any number of reasons, and not necessarily because they are upset. They simply have fewer restrictions, so opportunities are more plentiful and accessible.
Gophers men's basketball player Payton Willis is a prime example. He started his career at Vanderbilt, spent two seasons there, transferred to Minnesota for two years, then transferred to College of Charleston for one season and now is back with the Gophers again for a final season.
The traditional recruiting model suddenly feels obsolete. Coaches must recruit three places now: High school, transfer portal and their current roster. It's debatable which one deserves more time and attention.
"As a coach, there's probably going to be turnover, as much as we don't want it," new Gophers men's basketball coach Ben Johnson said at his opening news conference. "You've got to plan accordingly. You can't fake it and act like everybody is going to be happy."
Johnson is getting a crash course on roster fluidity in his first year as a head coach. All but one returning player on the roster, Isaiah Ihnen, entered the portal. Players from schools around the country arrived to fill those spots, meaning the Gophers almost literally will have a brand-new roster next season.
"I don't take any of this stuff personal," Johnson said.
This is business, and predictably, that has produced stories of behind-the-scenes shenanigans throughout college athletics that sound like the Wild, Wild West.
One national report suggested that some midmajor basketball coaches are leery of playing nonconference games against higher-level programs for fear that those serve as open auditions for their players.
ESPN published a story last week that raised the notion of rampant tampering inside college football. That certainly seems likely, considering how easy it would be to pull off and difficult to prove and punish. Coaches have any number of back channels available to get word to a player on a different team that he has a scholarship and a big role in the offense waiting.
Two Power Five assistant coaches told ESPN that programs eventually will start employing staffers to scout not just high school players but also college players to have a book on them in case they hit the portal.
This is the backdrop of a new world as summer recruiting begins.
Previously, if a coach failed to land a coveted recruit, that usually was the end of it. Tough luck.
Not anymore. The door never closes. The new philosophy? There's always next time.