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In the era of mass transfer, how does OSU keep players around?

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NCAA Football: Texas at Oklahoma State

Oct 31, 2020; Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma State Cowboys head coach Mike Gundy watches over warmups before a game against the Texas Longhorns at Boone Pickens Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive lineman Josh Sills walked into West Virginia's compliance office on Dec. 15, 2019. 

He met with a compliance officer to discuss transferring from the program, and before he'd even left the building his phone rang with a call from his coach. 

"I went over and sat and talked to him - basically kind of told him what I wanted to do and why I wanted to do it," Sills said. "That was it. I think a day or two later my name went into the portal." 

It took Sills two weeks to find a new school. On Dec. 31, 2019, it was announced he would transfer to Oklahoma State. 

Roughly a year and a half later, Sills' reflection on the process was simple. 

"I loved it," Sills said. "I loved every second of it."

Since the NCAA unveiled the transfer portal on Oct. 15, 2018, it has been praised by student athletes in search of better situations, and a new headache for athletic departments. 

Almost three years since its debut, the portal has exploded, thanks in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, with more athletes looking for new schools than spots available. 

OSU softball coach Kenny Gajewski said the softball transfer portal is so backed up, he expects only a quarter of the athletes on the portal to find a new school without having to drop from Division 1 to a lower level or junior college. 

Coaches also worry because of the ease the portal gives athletes, they will "jump the gun" and enter the portal too quickly without fully understanding the risks being taken. 

OSU football coach Mike Gundy said the football portal is getting so large, the athletic department is considering hiring someone to strictly be in charge of the portal. 

"It’s not as easy as just looking at a tape," Gundy said. "You have to weed through all the different things that you need to before you bring somebody into the organization. Coaches trying to control it, you can forget that."

Gundy said football, and athletics overall, need to understand the old way of doing things is over. After everyone begins working in this new age, then athletics can start working so it won't have a negative impact. 

One of those negative impacts is losing players to the transfer portal, and how it affects the cohesion of the team as a whole. For Gundy and the Cowboys, they've staved this off thus far. 

Since Oct. 1, 2020, OSU has lost eight scholarship players to the portal, a relatively low number compared to other Power 5 schools. OSU is tied for the lowest number of transfers in the Big 12 with Baylor, while other conference schools aren't as lucky. 

Kansas leads the way with 22 transfers, TCU and West Virginia close behind with 17, Texas Tech at 16, Oklahoma (15), Kansas State and Texas at 14 and Iowa State (10). 

Stanford leads the Power 5 with one transfer during this time period, and Tennessee stands alone at the bottom with 25. 

A big reason for OSU's success in keeping athletes in Stillwater has been Gundy's philosophy. 

"What I’ve learned this spring is with all the young players and walk-ons, is the excitement they have when they get to practice," Gundy said. "They don’t just get to do the drill work – they get to get in now and play."

While most underclassmen won't see much playing time their first year, getting scrimmage time instead of just drills, Gundy said he thinks it keeps younger players more committed. 

"When their parents say ‘what are you actually doing in practice?’ and they’re saying ‘well I’m doing everything, I got 22 live snaps today’ I can’t imagine that won’t help the cohesiveness of the unit," Gundy said. 

COVID-19 has been a big help for Gundy in this regard. With players accepting their extra year of eligibility, and a larger recruiting class this season, Gundy said the team has the capacity to run more live scrimmages, allowing for younger players to see more playing time in practice. 

"If you’re here, and you’re getting to work in the spring and in August, prior to getting into an in-game season routine, and you’re getting a lot of work, you would think you feel more committed to the organization because you’re getting out there and getting to play," Gundy said.

Each position coach also grades each player on every scrimmage play in practice, and Gundy said this process gives players feedback they can use to develop, a valuable asset. 

"I can’t imagine that wouldn’t help a young man feel good about himself," Gundy said.

sports.ed@ocolly.com