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Notebook: Is Notre Dame's portal policy becoming more transfer-friendly?

Defensive end Javontae Jean-Baptiste (1) was one of seven scholarship transfers Notre Dame imported last offseason.
Defensive end Javontae Jean-Baptiste (1) was one of seven scholarship transfers Notre Dame imported last offseason. (Jeff Douglas, Inside ND Sports)

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Marcus Freeman smiled on his webcam Monday when asked during a 25-minute Zoom call with the Notre Dame football media core about the status of the school’s administrative/admissions approach to the transfer portal.

Which could be interpreted as progress in an area where the second-year Irish coach urgently needed it.

On a university jet with outgoing president Rev. John Jenkins this past offseason, in intermittent meetings with men’s basketball coach Micah Shrewsberry and Niele Ivey, in constant conversation with outgoing athletic director Jack Swarbrick, Freeman has worked diligently to at least forge middle ground when it comes to the school’s restrictive incoming transfer policy as well as get a mechanism in place to expedite the decision-making process when it comes to admissions.

On point No. 1, Freeman gave a more generalized response on Monday, but on point 2, he sounded satisfied the Irish wouldn’t be at a competitive disadvantage when portal season officially opens next Monday for a 30-day window.

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Grad senior defensive end Nana Osafo-Mensah, incidentally, got an early start on the outgoing phase of the postseason roster churn, announcing his intentions to spend his sixth/COVID-exemption season at somewhere other than ND. Senior Chris Tyree followed suit hours later.

“As far as the admissions movement,” Freeman said, “there definitely has been positive discussions with our administration, with admissions in terms of making sure that we have a timely manner in terms of getting a response in terms of can we get students admitted into Notre Dame.

“And that's the biggest thing we're looking for is the urgency of an answer.”

The Irish had 12 scholarship football players transfer out last portal season and a record seven scholarship players transfer in. All seven were graduate transfers, though some had multiple years of eligibility remaining.

Grad transfers seem to glide through the admissions process, and some players who are in or finishing their freshman seasons have cleared admissions hurdles. It’s once they become sophomores where the admissions process can get sticky.

“It gets a little complicated,” Swarbrick told Inside ND Sports last spring. “There’s a process in bringing in a transfer — and it’s not unique to Notre Dame — where part of that is which credits transfer and which don’t.

“It’s true everywhere. Well, how many credits transfer impacts whether you're satisfying the NCAA’s progress-toward-degree rules. You’re going into your senior year and a number of your credits don’t transfer. Then all of a sudden, you’re up against that problem.

“So yeah, it’s not an absolute rule. Transferring in is more challenging the further along that you are in your education somewhere else. It has to do with evaluation of majors and transfer of credits and things that should be important to a university are important to our colleges (at Notre Dame).”

“We’re all somewhat new to it,” Swarbrick continued. “And we’re asking the colleges to evaluate more people on a transfer basis. Listen, just as we can be better on the field, we can be better at a process like this. But it’s important to understand how much the landscape has changed.

“Part of my responsibility is to help the deans understand the changes and, ‘OK, here’s why we’re bringing you more transfers to evaluate. Here are the number of student-athletes who transferred out of Notre Dame. And here’s why it’s important for us to be able to replace them.’”

On Monday, Freeman lauded the administration for being on the same page.

“I couldn't speak any more positively about the relationship this football program and our athletics program have with admissions in terms of we all want the same thing,” he said. “We all want to make sure that athletics has an opportunity to acquire the talent that we need to have success but also uphold the standards that we have as a university in terms of the value of our education, in terms of understanding the type of students that will thrive here at Notre Dame.

“And so, I am very pleased with our relationship and our working relationship as we continuously move forward with transfers and student-athletes coming into Notre Dame.”


Quarterback math

Two weeks ago, Freeman confirmed Notre Dame’s intentions to bring in a transfer QB for the third time in the past four recruiting/transfer cycles.

A fourth scholarship quarterback was the concept he lauded, adding to — presumably — sophomore Steve Angeli, freshman Kenny Minchey and January early enrollee CJ Carr, who’s set to sign a National Letter of Intent with the Irish next month.

Last cycle, when the Irish brought in grad transfer Sam Hartman from Wake Forest, it immediately led to the transfer of Drew Pyne (Arizona State) and eventually Tyler Buchner (Alabama) after spring practice had concluded.

On Monday, Freeman explained his quarterback math in a little more depth.

“My thought was that adding a fourth would make sure that we at least have three if somebody decides to transfer after the spring or when we decide to bring in a fourth,” he said. “If we didn’t bring in a fourth and then somebody transferred when I named a starter in the spring, now you’re left with two.

“That’s the real reason. It isn’t that I don’t have a belief in the guys we have here. I have a strong belief in Steve and Kenny. Then, obviously, we’ll have somebody coming in. But it’s more so if somebody decides to transfer, we have to make sure that we have at least three scholarship quarterbacks left.”

Freeman said the Irish staff has long been scouting portal possibilities at quarterback and other positions during the season.

“If you wait until every quarterback enters the portal to say, ‘OK, let’s evaluate him,’ it’s going to be too late,” he said. “The timeframe of when a young man enters the portal to when they decide what school they’re going to, every second counts and every second matters.

“We’ve evaluated a lot of quarterbacks. We’ve evaluated a lot of different positions that could possibly enter the portal that we know would have another year. As those guys enter the portal, we have to be able to make a decision right away, is this somebody that we feel fits our program?

“That’s in terms of athletic ability. The other side of that is going to be: Is their personality fit what we want here at Notre Dame? That’s what’s going to X a lot of guys off the list as you continue to talk to them and do research on each individual. We have to make sure we bring in the right guys to our football program, too.”

A bowlful of Kelly? 

As news spread Monday of the rebranded Pop-Tarts Bowl introducing the first-ever edible mascot, the prospect of Notre Dame landing in the ReliaQuest Bowl, Jan. 1 in Tampa Fla., remains the more delicious option.

Especially if former ND coach Brian Kelly and his LSU Tigers end up there, as widely projected. Should the Irish play in the Dec. 28 Pop-Tarts Bowl in Orlando on Dec. 28 (they’ve played in earlier incarnations as the Camping World Bowl and the Champs Sports Bowl), Notre Dame would face a Big 12 opponent.

“As far as who we play in the bowl game, the opportunity to play anybody — a great team like LSU, a great football program with the history that they have, obviously the history that Brian Kelly has with Notre Dame — what a great opportunity. For anybody we play, LSU included, the chance to go out there and play a quality opponent.

“We would look forward to any opponent we play. I know there will be some storylines with coach Kelly and the history of Notre Dame. It would probably get a lot of [page] views. The bowl game is going to be about this football program preparing over the next few weeks to play a tremendous opponent and the chance to go out there and compete and win.

“tt’s something that all competitors, especially the ones we have in this program, would look forward to.”

ESPN’s marathon Selection Sunday show — revealing final rankings, playoff pairings and bowl assignments runs from noon to 4 p.m. ET on Sunday.

The Tigers are 9-3 this season with losses to top 11 teams Florida State, Alabama and Ole Miss. Among their wins is a road victory at No. 9 Missouri. LSU is No. 1 in the nation in total offense, scoring offense and pass efficiency, and No. 101 in total defense among the 130 FBS teams.

Hartman opting in?

Notre Dame quarterback Sam Hartman has twice implied he’ll be playing in Notre Dame’s bowl game, wherever it is and who it’s against.

And Freeman said Monday he has no reason to believe otherwise.

“I plan for Sam to play in the bowl game," he said. "Obviously, when he said that, I think that’s where his head is too. We’ll have to have a meeting to make sure it’s still there. But that’s what these conversations are for. Unless I hear otherwise through a conversation, my plan would be for Sam Hartman to be our quarterback for the bowl game.”

But Freeman isn’t expecting his entire roster to opt in for the bowl, either, noting those conversations were set to begin with individual players Monday afternoon, after his Zoom session had concluded.

“That’s just the trend right now in my previous two bowl games, but obviously in college football, too,” Freeman said. “But I do want our team to understand how important this bowl game will be to our football program. It's an important game, and we want to finish this thing off the right way. So, we'll have those conversations this week.”

Notre Dame will stage its first bowl practice, before it knows its destination or opponent, on Thursday.


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