Andrew Holtan column: Jackrabbits have done a good job navigating the portal so far


In today’s college athletics landscape, there are two things that have completely changed over the past two years. The name, image and likeness rule (NIL) and the transfer portal. You would think that these two things would really hurt a mid-major school like South Dakota State, but so far that hasn’t totally been the case.

Last year around this time Baylor Scheierman was trying to decide which school he wanted to transfer to from South Dakota State and he had all of the bigger programs in college basketball coming after him. During the process it was reported that Scheierman was being offered six-figures to go to these schools and he ended up at Creighton.

I think that put the thought into a lot of people’s minds of, “how is SDSU going to compete if every time they have a good player he or she will just end up leaving for a bigger school because of money?”

I certainly had that thought and when Zeke Mayo was going on a tear through the Summit League in the middle of the season this year, I started to have the same thought. It’s now been over a month since the SDSU men’s basketball season ended and Mayo has not put his name in the portal, nor has he indicated that he is going to.

Now there’s no certainty that if he has a good year next year, he won’t choose to play his final season of college basketball somewhere else, especially if the Jacks fail to make the tournament once again, but I think this year proved that SDSU is a place that athletes want to stay.

Neither the SDSU men nor women saw a player enter the transfer portal after the season. Which is pretty normal for the Jackrabbit women because in the nine years that I’ve been following the SDSU programs only one player that I can remember has transferred out of the program.

The SDSU football team, who won its first national championship this past season and is returning plenty of starters, only saw one player that played on that team hit the portal in Tyler Feldkamp. You’d think that a team with that kind of talent would have FBS programs begging for its players to come play for them. Which maybe they have and SDSU is now just simply a better place to play except for power-five (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC) programs.

Tight end Tucker Kraft, who will be selected in the NFL Draft at the end of the month, said last year in an interview that during the offseason he was approached by multiple programs that were in need of tight ends and was offered six-figure deals. He said that he turned those deals down because “the pride of putting on the yellow and blue [beats the money that these programs are offering] and my pride of seeing ‘Tucker Kraft, South Dakota State’ when my name is flashing across the bottom of the screen one day is what will set me apart from somebody else.”

Not everyone will always have the mindset that Kraft had. Some people really are interested in money, and I don’t blame them. Fact of the matter is, SDSU has done a great job so far of keeping athletes in its programs.

In my opinion, there are three factors that have allowed these programs to avoid totally losing their roster to the transfer portal. The first is winning. All three of the major programs at SDSU have been very successful over the past decade-plus and when you’re a college athlete I would think winning would trump a lot of things.

The second thing is the way they recruit. All three of those programs have recruited heavily in the Midwest. Mayo is only player on the men’s team that is from outside of what you would call the Midwest as he is from Lawrence, Kansas. All of the players on the Jackrabbit women’s team are from South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa or Wisconsin.

The SDSU football team has 54 players on its roster from South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska. That’s a lot of players that are playing pretty close to home and would give them plenty of reason to stay.

The third reason is coaching. SDSU has done a great job of staying consistent with its coaches over the past couple years and that goes hand-in-hand with the winning aspect. Obviously the football team just got a new coach, but Justin Sell chose Jimmy Rogers because he’s been with the program for over 15 years now and I think that is another reason that so many guys chose to come back after their national title run.

SDSU certainly does not have the money to compete with the power-five programs, nor the name recognition, but it has seemed to built a culture in its athletic department that not many mid-major schools have. From top-to-bottom, the athletic programs want to have have total success and most of them have done a good job over the past 10-15 years of building winners.

Teams in both the Summit League for basketball and the Missouri Valley for football have seen their rosters completely shift so far in the offseason, while SDSU has been able to keep things together in 2023. I don’t know if it will always be like this in the era of the transfer portal, but it has been impressive to watch the lack of turnover in the three major programs at SDSU so far.