There are no transfer portal issues for Lew Nichols III. The nation's leading rusher is staying put.
"I love it here," said Central Michigan's rising redshirt junior. "I'm just kind of a quiet, laid-back guy."
Mount Pleasant, Michigan, might be the perfect place for the Detroit native after he rushed for 1,848 yards last season. That hasn't kept several larger schools from trying to convince Nichols to enter the transfer portal.
Every school in the SEC, among others, wants Nichols, one source told CBS Sports. Others confirmed there's been heavy interest in the Chippewas star rusher.
"I don't think it is [exaggerated]," said a person close to the Central Michigan program.
The reaction to Nichols' breakout season is somehow less of a story than the standout running back staying put. That's how fluid the portal has become.
Power Five programs poaching Group of Five schools for talent is nothing new, but the practice has been accelerated in the age of the portal.
The portal debuted in October 2018 eliminating the arcane -- and possibly illegal -- requirement that schools or coaches "release" players from their scholarships. Then, beginning in April 2021, the NCAA began allowing all athletes to transfer once in their career without restriction. That did away with the decades-old "year in residence" that required athletes to sit out a year before competing at a new school.
Three months later, on July 1, the name, image and likeness era began. All of it combined to create a transfer environment on steroids.
If tampering -- the practice of coaches attempting to woo outside players to their program -- was a problem before, it's a chronic ethical issue now.
There is also an emerging culture where NIL compensation deals for recruits and transfers are openly discussed/offered by coaches. It's a gray area at least, an improper inducement at worst.
"Really, I'm coaching at junior college now," Central Michigan coach Jim McElwain said of the overall transfer environment. "In Lew's case, to say, 'Has he been contacted?' Obviously, the coaches contact him, but they have different ways of getting to players. He has fielded calls, which I kind of anticipated."
As the portal has increasingly become a one-stop free-agent shop, coaches have voiced their concerns both privately and publicly.
One Power Five coach with a returning All-American player told CBS Sports, "People are throwing money out there just to get him. It's tampering. I could be standing next to you at a restaurant and say, 'Let's get [that player] here.' [The tampering school] puts their players on him. Players are Instagramming him."
That Power Five coach went so far as to call the opposing coach, telling him to back off.
During the run-up to the College Football Playoff National Championship, Alabama coach Nick Saban said players are finding it increasingly difficult to "overcome adversity" in deciding whether to transfer.
"It does make you think hard about the kind of kids you recruit and what their beliefs are and what their goals are and how they get there," Georgia coach Kirby Smart said.
Whatever their opinions, Saban and Smart are no different than their peers. They may seek qualities like "loyalty" and "commitment" when it suits them, but all coaches are playing both sides of the transfer fence. When they need to fill a hole, the portal is only a mouse click away.
There are approximately 1,400 FBS players currently in the portal. The problem? There are only an estimated 250 available scholarships at the 130 FBS programs -- about two per school.
"I'm good with the concept, but put some type of plan in which it's not 24/7 all the time," said Sean Frazier, athletic director at reigning MAC champion Northern Illinois. "I think it's going to create what you see right now. You're going to have unscrupulous pressure on coaches who are under pressure because they make big time money and they have to produce."
Nichols is mostly oblivious to being a centerpiece of a national discussion. He is one of those under-the-radar prospects who blossomed when given a chance. A three-star prospect out of Detroit's Cass Tech, he was offered by both Minnesota and Pittsburgh within a 20-day period in April 2018, according to 247Sports.
Nichols ultimately chose Central Michigan where he could grow at his own pace. What McElwain got in his first recruiting class was an explosive 5-foot-11, 200-pound package who could run, block and catch. Nichols also led the country in yards from scrimmage after teammate Kobe Lewis went down in the preseason.
"Honestly, I never wanted to go to a school based [on it being a] Power Five," Nichols said. "That thing has never really mattered to me. The opportunity to play was the biggest thing for me. I didn't want to go to a school where they really didn't want me there, where they were looking to replace me. I'm not really interested in listening [to other schools]. I'm comfortable where I'm at."
There is a reasonable comparison between Nichols and Kenneth Walker III. The difference being Walker left a smaller Power Five school (Wake Forest) for Michigan State last season only to finish second nationally in rushing with the Spartans.
Interestingly, Nichols high school coach, Thomas Wilcher, is now Michigan State coach Mel Tucker's director of community and high school relations.
"I wouldn't be surprised if Lew ended up at Michigan State at some point," said McElwain whimsically.
The Chips' coach is not wishing it or predicting it. It's just seems the way of the world at the moment. Nichols remains content at Central Michigan having landed his own line of merchandise via his NIL deal. You can get a "2021 Rushing King" hoodie or a "Humble Beast" T-shirt.
The school erected billboards around the state of Michigan celebrating Nichols' accomplishments. That struck the tailback unlike any linebacker could. Friends, family and teammates saw the gesture, reaching out to share warm fuzzies galore.
Under-the-radar running backs are a trend in the MAC. For the second straight year, a player from the conference led the nation in rushing yards. Buffalo's Jaret Patterson averaged more than 178 yards per game in the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season.
There were no tampering or portal concerns. Patterson ran for 266 yards as a rookie last season with the Washington Football Team.
"Tampering is always going to be a concern," said Patterson's coach, Lance Leipold, who is now at Kansas. "Even our guys at Buffalo, in some ways they're crazy not to [consider their options]. Not [only] because of NIL, it's resources and development and all that. Nobody wants to see a bunch of programs become someone else's junior college."
This is a snapshot of a nationwide transactional talent market happening in real time. One of the biggest offseason stories was the destination of former Oklahoma quarterback Caleb Williams. He entered the portal on Jan. 4, 37 days after his former coach, Lincoln Riley, exercised his own right to move on. On Tuesday, he announced his transfer to join Riley at USC.
Who could blame either of them?
"In our case, I think he's going to stay," McElwain said of Nichols. "Yet, who knows what somebody is going to throw at him? And I may have to tell him to go take it, right?"