The last two college offseasons have involved hundreds of athletes utilizing the “transfer portal,” and, to date, the value of this process cannot be ignored. Starting Oct. 15, 2018, student athletes were allowed to enter their names into a transfer portal, which allowed schools to initiate contact with them. However, casual fans of college athletics have not been informed of how this process works and the benefits for players and schools. Simply put, the transfer portal has given student athletes options they didn’t have before.
By way of background, the NCAA Athletic Rules provide that Division I athletes have five-calendar years to play four seasons of competition. Generally, the five-year clock starts when you enroll as a full-time student at any college. Thereafter, the clock tolls if you spend an academic year in residence as a result of transferring, decide to red shirt, if you do not attend school, and/or if you become a part-time student.
The basic NCAA transfer regulations require a transferring athlete to complete an academic year in residence at the school to which they are transferring. Specifically, to satisfy an academic year in residence, you must be enrolled in and successfully complete a full-time program of studies for two-full semesters or three-full quarters. However, summer school terms and part-time enrollment do not count toward fulfilling an academic year in residence. Simply put, a majority of transfer students who have not received a four year degree are required to sit out a full season once they arrive at the new school and complete two full time semesters.
However, as demonstrated by Jalen Hurts, graduate students are not required to sit out a full season at their new school. In 2013, according to the NCAA, there were 58 graduate transfers at all positions in Division I football, however in 2018, following the introduction of the transfer portal, that figure climbed to 166. As Alan Binder of the New York Times reported, there is a developing trend across the college football landscape to add graduate transfers via the portal. Specifically, quarterbacks are a hot commodity through the transfer portal. This season, three Big 12 teams, five SEC teams, and three Big Ten teams opened the year by starting a quarterback who had finished his degree at one university and moved on to another.
Recently, California Law makers passed the Fair Pay to Play Act, which enables student-athletes to receive compensation for the use of their name, image, and likeness beginning in 2023. Logically, NCAA athletes are going to be drawn to this opportunity to receive compensation, which has been prohibited. This legislation, coinciding with the early success of the transfer portal and the amount of athletes that have utilized it within its first two years of operation, may create a shift in the NCAA paradigm. Graduate and undergraduate NCAA athletes will likely be interested in maximizing their opportunities made available in 2023. The threat of schools that are not located in California losing a key contributor to a school in California may be enough to consider other states to look at supporting similar legislation. For now, keep an eye on the transfer portal, given its trajectory it is likely to have a bigger impact than initially expected when the 2023 season begins.
While college football quarterbacks may receive a disproportionate amount of attention regarding transfers, the transfer portal applies to every college sport. There are 500 Division I athletes who are currently in the transfer portal, considering a change of scenery from their current collegiate teams.
Recently, the University at Buffalo men’s basketball team has been able to replace some of the talent they lost after their historic 2018-2019 season using the transfer portal. After about three months on the job, Jim Whitesell has brought in five players through the portal. As reported by Rachel Lenzi of The Buffalo News, UB brought in LaQuill Hardnett in July of 2019, a mere two weeks after he put his name in the transfer portal. Additionally, UB has brought in Josh Mballa, a forward who transferred from Texas Tech; David Nickelberry, a wing who transferred from Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College; David Skogman, a forward from Wisconsin; and Savion Gallion, a guard from Washington, D.C.
The transfer portal is only two seasons in the making, but its reach is undeniable. Currently, this process has given college athletes more opportunity and allows a free agency element to college athletics. Fortunately, not only SEC power house schools have benefitted from the transfer portal, as demonstrated by the back-to-back MAC Champion UB Men’s Basketball team. Hopefully, the transfer portal continues to promote improved treatment of college athletes and provides them with new and/or better opportunities, throughout the country, regardless of whichever sport they play.