After years of severely restricting the ability of student-athletes to transfer, in 2021, the NCAA instituted it’s One-Time Transfer Rule to essentially provide athletes in all of its divisions the freedom to transfer at will via the transfer portal. A few months later, the NCAA, in an effort to keep itself out of the crosshairs of the U.S. Supreme Court, also began allowing student-athletes to begin profiting from the use of their name, image, and likeness (NIL). By those metrics, both decisions have been huge successes. However, for every success, there’s a dark side. And, for the NCAA’s football programs, the cracks in the mirror are just now beginning to appear.
Not Every Transfer Has A Happy Ending
According to a recent article in The Athletic, as the spring semester began, roughly 50% of the college football players who’ve entered the portal since the end of the season have yet to find a new place to play. That was fine for someone like QB Caleb Williams, who likely had overtures from every DI football program before he ultimately decided to transfer to USC. But, comparable to a house for sale for months, players that aren’t considered generational talents and wind up in the portal for an extended period cause coaches to have doubts about that player.
In addition, many players who do step up to a new or bigger program via the portal may still not come out ahead. According to a study conducted by one Group of 5 school coaching staff and cited in The Athletic article, “in the last year, 62 percent of players who entered the transfer portal left it with less scholarship money than they had at a previous school.” While NIL deals might be making up for some of that, as you’ll see below, that might also be a sore spot for some athletes.
Some Players Are Being Pushed Into The Portal
While it’s often framed as a player searching for a fresh start or an opportunity to get more playing time, some players are being encouraged to transfer by their coaches. That nudge may be coming from coaches to free up a scholarship for a player transferring in, or because a coach doesn’t feel like a given player will live up to their potential in that program.
As one coach noted, “This is also occurring now: ‘Hey, you don’t fit our new system anymore. We think you should enter the transfer portal. Compliance is two doors down. We’re going to have our operations director walk you over there,’” the Group of 5 assistant said. “It definitely works both ways.”
Coaches Are Holding Back Scholarships For Transfers
If a coach isn’t freeing up scholarships by pushing out existing players, early on, it seems that some aren’t filling out their high recruiting classes in order to keep scholarships open for transfers. While this mainly affects high school recruits, that desire to have scholarship flexibility puts even more pressure on current players to develop, live up to their potential, and perform now. As more coaches try to plan ahead for each season’s transfers, it’s likely they’ll continue to hold back scholarships or work to open them up among existing players to be flexible enough to those unexpected roster openings.
Tampering Is Happening Even For Players Not In The Portal
The NCAA installed some token guidelines to govern NIL deals, but they are essentially toothless. As such, monetary incentives from programs to players that once got schools put on probation are now being overtly dangled to potential players, in and out of the portal. According to The Athletic article, one Group of 5 school running back received an unsolicited call from a Power 5 coach offering him $200,000 in NIL deals. That was fine, save for the fact that the player in question wasn’t even in the transfer portal.
“It’s a reality,” a Group of 5 assistant coach told The Athletic this month. “(Tampering) is going on right now.”
While the NCAA may eventually come back and revisit its NIL rules, for now, what’s going on above board and under the table appears to be a seller’s market. And, while it’s yet to be proven, the allegation that some coaches are essentially trying to buy players means some athletes may be making transfer choices based solely on money. And there’s also no guarantee those monetary promises will be fulfilled.
There Is One Upside
Given all the player movement , some coaches are realizing that they may have to work a little harder to keep their existing players happy and out of the portal. While every coach has their own style, for players it means coaches may now be more accountable to the players for the promises they make. It also means coaches are also educating players on the pros and cons of the transfer portal so that they can make an informed, rational decision.
Finally, while college football players who dream of playing in the NFL may often see greener grass, more playing time, and more TV exposure at another program, for many, that may not matter in the end. One coach put things in perspective this way:
“If you’re truly an NFL prospect, they’ll find you,” a Group of 5 assistant said. “The NFL spends billions of dollars evaluating talent. Let them do their job.”