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How the transfer portal has changed the future of college athletics

by Abbey Curtis



CHARLESTON, S.C.- Moments after former College of Charleston basketball coach Pat Kelsey announced he was leaving to take the head coaching job at the University of Louisville, several star Cougars put their name in the transfer portal to change schools.


Kelsey, who had coached his CofC men's basketball team to back-to-back conference championships and a second bid to March Madness in three years, was moving on to a bigger school with more money.


And now so are several of his former players.


It's a new era in college sports where athletes can change schools with no penalty to their eligibility.


And it's having a massive impact on almost every school across the country.


After legendary University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban announced his retirement, 54 players from the Tide’s 2023 Rose Bowl team entered the portal.


When a young but uber-talented Kentucky basketball team exited the NCAA men's basketball tournament after a first-round loss to a lower-seeded team for the second year in a row, the now former Wildcats head coach John Calipari noted that the game "is a different animal. ... It’s changed on us. All of a sudden it’s gotten really old."


How the transfer portal works

Before 2018, college athletes were required to stay at the school they committed unless the coach of that school advised them to transfer.


However, in the fall of 2018, the transfer portal was introduced, allowing athletes more power over the decision regarding which school they want to play their respective sport at. After this new ruling by the NCAA, any athlete that wishes to transfer must notify their school, and from there the school’s compliance department will enter the athlete’s name into the portal in the next 48 hours.


Athletes are encouraged to consider their decision to transfer carefully to protect their academic and financial needs.


“If a student athlete enters the name into the transfer portal, it allows the institution to cancel their athletic aid at the end of that term,” said Carrie Doyle, NC State Director of Compliance. 


The athlete is then required to complete an educational module about the portal and the process of transferring to confirm their decision and ensure they abide by the NCAA legislation.


“Transfers are one of the hardest things that we do because there are so many rules and the opportunity to miss something is really high,” said Doyle.


The compliance department at each institution does a complete review of each student-athlete to ensure that the NCAA’s rules and regulations are being followed before entering their name into the portal. Once their name is entered in the portal, athletes are permitted to make contact with other schools.


The compliance staff’s role is not finished as other schools will need more information about the student athlete’s academic and athletic eligibility.


“We want transcripts from the other school because you want to look at eligibility and make sure they’re going to be eligible when they come here,” said Kate Brown, Director of Compliance at The College of Charleston.


Before the introduction of the transfer portal, schools had to create a report for each individual student athlete to send to their new destinations, yet there was no uniform system across all institutions.


How the transfer portal came to be

Doyle was a member of the NCAA committee that designed the transfer portal and its online database of information that made communication between institutions easier.


“If you're thinking about 300 DI institutions all doing that at the same time, doesn’t it make it more efficient to have a centralized database where we all have the same questions and we can go in electronically and fill out the information,” said Doyle.


This process eased the workload of compliance departments across the country and allowed them to prepare for a higher influx of transfers with more NCAA legislation to come.


The NCAA adopted the one-time transfer rule in April 2021, where student-athletes across all sports would now have immediate eligibility as long as they notified their transfer process during the live recruiting period. Previously, football, men’s & women’s basketball, baseball, and ice hockey athletes had to sit out a year at their new school after transferring.


“The NCAA was starting to feel legal pressure for having different standards for different sports,” said Doyle.

 

Transfer portal entries skyrocketed after the new ruling with over 20,900 Division I student athletes entering by the end of the 2021-22 school year. This number surpassed the previous year’s entries by 18,000.


The transfer portal process

“If you’re a scholarship athlete, you need to enter within a certain transfer portal window for each sport and usually that ends up being about a week after the championships,” said Brown.


Depending on the season of the athlete’s sport, this can create a limited window of opportunity between academic semesters.


“My undergrad transfer was rushed,” said Emily Dykes, a two-time transfer who is now spending her graduate year at College of Charleston. “I went into the transfer portal in the beginning of December and I was on scholarship, but once you quit the team, they can take your scholarship and they did so I had to find a new school by January.” 


Dykes spent her first two seasons at Radford University before transferring to Northern Illinois to finish her undergraduate career.


“I didn’t really see a growing environment,” said Dykes. “I felt like it was very toxic and I didn’t see it getting any better over the next four years, so I thought I might as well give myself a new environment.”


The portal can be challenging for both the coaches and players trying to navigate their options.


“You don't know why the person's in the transfer portal,” said Dykes. “They could have been kicked off the team, they could have left for reasons that you don't exactly know.”


Yet, the question still remains whether college athletes having free agency is beneficial to their academic and athletic success.


“I think it's just interesting to see how it affects high school recruiting,” said Brown. “That's the thing that hurts a lot of high school kids because people are looking at kids who have already played somewhere.”


Many athletes still recall a positive experience in the portal and having a new opportunity to reach their academic and athletic potential.


“It obviously just depends on the team itself but the team here that I've joined… they were really welcoming,” said Dykes on her experience coming to a new school in the middle of the year.


For now, the NCAA sees the transfer portal as a greater benefit to college athletes than the challenges that have been brought up.


“I feel like I would have been in a worse situation than what I'm in right now if it wasn't for the transfer portal,” said Dykes.

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