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The NCAA Transfer Portal = Atlanta at Rush Hour: It’s Time for a Real Solution

The transfer portal is like Atlanta at rush hour: crowded, frustrating and many in it are in a hurry to go nowhere. And the only change or solution to this growing problem–adopted last month by the NCAA–is to avoid certain times to enter this madness. That’s not enough. The problem is only growing and getting worse. We need construction. We need disruption. We need to build a new way to travel.

On August 31st, the NCAA Division I board adopted the recommendations of the Transformation Committee:

‍“College athletes in all sports will continue to be immediately eligible the first time they transfer, provided they notify their schools in writing during the designated notification-of-transfer windows* (as determined by their sport).”

I applaud the NCAA for making an effort to provide deadlines for decisions to be made. I applaud the NCAA for forcing communication to be had and commitment to be made by a deadline. However, in thinking long-term, what does this really do?

This adoption is merely the NCAA’s response to the many coaches, administrators, and compliance directors yelling out the window in the middle of this crazy traffic jam.

Making more rules and opening up certain “windows” and forcing communication is not going to fix the problem.

The transfer portal was introduced in 2018 to create a more efficient, known, and compliant transfer process for student-athletes who are looking to compete for a different institution. I don’t think anyone in 2018 thought this new digital tool would now house more than 19,000 students in search of a new team.

Of the student-athletes that entered the transfer portal:

  • 50% enrolled at another NCAA school

  • 43% are still exploring their options, transferred to a non-NCAA school, or left their sport

  • The remainder of the athletes withdrew from the transfer portal–and potentially lost their scholarships because they chose to enter

These numbers were released on April 25, 2022, before the end of both the winter and spring seasons, and therefore do not include any transfers from this summer to now. I can only imagine the numbers as of today.

The problem that needs to be addressed is how we eliminate the rampant desire of student-athletes to transfer programs every season or year.

When a student-athlete enters the transfer portal, they are either choosing to look for someplace else or being forced to look for someplace else. These student-athletes or these coaches have discovered new information that’s now altered their initial decision or commitment. What is it that the athlete or the coach didn’t see before and feel they are going to see now? What lessons did they learn this time that will prevent them from making the same mistakes with the same poor outcomes?

What’s worse is the academic impact transferring has on the student-athletes. Students that transfer reduce their likelihood of graduation by 15% the first time and 40% the second time they transfer.

What’s really needed is a new process for student-athletes and college coaches that helps them make better, more informed decisions at the start. Maybe then the transfer portal could be used as it was intended: to allow student-athletes a second chance to find a good fit in an effort to have a great collegiate and athletic experience, while on their journey to earn a degree and graduate.

So here is my hypothesis for the NCAA, for student-athletes and for college coaches:

Improved resources that are accessible to all + Improved opportunity for discovery, connection, communication, and evaluation = Lower Transfer Portal activity and improved student-athlete graduation rates.

It’s time we begin building a new way.


*NOTE: Notification-of-transfer windows:

FALL SPORTS: a 45-day window beginning the day after championships selections are made in their sport, or May 1–15.

WINTER SPORTS: a 60-day window beginning the day after championships selections are made in the sport.‍

SPRINT SPORTS: Dec. 1–15, or a 45-day window beginning the day after selections are made in the sport.


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