Players love it and coaches hate it. The new NCAA transfer portal is changing college sports, especially football, at its core. It has brought a component of professional free agency to the collegiate level, thus creating an open door for tampering and completely changing the dynamic of college sports. Many coaches have said that this could be the end of college football as we know it.
The NCAA’s recently announced one-time transfer rule allows athletes to transfer to a different school one time during their career and play immediately without getting permission from their current coach or school. Previously, athletes had to get permission from their current school and then sit out a year as a penalty for transferring. Players love the flexibility this allows after signing their initial letter of intent and the ability to move immediately one time in four years without punitive consequences. However, coaches hate everything about it. The transfer portal has created various roster management issues and other financial problems due to the recently instituted Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) rule. College football is straying from its roots. It is becoming a game for personal and financial gain rather than a team sport eyeing a National Championship. And this change allows for coaches and football programs with money to have unfair, overarching control over these young athletes.
“Brutal,” an anonymous Power 5 coach said in an interview with Athlon Sports. “This rule puts every coach trying to run a clean program in an untenable situation. You’re enabling NCAA rulebreakers. You’re inviting tampering. They’ve opened Pandora’s box and are allowing players to take their ball and go home when things don’t go their way. What kind of message is that? Are we not in the business of building young men?”
Truthfully, however, this does go both ways. As for every coach that says they are in the business of “molding young men,” there is a player who watches their coach leave their program for a higher paying program. Coaches can’t expect to move freely in their jobs while forcing players into a situation where they are punished for leaving. So while the transfer portal has leveled the playing field, it is clear that money has become too intertwined with the world of college sports.
Furthermore, the transfer portal has created serious issues regarding player scholarships. Currently, programs are locked into a 25 scholarship limit per season and if one of those scholarship players transfers, that scholarship position is unable to be filled, leaving the school at a major disadvantage. Recently, coaches and NCAA executives alike have been vouching for a change to this rule. The proposal was that if a school were to lose 5 scholarship players, they would be able to add another 5 scholarship players. Most coaches believe that this needs to be done in order to close a loophole that has been created within the NCAA. If a coach were to get fired or leave a school, they could potentially bring a group of players with them, leaving the previous program gutted. The player’s perspective is that this loophole allows coaches who didn’t recruit them to push them to the transfer portal. Coaches can use roster management in conjunction with the portal to free up scholarship spots on the team. However, filling those roster spots can be quite difficult.
“Those players are in the portal for a reason,” one anonymous Power 5 coach said in an interview with Athlon Sports. “A small minority are guys that can help you, guys that for one reason or another didn’t make it where they began. But a majority of those guys are either player’s other schools missed on, players that are just guys, those with academic problems, or those who have been in trouble off the field. We wouldn’t recruit a majority of those guys coming out of high school.”
Arguably the biggest pitfall of the new NCAA transfer portal is the recruiting violations that are now running rampant throughout the league. Coaches are recruiting off other rosters, players are leaving their schools and poaching teammates from their old rosters, and some players are even discussing transferring when shaking hands with their opponents at the end of a game. This has become an incredibly difficult thing to police, but it has been made clear that further regulations are necessary as the transfer portal grew by an astonishing 60% this first year.
“It’s a circular nightmare,” another anonymous Power 5 coach said in an interview with Athlon Sports. “They won’t trust us, we won’t trust them. There’s no common ground, no chance to take a guy who might be facing some adversity and help him through it. Now the young guys with talent and even the upperclassmen with experience are going to always have those free walking papers in their pocket.”
While there have been great transfer success stories such as Joe Burrow, Justin Fields, and Jake Coker, the new NIL rules paired with the transfer portal are completely altering the recruitment process. This shift might be geared towards player rights, but it has ultimately become an overt pay-to-play and pay-to-win model. Additionally, recruiting will no longer begin and end at the high school level. Coaches will be forced to continue to recruit players on their roster, in an effort to keep them from leaving for a starting job or a city with higher-paying NIL deals.
While this new transfer portal rule allows for 1 free transfer without consequence, players have the option to transfer again. Approved waivers allow the athletes to transfer as many times as they would like without facing any repercussions. The number of approved waivers has skyrocketed since the NCAA’s alterations to the transfer portal. Once again, this means that the recruiting process truly never ends as teams are losing and gaining more players than ever each year, negatively impacting the team chemistry and culture.
Ultimately, the transfer portal is giving the power back to the players. However, it has unintendedly created a pay-to-win model in the NCAA. It makes the rich richer and the elite football programs even more elite. This has completely changed the dynamics of college football. While it was once a place to build young student-athletes up, help them get an education, and attempt to win a national championship as a team, college sports are becoming further individualized every day. Now, at this point, college sports are essentially just a lucrative stepping stone for these athletes on their path to the professional leagues. The NCAA is a mess right now, but with a new draft of the NCAA constitution being released in early 2022, hopefully, new rules and regulations can improve this transfer portal situation and restore college sports, particularly football, to its fundamentals.