The Problem with the Portal:

Why Over Half of Transfers End Up Nowhere

5-minute read on transfer portal problems

More than half of college football players who attempt to transfer to a new program are unable to find a new team per the AthLinkd transfer portal database. This is concerning, as student-athletes, their families, coaches, and communities invest a significant amount of time and resources in their development and prospect of getting a college degree. Unfortunately, many players who attempt to switch programs end up leaving school altogether. So, what is the problem with the transfer portal?

The NCAA introduced the transfer portal in 2018, after a century of controversy surrounding player freedom and compliance inefficiencies. Initially, the number of entries was modest, but COVID-19 accelerated legislation that made transferring easier, resulting in a significant increase in entries. While the introduction of transfer windows has made things more condensed for coaches and compliance, the biggest issue with the transfer portal outside of NIL tampering is that over half of entries are unsuccessful, posing a significant problem for student-athletes seeking new opportunities.

Problem #1: Data Availability

Problem with the Portal: Why Over Half of Transfers End Up Nowhere

To address the issue of unsuccessful transfers, it is important to start with the known facts. The current format of the transfer portal may make sense for the NCAA, but it offers little value to coaches. Only a player’s name, school, conference, and NCAA information are available in the online database. Crucial recruitment information such as position, hometown/state, and measurables are not included.

With roughly 8,000 entries annually, it would take hundreds of hours of research and tracking for a staff to stay informed. While larger programs may have the resources to manage this, the majority of the 700+ college football teams do not. Companies like AthLinkd can provide some assistance by offering access to a tracked database, but there are still limitations even if player’s help provide their own information.

It’s important to remember that these are student-athletes who are transferring not only to play football, but also to continue their education. Each institution has unique standards for credits, GPA, and financial aid, which can complicate the transfer process. Many players are unaware of which credits will transfer to their new school. Also, it can be uncertain if they will be on track to graduate. It seems sometimes as if players believe transferring will change their academic standing, but it certainly follows. This lack of clarity has led to some eligibility debacles. Ultimately, manual observation of a player’s transcript is the only way to ensure proper transfer eligibility.

transfer portal problems

Problem #2: Player Expectations

Problem with the Portal: Why Over Half of Transfers End Up Nowhere

Another issue that contributes to unsuccessful transfers is inaccurate player expectations. Many players believe they will receive numerous offers, only to find no interest from college teams. Or, they may have early interest from lower division schools but hold out for offers from more prestigious programs. After those spots are taken, they are left with nothing. These expectations may result from knee-jerk reactions to incidents with coaches or bad advice from unreliable sources.

The introduction of transfer portal windows has helped with in-season transfers. However, the overall number of unsuccessful transfers is expected to remain the same by the year’s end. It’s worth noting that many entries are graduate transfers. They already have a degree and may end up nowhere due to their own choice.

It’s essential for players to become more educated about these significant movements. Even something as simple as a player’s position can drastically affect their odds. For instance, AthLinkd’s transfer database indicates that 54% of offensive linemen find a new school, compared to only 33% of runningbacks.


Problem #3: Treacherous Calendar

Problem with the Portal: Why Over Half of Transfers End Up Nowhere

One final variable to consider is the coaches. They already face a complex and often overwhelming calendar on top of what the portal has introduced. Although the transfer windows have helped ease the process somewhat, roughly 2,000 transfers are expected to enter outside those windows. In November, a coach could be simultaneously preparing for a game, tracking hundreds of entries, and trying to prevent their own players from leaving.

This is coupled with Early Signing Day which at this point is the official signing day for the upper divisions.  Many teams are still actively playing with nearly a month remaining.  That is like the NFL draft occurring during the Wild Card round.  One could point to this type of overlap to be a part of the reason the sport is seeing more disparity. Perhaps because only well-staff (and well-funded) programs can maximize this period.

In general, college coaches are being stretched entirely too thin. The burnout is real. They are having to develop, coach, and run a program whilst simultaneously recruiting their own players to stay on top of not losing out to the potential contributors in the portal. And, as mentioned before, after the time has been spent researching, evaluating, and recruiting, the player might not even be eligible to come to their school.

transfer portal problems

Moving Forward

Problem with the Portal: Why Over Half of Transfers End Up Nowhere

The transfer portal was introduced to enhance compliance and offer players greater freedom, and it has certainly made strides in this regard. It has enabled student-athletes to leave environments that were detrimental to their mental wellbeing and achieve significant success at new institutions. However, like any major transformation, there have been hurdles to overcome.

To mitigate these challenges, AthLinkd has developed user-friendly data tools for coaching staffs that can help them save time and obtain the necessary information. The aim is to minimize the number of transfers that end up in a void as much as feasible. For coaches who feel overburdened, it’s comforting to know that others are working to address this issue.

Despite the difficulties, the transfer portal is an essential component of college athletics’ modernization. It has provided student-athletes with greater autonomy and improved the sport’s overall competitiveness. While there is still room for improvement, it is vital to appreciate the positive changes that have occurred and continue to work towards enhancing the system.

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