Image via ESPN
Even before the arrival of the NCAA Transfer Portal and the one-time transfer rule that allows all college athletes to change schools while maintaining their eligibility, there has always been disagreement about the “right” way to structure the recruiting calendar in many sports. With the wide disparity of resources, expectations, recruiting bases, and athletic department goals across the nation, it’s hard to generate universal agreement on when and how programs can recruit prospective athletes. Inevitably, an athletic department in the SEC will have a different perspective on issues than one in the West Coast Conference.
However, as the transfer portal has evolved over the past year plus with the addition of NIL, many in college sports agree that some form of a change in the recruiting calendar is necessary. After the conclusion of the football and basketball regular seasons, we saw numerous high-level players from power conference schools and mid-majors alike hop in the portal with aspirations to land an opportunity at a school with more NIL opportunities.
Whether or not you think it’s good for college athletics that players are transferring from one school to another for NIL reasons is up to you. There are good arguments for both sides of that coin. However, one thing is a little less debatable when it comes to recruiting from the transfer portal: the current timeline is not ideal.
As it currently stands, an athlete can decide to enter the transfer portal at any moment throughout the year. Whether it be the first day of preseason practices or the night before the last game of the season, the portal is open 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. While this isn’t by itself a bad thing, as there can certainly be special cases where it's best for a particular athlete’s mental health or family situation to leave a program, it has caused many problems for coaches and athletic departments across the country. Especially when NIL offers come into play
In 2021, Jordan Addison won the Biletnikoff Award given to the best wide receiver in college football for the Pitt Panthers. Immediately following the season, there was some worry that he’d be wooed away by one of the blue-blood programs in college football via the portal, but he stayed put into the spring semester and into spring practices. Despite losing first pick Kenny Pickett to the NFL Draft, Pitt coaches and fans were looking forward to having Addison back for another year in Pittsburgh. By this May, spring practice had come and gone, and it looked like Addison was a sure bet to be wearing the blue and gold this upcoming fall. Until he suddenly entered the transfer portal and ended up at USC in what appeared to be a NIL-oriented move.
To be clear, I’m by no means saying that Addison shouldn’t be able to capitalize financially off of his name, image, and likeness and improve his situation. However, the timing of the move highlights a problem that needs to be fixed moving forward. Just as a college student cannot simply withdraw from one school and begin classes the next day at another school, there needs to be certain guidelines and dates on when college athletes can enter the transfer portal and when they can be recruited out of the transfer portal.
While Addison’s transfer was surprising because of how late it was following the season, too often, we see players transfer during the season when they aren’t receiving much playing time or are frustrated with their situation. While every circumstance is different and there are certainly exceptions to every rule, in-season transfers are not beneficial to the athlete. Over and over again, we hear stories of successful people discussing the value of sticking it out in tough situations, and simply quitting during a season is not good for anyone involved.
Additionally, the lack of a specified structure causes issues for successful teams competing deep into postseasons. According to Matt Norlander on the CBS Eye on College Basketball Podcast, Eric Musselman, head coach of Arkansas’ men’s basketball team, said he spent more time recruiting players who had just entered the transfer portal than preparing for his team’s game against Gonzaga when the Razorbacks were competing in the NCAA Tournament this March.
Inevitably, when the majority of the team’s seasons end after the regular season or conference tournaments, some players on eliminated teams immediately enter the transfer portal to find a new team. However, in some cases, the teams they’d like to end up on are still competing for championships. This leaves coaches in a tough situation: spend more time game planning for the present or recruiting a potential contributor for the future. While coaches face this dilemma all the time when recruiting high schoolers, the accelerated timeline in the current recruiting calendar forces the issue even more.
With that being said, there needs to be some specified guidelines and dates surrounding the transfer portal. Instead of having the portal open 12 months of the year, there should be windows throughout the year where athletes are allowed to enter the portal and windows where coaches can recruit them. While this will obviously benefit coaches, who currently have to recruit their own players to stay put year-round and monitor the comings and goings in the portal, it also benefits the athletes as well. An athlete should be able to know where he or she stands within a program and having more of a structured recruiting calendar will enable them to recognize that more clearly, not worrying if a coach will bring in multiple transfers at their position at any moment.
The transfer portal is a very controversial topic right now in college athletics, especially in conjunction with NIL. I am a proponent of it and think athletes should be able to move to another school while maintaining their eligibility. However, a better-structured timeline and transfer windows are necessary for the health of athletes and coaches alike.
Brendan can be found on Twitter @_bbell5