'Transfer portal' occupies increasing significance in college football
Recruiting, now more than ever, includes pursuit of student-athletes already competing in NCAA sports.
Texas A&M University-Commerce is about to enter what Director of Athletics Jim Curry calls the “crazy time” at the institution.
The upcoming period is known as the “transfer portal.” It is a device that has become all the rage among top intercollegiate student-athletes who in many cases seek to gain more collegiate playing experience before being drafted by professional sports franchises. “The transfer portal opens on Dec. 4,” Curry said, “and it’s going to be nuts around here for 45 days,” which is the length of time the portal is open for students to transfer from school to school.
Many of these transfer students are excelling during the current college football and basketball season. They exercise their rights to transfer from one top-flight football or basketball program to another.
A&M-Commerce, unfortunately, did not have a top-flight football season this year, going 1-9 under first-year head coach Clint Dolezel. Curry is hoping the Lions will have a much better season awaiting them in 2024 and beyond. The Lions men’s and women’s basketball seasons are still unfolding and time will tell about the success they enjoy.
Curry has been A&M-Commerce athletics director for seven months, after having served for 11 years in various athletic administrative capacities at Florida State University in Tallahassee.
For the uninitiated, the transfer portal has been around for “a handful of years,” Curry said. He described the process as a “database that every NCAA school in Division I and II use.” The transfer portal took effect Oct. 15, 2018. A&M-Commerce participates at the Division I FBS – Football Bowl Subdivision – level, which was known formerly as Division I-AA.
The transfer portal, Curry said, enables students to “declare their intentions and notify the NCAA that they want to transfer. They enter the transfer portal and announce publicly their intention to be enrolled at a new institution.”
This year, the Lions football team played the just-concluded season with “about 20 students” who had enrolled at A&M-Commerce as transfers from other schools, Curry said.
Transfer students must meet certain academic requirements at the school of their choice, Curry said, citing “grade-point average, progress toward earning their degrees, class load, all kinds of things like that. They also have to be in good standing at the school they intend to leave.”
Curry noted also that the transfer portal occasionally gets outsized attention on the basis of several factors. One of those factors involved head football coach Deion Sanders at the University of Colorado, Currie noted, explaining that Sanders brought a lot of transfers with him to Boulder when he was hired as head coach of the Buffaloes. “Situations like that often elevate the transfer portal issue” to the top of news cycles, he said.
Curry acknowledges that the transfer portal can have an “immediate impact” on the school and its athletics department. If a team starts winning, Curry said, “then the attendance at sporting events could go up significantly,” infusing much-needed revenue.
The transfer portal has been tinkered with over the years, Curry noted, explaining the football and basketball student-athletes are “immediately eligible to participate” in their chosen sport once the transfer is accepted. Curry declared that he is “generally happy” with the way the transfer portal is set up, adding that the “previous rules were untenable.”
The transfer portal has its pluses and minuses, Curry acknowledged. The plus side of the program is that it enables student-athletes to continue playing their sport, giving them a chance to enhance their marketability to professional franchises that might draft them. What is the down side?
Curry said that transfer students are less inclined to earn their degrees than student-athletes who have not transferred. “That’s an undeniable fact,” Curry said, lamenting the relatively poor academic performance among transfer students. Part of the lower graduation rate, Curry said, could be a result of “all the academic credits the transfer students might lose when they move from one school to another.”
Curry also acknowledges criticism from those on the outside of the transfer portal program, noting that “It is easy to understand” why some sports fans don’t always feel connected to athletes who transfer from other universities. He said, though, that transfer students are “not interlopers.”
He cited the case of Jermaine Jackson, who transferred to Florida State some years ago from the University of Georgia. “Jermaine built relationships with the university and the community while he attended FSU and those relationships remain intact to this day.”
Jackson now plays in the NFL for the New York Jets, “but he still lives in Tallahassee.”
“You can’t talk about transfer portal without talking about NIL,” Curry said, noting that student-athletes use the NIL to gain materially from the college’s use of their “Name, Image, Likeness.”
He said that “student-athletes often are tempted to transfer from schools that do not devote a lot of assets to NIL programs to schools that are committed to helping students profit from their NIL status.