It’s fairly rare that I open up on this blog about my love of college athletics, but there is something going on in college sports that has such a great parallel to our world of work. It’s called the Transfer Portal.
If you aren’t familiar with the NCAA Transfer Portal, it’s basically a site set up that aids a college athlete wanting to move from their current school to another school. For all intents and purposes, it has added free agency to college athletics.
Previously, when college athletes signed with a school and wanted to transfer, they had to get releases and sit out an entire year, wasting a year of eligibility, so it wasn’t done very often. Basically, the colleges sort of owned the college athlete and the college and coaches had all the power. The transfer portal and new rules have flipped the script on this idea completely and the athletes now really have the power.
Across all divisions of the NCAA, there are thousands of student-athletes who entered the portal looking to transfer to another school where they believe the opportunity will be better. Some will elect to stay at their original school, some will transfer and find more success, some will transfer and find less success.
The reality is we are asking 17 and 18-year-old kids to make a giant decision and they are heavily recruited and promises are made, and when it all comes out in the wash, many times the athlete determines they made a wrong decision. You also have kids who had a dream of attending a certain school but didn’t get offered, they have success at the school that would take them, and now they are in a position to reach that dream.
The question is, how should college coaches treat those who are looking to transfer?
If you read this blog, you know I’m a huge fan of re-recruiting and save strategies. I think if you believe in someone and made a commitment to them, we owe it to them to try and keep them. “We didn’t offer you a scholarship thinking you would be awful. We believe you’ll be great and we believe this is the place you’ll be great!”
For all the focus college coaches put on getting talent from the transfer portal, I believe they should be putting as much focus, if not more, on ensuring their own team doesn’t enter the portal. We have yet to really hear much about how college coaching staffs have had to change their strategy around high-level recruits and younger players who didn’t get the playing time they believe they should get, and how they are working to keep those individuals engaged and believing their school is still the school for them.
The conversations seem one-sided right now, but I believe we’ll start to see retention strategies similar to what we see from employers. These colleges invest a ton of time and resources to get high school athletes to sign and every one that leaves is a wasted opportunity. I would think you will start to see more one-on-one development happening where these coaching staffs are bringing in each player, those who are close to them and building a plan of development and success. “Let us show you how we are going to get you to your desired goals…”
We already see universities using NIL agreements/strategies to incent college athletes to come and to stay, so compensation is a part of this strategy as well, just like employers using retention bonuses and promotions. The question is always going to be for college coaching staff how much is too much? How much do we need to do for a third-string linebacker? What about a backup quarterback? You see a value chain growing across each sport and each position.
I foresee a time in the near future where every college athletic department, and some teams specifically, will have departments where their entire job is about athlete retention. Some individuals on athletic staff’ currently have this responsibility, but it’s not enough. When in any given year you can see 10-25% of your athletes leaving, it’s too much investment not to more effort into trying to save them.