Should NCAA Coaches Try and Save Athletes Who Enter the Transfer Portal?

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.

5 thoughts on “Should NCAA Coaches Try and Save Athletes Who Enter the Transfer Portal?

  1. All but one starter used the portal to leave the Minnesota Gopher’s men’s college basketball team last year after Rick Pitino was fired. Today, Gophers have 7 scholarshiped players available for most games. Seven.

    We are entering a new era in college athletics.

  2. Really interesting, and apropos. I’ll keep off my rant on how terrible the NIL is, but when you consider why athletes leave it is exactly the same (maybe other than ‘this has better work/life balance’) as employees:
    -I have a better chance to grow in my new location.
    -It’s a bigger/better company.
    -It’s a smaller company but I’ll be provided more responsibility.
    -REPUTATION.
    -This is a logical next step in my final career goal.
    -The new place appears to fit my skill set better.

    I’m not sure how you convince athletes to stay. I’m not sure why anyone would transfer to Apple, uh, I mean Alabama because unless you are a starter the chance of you beating out the whole nation in talent in that position is very slim.

    Geaux Tigers! Geaux Joe Burreaux!

  3. Interesting topic. I recently had this conversation with my husband. I told him that with the transfer portal, teams need to determine their HiPo members and do what they can to retain them. Maybe Joe wasn’t able to start as a freshman, like he thought he would, but the coaching staff need to explain to Joe that he needs to commit and exceed expectations in practice and scrimmages in order to become a starter. Just moving to become a starter doesn’t teach Joe responsibility and accountability. It teaches him that if things aren’t going his way, he can just leave and go elsewhere. This trickles down to post grad employment. If Joe doesn’t get the raise or promotion he expected, is he just going to enter the job market (transfer portal for employees)?

    Now, I will say, Joe Burrows entered the Transfer Portal and was picked up by LSU. He was fourth in line for the QB position at The Ohio State University and did not see an opportunity for him to play. He won a National Championship and is now going to the Super Bowl (Who Dey!!). That was a good decision to transfer. But there was a reason, he talked with the coaching staff, and together decided it was best for him to find another team. However, I think this is the exception to the rule.

  4. The ole college transfer portal. I too am a big fan of college sports. Love this topic. Reading this from you, my mind drifted a different direction… the transfer portal is just a big CRM for college athletes.
    Yes, the incumbent school gets the notice to do something to retain their student athlete but what about the other side?
    Are football teams going to start putting eyes on the portal looking for players with the same level of effort they put into their high school recruiting tours?
    Even more – how long, before we see a school “posting a position”? Maybe they need an outside linebacker because Billy tore his ACL in the offseason… do they reach a stage where they put it out there like a job posting to see if anyone wants to jump ship and come to them?
    I can already start chuckling at what the basic requirements of a job posting would look like
    Must run sub 4.6 40
    Like hitting people
    Proven history of reading offensive schemes and identifying RPO plays

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