Football The Latest

College Football Transfer Market Exploding After Opening of NCAA’s Transfer Portal

Justin Fields

[Editor’s note, this story was Caroline Rice’s senior capstone for the journalism program at Ohio State. It was a semester-long enterprise reporting project, which will become readily apparent once you wade into the depths of the piece. We thought it would be an informative and entertaining read for everyone here.]


The NCAA’s Transfer Portal has become one of the hottest and most controversial topics in all of college football over the last year. Is it good for college football? Is it bad? That depends on who you ask. But like it or not, the football transfer market is exploding after the debut of the portal. This story takes a deep dive into what the NCAA’s transfer portal and transfer waivers really look like, as well as their impact on college football and its stakeholders using real data, statistics, and analysis. This story became my pride and joy over the 18 weeks of producing, beginning from the initial concept that seemed very daunting, to gathering and analyzing college football transfer portal data on my own, to talking to over 10 impactful experts in the industry, and then writing the story. My goal was to provide some clarity to college football fans but also give athletes, coaches, administrators, and other stakeholders a chance to speak on the data surrounding both the transfer portal, and transfer waivers.


COLUMBUS – Linebacker Keandre Jones spent three years at Ohio State — on special teams and as a backup.

Things changed dramatically for Jones when he used the Transfer Portal last year to return to his home state and play for Maryland.

Jones became a 2019 Team Captain, an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten selection, and a Third-Team Phil Steele All-Big Ten player. In tackles for loss, he led Maryland with 15, which ranked 27th in the nation and seventh in the Big Ten. And he led his team in sacks, forced fumbles, and quarterback hits.

“I stuck it out for as long as I could and once I saw I had an opportunity, just like a coach would to get the chance to make the best of my situation and my career, and knowing that I want to play in the league, I can’t get to the league just playing on special teams,” Jones said. “Unfortunately things didn’t work out at Ohio State, but at the end of the day you only have one life to live and you got to take advantage of your opportunities.”

What would his college football career have looked like had he stayed at Ohio State? Nobody knows the answer to that. But Jones wasn’t going to take that chance.

Jones is just one example of an athlete who changed the trajectory of his career using the transfer portal.

A study on the transfer portal conducted by The Ozone has found that the transfer portal has exploded for Division I FBS football student athletes. In just the first three months of 2020, the number of athletes who entered the portal is now nearly equal to what it totaled for all of 2019.

Seventeen players entered the transfer portal from October through December of 2018. There were 1,105 players in all of 2019. Through March of this year, the portal saw 968 names. In just three months, it reached almost what it reached in the entire previous year in all 12 months.

So far, 968 Division I FBS football players in 2020 decided to leave their current schools and put their names out in the portal to be contacted by other schools. As of April 14th, that number reached 999 names.

The Ozone analysis has also found that since the opening of the transfer portal there has been an increase in football transfers when compared to the percentage of football transfers pre-portal and compared to other sports’ transfer rates before the transfer portal.

Despite the popularity that transfer quarterbacks bring to the transfer portal discussion, wide receivers are the most common position to transfer through the portal. Quarterbacks fall behind wideouts and numerous other positions in terms of the positions with the most transfers.

Coaches and professionals in the industry have concerns about the transfer portal and waivers, but student athletes and other stakeholders have very different opinions.

The transfer portal has become the hottest and most controversial topic in college football. Social media has had a large impact on the transfer portal as well as the perceptions of the portal.

What happens in the transfer portal has ripple effects not only on the athletes and their football programs, but it also has negative impacts on high school recruiting and scholarships while benefiting walk-on players searching for scholarships.

The data analysis has also found that a number of athletes withdraw their names from the portal and remain at their institutions. Not all players who enter the transfer portal are transferring.

The growth of the transfer portal has opened up discussions about the NCAA’s Immediate Eligibility Waivers and the larger question that faces the future of college football and where it is headed.

Brandy Hataway, the NCAA academic and membership affairs director, oversees the staff members who process transfer waivers.

“Transfers is something that the membership has wrestled with for decades, I mean this is something that is not a new topic,” Hataway said. “This is something that evokes very strong emotions and feelings and opinions from lots of different stakeholders. So it is something that has always been at the forefront of the conversation.”

Todd Berry, the Executive Director of the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) and a former college football coach, sees concerns with the new transfer tools, the NCAA Transfer Portal and Immediate Eligibility Waivers.

He fears the transfer portal will lead college football back to the problems it had with illegal recruiting violations and scandals, like what happened when Southern Methodist University received the death penalty from the NCAA.

“We’re worried it’s going to go right back down the path that we’ve been down before,” Berry said. “And then Congress is going to step in and go, ‘oh my gosh, what has happened again, this is not what college athletics is about’ and then they’re gonna roll everything back again. Because we’ve already done this. That’s what everybody threw a fit about the ‘80s and ‘90s. We finally got it back to where we felt like it was, we were in a much better situation.”

But for former Ohio State and UNC running back Antonio Williams, the transfer portal provides an opportunity for athletes that fits with the current model of college football.

“If a guy doesn’t feel at home and if something’s going on like in my case, you know, you just jump in there and you got an opportunity to find a new home, but I think it’s good,” Williams said. “I think it is like a free agency, but in the same way you know college football is turned into, you know, it’s still called an amateur sport but it’s not an amateur sport, it’s a professional sport. For guys it’s a full time job.”

On Oct. 15, 2018, the NCAA opened up the Transfer Portal, which has become highly controversial and has drawn the attention of media and fans in all of intercollegiate athletics. Most notably, however, in Division I FBS college football due to the popularity of the transfer portal with the student athletes.

According to the NCAA, the transfer portal emerged as an online interface that was more efficient for compliance officers, simplifying the process and shortening the timeline.

Its benefit to the players is that it doesn’t require players to seek permission from their current program or coach in order to transfer and it allows them to make their decision to transfer known to other schools and put themselves out there to be contacted by other schools.

The challenge for players is that once they submit their name to the transfer portal, their current school can withdraw their scholarship. If they withdraw from the portal, it is up to the discretion of the school to provide scholarship and a place on their roster again.

Before the transfer portal, student athletes had to ask for permission from their coach to be released and contact other schools. The process left open the option for students’ requests to transfer to be denied. Players have heard the horror stories of, and some have even suffered through, the cases where coaches denied requests to transfer to over 30 different institutions.

Susan Peal, the Director of Governance for the NCAA, was an integral part of building the transfer portal itself. The goal was to build infrastructure and a mechanism that provided their institutions with a way to be in compliant with new transfer legislation while simplifying the paperwork that had to be done by compliance offices.

“The portal was really out of a legislative need because the legislation changed from permission to contact to notification to transfer, and so basically what that did, that was to eliminate the institution from what we’ve called blocking of student athletes from speaking to other institutions,” Peal said.

Screen capture provided in the NCAA’s Transfer Portal User Guide that shows the online interface of the portal itself. Before the opening of the portal, the transfer process was done by paperwork.

Justin Kume, the Associate Athletics Director for Compliance at Ohio State University said the transfer portal was designed with the student athlete in mind. For compliance offices, the procedure just changed to increase transparency in the transfer process.

“The Transfer Portal was meant to add transparency to the process and eliminate the permission to contact (PTC) barrier which used to exist. This is exactly what has happened,” Kume said. “Once a student-athlete has notified the institution of their intention to transfer and are added to the Portal, there are no limits to who can see this interest.  Previously, it was possible that only select institutions would receive the PTC letter.”

The portal also provides student-athletes who are not on scholarship with an opportunity to gain a scholarship. Many walk-on players enter their names in the transfer portal with hopes of being contacted by a school with a scholarship offer. Several non-scholarship student-athletes have used the transfer portal to gain athletics aid at their new institution.

Transfer portal records show 1,720 FBS student-athletes entered the portal from October 15, 2018 to July 31, 2019. That was more than one out of every 10 players in the FBS.

But not all student-athletes transferred, around eight percent, or 143 of those student-athletes withdrew their names from the portal and remained at their institution for fall 2019.

It is expected that a lot of these athletes were walk-ons searching for scholarship opportunities.

“I think there’s an assumption to any student athlete that entered the portal means they’re going to transfer,” Peal said. “No, they’re entering the portal to explore transferring but many of those decide not to actually make that transfer.”

A significant number of names that were in the transfer portal at that time were either stuck in the transfer portal or it was unknown where they went. Of all players in the portal at that time, 44 percent were still active in the transfer portal and it is unknown if they enrolled in a two-year or non-NCAA institution.

But even though some players are stuck in the transfer portal, a much higher percent went through with a transfer to another institution. Nearly 50 percent of those student-athletes transferred and attended new institutions for the fall of 2020.

Before the opening of the transfer portal in 2018, of the 11,792 FBS football student athletes in all divisions, only 4.1 percent transferred from four year institutions to other four year institutions according to data from the NCAA.

At this time, football was one of the sports that had the fewest transfers. Most other sports had transfer rates that reached 20 percent.

But since the transfer portal opened, the football transfer market exploded.

Concerns

The growth of the transfer portal and the number of high-profile transfers in college football is concerning to college football fans, coaches, and other stakeholders. Players that were once the top players and highest recruited players in their recruiting classes are finding new homes.

Three of the 2019 Heisman Trophy Finalists, Joe Burrow, Justin Fields, and Jalen Hurts, were transfer quarterbacks. It appears that every day in the news another player has entered their name in the transfer portal and is searching to play elsewhere.

In 2019, 23 players transferred from the University of Arkansas. So far in 2020, 20 players from the University of Connecticut have entered their names in the transfer portal according to data collected by The Ozone. Clearly, it’s not just a few players here and there. Programs are losing and gaining players left and right from the transfer portal.

Quarterbacks have received most of the criticism from college football fans and the media for transferring. Some of the biggest names, highest recruited players, and most high-profile players in college football are transfer players.

Ohio State has seen its fair share of quarterback transfers. Though it’s not the only institution to experience quarterback swaps, the transfer portal drastically changed Ohio State’s quarterback room.

In May of 2018, Joe Burrow left Ohio State to play at LSU as a graduate transfer. In January of 2019, Justin Fields transferred from Georgia to Ohio State. That same month, Tate Martell left Ohio State and transferred to Miami and walk-on quarterback Kory Curtis transferred to Bryant University. In April, Matthew Baldwin announced his intentions to transfer from Ohio State. Later that month, Kentucky quarterback Gunnar Hoak entered the transfer portal and transferred to Ohio State.

But this trend reached all of college football. In the 2019 season, a number of high-profile starting quarterbacks had transferred from previous institutions including Kelly Bryant, Jalen Hurts, Alex Hornibrook, Shea Patterson, and others.

Jamie Wood, former Ohio State football player and Assistant Director of Compliance thinks that when athletes see the big-name players transfer and the notoriety they get, others get inspired to make that change for themselves.

“That may contribute to a rise in numbers because other kids are seeing it work, especially in the quarterback position” Wood said.

A total of 124 quarterbacks transferred in 2019. So far in 2020, 100 names are in the transfer portal. To the players, it only makes sense that there is attention brought when a quarterback decides to transfer.

“You know quarterbacks are kind of the leaders and when you have a leader leave, even a guy that’s contributed a lot to the offense, that’s kind of a bigger deal than someone who just barely touches the ball,” Williams said.

The position that has had the greatest amount of transfers in the portal comes from a position that has multiple players on the field, and possibly someone who barely touches the ball. Wide receivers have been 360 of the 2,124 transfers in the portal, which is 17 percent of all transfers.

For all transfers since the portal has opened, quarterbacks sit behind wide receivers, defensive linemen, linebackers, and cornerbacks.

In these positions, numerous players are on the field at the same time, increasing a players’ chance of playing. But it also means that players could get lost in the depth chart and could not see the field as much as they expected.

To some, these transfer numbers mean that we are experiencing a transfer epidemic that is changing college football as we know it.

Berry shared stories of former players of his who transferred for the wrong reasons and spoke of their regret in making irrational decisions based on temporary issues they were dealing with.

“I think that every student athlete in football because of the shock of going to college, and then the shock of playing that the level that you’re playing that, I think everyone wants to transfer,” Berry said. “I mean it’s just there’s so much that goes on, you’re homesick, you’re in a very, very competitive environment. You were at one point in time a dominant athlete. Now all of a sudden, you’re just another individual, and the level of, the amount of energy and study and all those kinds of things that go into being a player, I think everyone starts to kind of question that.”

This concern, along with the transfer portal, makes it easier for an athlete to transfer when they are in difficult situations, which could potentially be a huge problem for college football if players were able to transfer after one instance or after they feel unhappy at one point in time.

Coaches are afraid that if they upset a player, they will be flocking to the transfer portal the second that they can.

“I know that some of our coaches are frustrated right now because they can’t really discipline their players,” Berry said. “Because the moment that they discipline their players, they’re afraid that they’re going to want to transfer someplace else. So when I say this, I’m not talking about going out, running them all over the place. I’m just talking about sitting down and getting onto a young man.”

He actually fears that there will be a mass exodus in college football with coaches who are fearful about the direction of college football.

“They think they have an opportunity to impact those young people’s lives kind of like they were impacted whenever they were in college by their coaches. They’re wanting to have that same opportunity,” Berry said. “But if all of a sudden, this whole thing changes, then you might as well go to professional football or go back to high school. I get calls every night saying I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to do this because this is not college athletics anymore.”

Berry also pointed out that escaping to the transfer portal is unfair to the student-athletes who came to a program wanting to build a team. That team building aspect of football is being destroyed.

“There’s just no negative impacts for a student-athlete to put their name in a portal,” Berry said. “A lot of this is that we always get so caught up in the one individual. What about the rest of the young people that are on in that program? On that campus, trying to do the right thing they came for the right reasons because they wanted to get an education. And all of a sudden, they just lost their top three quarterbacks. And how fair is that to them in relation to all of this too? It’s a team sport.”

Neither the fans, nor the media have access to the transfer portal and it is only accessed by coaches and university administrators. However, members of the sports media have still accessed the portal and released the names of high-profile athletes when they enter the portal. This news, of a player entering his name in the transfer portal, has become breaking news.

“I think there’s the infatuation of now the transparency of it,” Peal said. “Obviously, social media has exploded with this over the years and now you see a student athlete who will post on social media that they’re entered in the transfer portal. Whereas, like I said before you didn’t see someone just post ‘I’ve received permission to contact from my, you know, from institutions.’ Maybe it just wasn’t sexy to do that, I don’t know. It’s just the, the visibility of it all and people for some reason are just infatuated by the whole transfer process, whereas I don’t know if they really paid attention to it before.”

Berry thinks that all of a sudden, the transfer portal is just the cool thing to do where young people can announce they are transferring on social media and get attention.

Former Ohio State running back Antonio Williams announces he is transferring to the University of North Carolina. Williams transferred before the transfer portal was created and had to ask permission to be released from Ohio State.

“There is this thought that basically, if I enter the portal, and I’m going to get recruited by everybody, I’m going to get to take five more visits to where they wine and dine me, and they do all these other kinds of things and you’ll be in a better position and so I think there’s some attractiveness to it,” Berry said. “The universities have very little to fight back with, you can have your whole team enter in the transfer portal and that makes you upset as a coach or as a university, but the reality of it is they can do it.”

Berry assures that coaches are not against transfers. They support graduate transfers for those who have already achieved the goal of being a college graduate. His data shows that transferring as an undergraduate lessens the student-athletes’ chances for graduation.

“If you want to transfer, we’re not against that at all. So you know, this idea that we’re against transfers, we’re not,” Berry said. “Even that creates some free agency. We just think that this is about a bigger mission in relation to they should be students athletes, they should be college students, they should be graduating from college.”

Recruiting

Another concern with the transfer portal is that it allows coaches and their staff to recruit off of each other’s rosters. Coaches are constantly monitoring the transfer portal and are pulling more and more transfer players for their rosters.

“It’s always a much more sane decision to instead of risking a high school player and all the things that kind of go along with that, that growing up process,” Berry said. “If I need a player, it’s much easier to go find one at another place that I already know is a good player. They’ve already proved it in college.”

As an impact of this recruiting, the demographic that is actually hurt by the transfer portal is the high school senior class being recruited for scholarships.

Eron Hodges, the Director of Player Personnel at Purdue University, explains that in his role he saves scholarships for transfer players.

NCAA Division I FBS programs are given a set limit of 85 scholarships. Hodges explains that they have 25 scholarships to use in a class, but due to the transfer portal he is saving about three scholarships for transfers.

“If you are thinking about 132 FBS programs in the country,” Hodges said. “If each school, say, took away five scholarships to say, ‘hey we’re gonna use this for the grad transfer market or the transfer portal in general.’ Now, you know, if you say 132 times five, you’re looking at a little over 500 spots. They are scholarships that should be allocated towards High School players but instead they are being saved for the transfer market.”

Purdue is not the only program that is doing that. In fact, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day has said in press conferences that they have staff watching the transfer portal all of the time.

Hodges said that if he had it his way, he would hire one person whose sole job is to monitor and recruit from the transfer portal. He also explained that in his role, the transfer portal makes college football more like the free agency in the NFL.

“I think the issue is that you turn college football into another step closer to the NFL, where you make it almost like a pro personnel,” Hodges said. “So you got player personnel and you got pro personnel and so the pro personnel look at other teams’ rosters for who potentially are free agents, which is what we’ve turned into right now, a free agency.”

Player Support

To some student-athletes, college football is now the free agency, and that is okay. Players transfer for a number of different reasons, varying from coaching changes, family injury or illness, mental health, financial hardship, egregious behavior, and other reasons.

There is a perception that the transfer portal is for players who are upset about their lack of playing time or lost the starting job at their position. But that is not always the case.

“The transfer portal is definitely, definitely controversial and these conversations need to be had,” Jones said.

Either way, the student-athletes rave about the benefits of the transfer portal. For one thing, they have much more control over their college careers.

In the case of Jones, things happened outside of his control that led him to seek out other opportunities. But also, he had two different coaches in his time at Ohio State and spent most of his time on the field playing special teams. To an athlete who has dreams of playing in the NFL, he knew the best thing for him to do was to transfer and play elsewhere, though it was never something he intended to do once committing to Ohio State.

Some would argue that he should have stuck it out and fought through another year of adversity, but if he had a better opportunity, why would he take that chance?

“Now it’s in the players’ control, kind of like in our hands,” Jones said. “I do believe if a player just wants to transfer because they’re not getting playing time and are having a hard time with that, I do feel like they should stick it out at their current school. But I definitely think there’s a lot of benefits from wanting to take advantage of the opportunities, and not getting those opportunities at their current school because of a coach leaving, and a coach will promise you all these things get there, you know you’re stuck. And if the coach can get up and leave. Obviously, why doesn’t the player have the same rights?”

To Jones, it’s not about the perception that others have of the transfer, but it’s about making the best decision for each student-athlete. Sometimes things change from that time of signing the national letter of intent to actually participating in the program.

“It comes down to the athletes needs and wants and what they want to do to their career, and they know they only got three years, four years of college and you want to make sure you’re making the right decision sometimes at a young age, 18 years 17 years old. You’re not really sure picking the college, because with that college, coaches change, the program changes,” Jones said. “You never know. So you want to make sure you make the best decisions for you at the end of the day.”

Williams transferred to the University of North Carolina in the summer of 2018, a few months before the opening of the transfer portal. In order to transfer, Williams had to request a release from coach Urban Meyer, the head coach at Ohio State at the time.

During this time, Williams was experiencing family issues and health issues with both of his parents and his grandparents back in North Carolina. He stuck it out as long as he could at Ohio State, but ultimately knew that he needed to be close to his family. Williams was able to play immediately due to the immediate eligibility, or hardship waiver.

“I’m lucky that Coach Meyer gave me that release form because some coaches – some coaches aren’t that giving,” Williams said. “But with the portal, you know you don’t gotta go through all that.”

The issue for him, like Jones, was that before the transfer portal, coaches had a lot of control over their playing careers. The portal gives the players the power and the ability to make the decisions for themselves.

“That just gave the coaches a lot of power,” Williams said. “And I think the reason coaches don’t like this as much is because they don’t have as much power when it comes to determining a guy’s future. But at the end of the day it’s that guy’s future, whatever that guy needs to do, that’s what he’s got to do.”

Ohio State Director of Athletics, Gene Smith, is in full support of the transfer portal and has been a very progressive voice in these changes. Smith is a co-chair on the NCAA Board of Governors Federal and State Legislation Working Group, the group that looks at name image and likeness support for student-athletes.

His support for the transfer portal is built around the premise that a student athlete who has encountered significant personal challenges has a way to address that by transferring, whether it’s a health issue with a family, egregious behaviors in the environment they are in, financial, or other reasons.

He looks at the case of Justin Fields as a clear example of what the transfer portal was meant for.

“The issue with the transfer portal is that people always look at the student athlete, and at some point, the program has to look inward and look into what they are doing or not doing to avoid transfers,” Smith said.

Smith also discussed that programs have to be true to what they commit to in the recruiting process and create an environment of support and well-being so that the athlete does not want to leave.

A lot of supporters of the transfer portal believe that student-athletes are made promises when they are being recruited and once they arrive on campus, those promises aren’t kept.

Arkansas-based attorney Tom Mars advocates on the players’ behalf in NCAA immediate eligibility waiver cases once a player transfers. A number of the biggest names in college football have secured these waivers and have been able to play immediately after transferring because of Mars, including Fields.

“When kids are being recruited, you know as well as I do that all kinds of statements of promises are made to them and then things don’t match up with what happens later,” Mars said.

When promises aren’t kept, situations change, or athletes are being treated poorly, the transfer portal gives them the opportunity to remove themselves from those situations.

“The situation in Georgia, you know you’ve got, Kirby Smart ends up with two outstanding quarterbacks,” Mars said. “I mean is that Justin Fields’ fault?”

But the idea that players should ‘stick it out’ can coexist with support of the transfer portal. Student-athletes agree that they shouldn’t just flock to the transfer portal when things get tough or they aren’t playing, but it should be used as a last resort.

A number of successful football players emerged later in their playing careers after development and fighting through adversity. The transfer portal doesn’t take away from that.

Some players do transfer due to a lack of playing time, and that’s okay too. But Williams doesn’t think that’s necessarily what the portal was meant for.

“I feel like a lot of guys bail out early from things I’ve seen,” Williams said. “And honestly, as a player that stuck it out for two years and tried to fight for whatever I could get. I don’t I don’t think that’s a good thing to do. Everything’s not given immediately, you know a lot of guys come into college and they’re not stars right off the bat. So, some guys expect that and I don’t think that’s realistic.”

College football is and has always been about the student-athletes. Stakeholders assure that decisions are always being made to benefit the players. But players hear that and ask why people are so offended when players make the decisions to do what they feel is best for themselves and their careers and use the transfer portal. Is that really promoting what is best for the student-athletes?

Like it or not, a number of players have benefited from this new transfer reality. The transfer portal numbers and waivers reflect the realities of the modern college football era.

Waivers

The transfer portal and the vast numbers of football transfers has brought a lot of attention to immediate eligibility waivers. These waivers allow a transfer student athlete to request to be able to play immediately, instead of having to sit out for a year at their new institution if they transfer.

But to many who take issue with the transfer portal, the waivers are the even bigger issue. People think this provides the student athletes with an easy way out.

“I think the waiver process was certainly a much more difficult thing because, again, if you had, as a student-athlete, good representation and you knew exactly what to say there was a good chance that you were going to get a waiver,” Berry said.

Waivers have become the most controversial topic in all of college football. Even when players transfer, the majority of them have to sit out a year. But with these waivers, it is a much easier process for the players to transfer to their new institution and play immediately.

Data from the NCAA on FBS waivers shows that there were 56 requests for waivers in the 2018-19 academic year. Of those, 41 waivers were approved. Nearly three out of every four waivers was approved.

So far in the 2019-20 academic year, there have been 97 requests for waivers, a higher number than the previous academic year. Of those requests, 59 have been granted. Over 60 percent of requests from players to be able to play immediately were approved by the NCAA.

“We’ve seen waiver numbers go up dramatically over the last couple of years, currently for 2019-20 academic year we have seen a 154% increase from 299 waivers in 2018-19 to 462 so far this academic year,” Hataway said. “So that’s a significant increase for us.”

Hataway thinks the transfer portal and the ability of athletes to have a bit more control and ownership has an effect on this growth, but also social media and the awareness of what is going on in the transfer environment adds to it.

In April of 2019, the NCAA’s Division I Council proposed legislation that would allow for a one-time transfer without penalty for all sports, including football, which previously was one of the five sports that required a transfer student-athlete to sit out a year.

Previously, players who wanted to transfer would have to sit out a year due to the NCAA’s academic year-in-residence rule dating back to 1951. The only exceptions were for graduate transfers, or those who were granted the immediate eligibility waivers due to extenuating circumstances.

According to Hataway, this new legislation would basically be an automatic, one-time waiver. The old process of the subjective evaluation of cases would likely remain for transfers after the initial first transfer.

“I think there are definitely people who are of the opinion that we will see more transfers as a result,” Hataway said. “I don’t think it’s inaccurate and I think we would see some, but I think at the end of the day there’s only so many spots. Right, there’s only so many scholarships there’s like so many teams, because there’s gonna come a point where it would kind of level out, you’re not going to have every single player transferring every year.”

Like the transfer portal, the issue of transfer waivers evokes strong emotions, both ways.

This change and the growth of securing immediate eligibility waivers is even more concerning to college football coaches and stakeholders than the actual use of the transfer portal itself.

If a player wants to transfer through the transfer portal then he takes the penalty for it and has to sit out a year. But if he is approved for a waiver, there is no penalty for the student-athlete.

“You’re going to end up with the one-time transfer, the name image and likeness, basically to where there’s semi-pro athletes,” Berry said. “They can go anywhere they want to and it’s going to be money driven and I don’t know that, that’s what college athletics was founded for, I don’t know if that’s what it’s about.”

But to others, this is the new normal for college football. The old rule doesn’t make sense with the times. For Mars, the year-in-residence rule that requires athletes to sit out a year after transferring simply doesn’t make sense.

“That rationale is just ridiculously absurd because first of all, if we needed students to acclimate, there would be no freshmen student athletes, right. Secondly, even more absurd. the student athlete who transfers and doesn’t get a waiver, still has to participate in every activity as a member of the football team, training, workouts,” Mars said.

Mars works closely with the athletes and has helped them through some of their toughest times. He sees the critics on social media who attack players for transferring, when they really don’t have a clue what is going on that is causing them to transfer.

“There’s a category of these cases, fortunately not a large category, but a significant percentage of these cases where I’m telling you these kids have been lied to and mistreated,” Mars said. “So, there’s all kinds of situations that I see these people on Twitter crucifying someone because he’s transferred, they have no idea what the coaching staff did to that kid.”

For Mars, changing this rule and moving forward with the one-time transfer rule is just what makes sense for the student-athletes.

“Why would you continue a rule that doesn’t have any legitimate rationale for it and has been propped up by a fake rationale this whole time. People know it now,” Mars said. “It really was fake. Everybody knowing that you’re treating these people different than these student athletes in sports, the money making sports for treating these student athletes and only these student athletes differently from everybody else.”

It is unknown what the future of college football will look like. Changes are happening, the transfer portal keeps growing, waivers are becoming more popular, and nobody really knows what things will look like in years to come.

Is this good for college football? Bad for college football? We will just have to wait and see.

But for Mars, the rationale is pretty simple.

“Justin [Fields] has become the best example because he’s a high profile guy, I mean, for God sakes, he was a Heisman Finalist,” Mars said. “If he stayed at Georgia, he wouldn’t have been able to play. Why would anybody think that making him sit out a year would have been better for him? For College Football? Doesn’t make any sense to me.”


Nerd Box:

Transfer portal data for this story was taken from 247 Sports, 2018, 2019, and 2020 College Football Transfer Portal web pages. These pages are updated and managed by the 247 Sports staff. This data was provided by 247 Sports and scraped into an Excel spreadsheet. Data was organized in separate sheets per year and was organized by position, taking the same format as the web pages. The data was analyzed using Excel functions. 

The 2020 counts were updated throughout the reporting process by manually going through the web page and adding any new players to the Excel spreadsheet. 

All other data included in the story was provided directly by the NCAA research team or was published on NCAA resources on their website.  

Below are the 247 Sports web pages:

https://247sports.com/Season/2018-Football/TransferPortal/

https://247sports.com/season/2019-football/transferportal/

https://247sports.com/Season/2020-Football/TransferPortal/

5 Responses

  1. This is edging closer to a minor league for professional sports rather than education. Football is a money maker, and the comments above indicate that it is all about winning while leaving the student portion of student/athlete out of the picture. While the transfer portal is a good idea, it remains a mechanism for minor league training for the major league games. There has to be less free rein given to unsatisfied customers who make a life decision when young, influenced by bells and whistles rather than reality. The big factories which offer hundred of students then take it away when a better option appears deserve to be penalized since their offer is based on nothing more than numbers. Once the offer is made it should remain a firm offer if accepted rather than a holding place until the next better ioption comes along.

  2. Great research – well done!

    Maybe it’s all confidential information, but do you have any idea why some waivers were granted and some denied? It seems totally arbitrary to me. Is it just which attorney you hire?

    Thanks.

    1. Hi there! From what the NCAA told me, they never speak on individual cases and are never going to do that, which can make it hard for the public to understand the rationale. But I was told that they are all evaluated on a case-by-case basis and they look at the waivers based on the situation so for example, if the athlete/attorney cites ‘no participation opportunity,’ that case will not be compared to an injury/illness case because they are so different. It’s difficult for the public to put them in those buckets like the NCAA does, where most people just compare per athlete. I was also told that they don’t shoot for a certain percentage of approved/denied, so if all of the requests that came in met the guidelines, they would all be approved and vice versa. I hope this helps!

  3. I can’t even begin to describe what a huge mistake this is. 4 and 5 star kids who don’t start when they think they should will be leaving in droves. How can a school who recruits well in hopes of winning their league or a playoff berth ever count on top talent hanging around? CFB will soon look like Kentucky basketball.

    1. I totally agree..the portal needs to be reined in and stricter guidelines..too much of a free for all ..not good for college athletics

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *