Portal Parity

Updated: Dec 23, 2019


Graphic by John Cusick with contributions from Logan French

July 5, 2019.


July 11, 2014.


Two individuals decided to move back home on these dates, and for that reason, history will never forget these days. In sports, the decision to leave one city for another is analyzed and critiqued endlessly. Just look at our own sport.


TSR has interviewed two athletes, Noah Affolder and Rachel McArthur, so they could explain why they were transferring to new schools. Both have been psycho-analyzed on message boards by fans and critics alike who are trying to figure out each athletes’ motivation to enroll at a new university.


In the last few years, we have seen an up-tick in big time transfers. Whether it is because runners are following their old coach or simply because they are ready for a change, modern-day athletes are proving to be much more mobile than their predecessors. The culture in which we live thinks the grass is always greener on the other side – perhaps partial responsibility thus lies in our own hands.


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However, I believe the main culprit is the newly founded transfer portal. The NCAA designed this portal to bring the transfer process above ground and give both coaches and athletes more options as well as flexibility in regards to their futures.


Some brief introductory info for those unfamiliar with the transfer portal: it was created this past year to track every student-athlete who had submitted a formal transfer request which can only be seen by NCAA coaches. After requesting a transfer, a student-athlete can indicate whether or not they want to be contacted.


Essentially, the portal makes the transfer process more transparent, as every school has an opportunity to try to recruit athletes who are ready for a new challenge. Thus, the athletes can enter into a “free agency” of sorts.


If an athlete doesn’t want to be contacted, then there is a good chance that they have already found a new home. Those who want to be contacted get a chance to be recruited for a second time, but with a greater understanding of how the college system works. In some cases, they may have more leverage than they did coming out of high school.


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This year is the first that we get to see the effects of a more transparent system that provides student-athletes with more power over their collegiate careers. Like professional athletes - who have seen their influence rise over the past few years - college athletes are trying to maximize their short careers. As the virtue of loyalty becomes less and less valuable (or at least seems to be that way), people want to find the best situation for themselves to improve and win.


Who can blame guys like Noah Affolder or Andrew Jordan, who battled with injuries and inconsistencies while at their former universities, for transferring? What about Jack Rowe who transferred from San Francisco to Washington to likely pursue faster times and a potential national title? While some will bemoan this new era of movement – and those people have my sympathy – it is time for the NCAA to embrace this new age of empowerment.


If you are even a casual NBA fan, then you have heard about the wild free agency period that just took place. Hundreds of players changed teams and the hierarchy of power within the league swung dramatically. Teams who had no prestige in the past have suddenly become the favorites to win the NBA title this year (and for the next few years).


On June 30th at 6:00 pm ET, the floodgates opened as NBA players announced what team they would be playing for next year. Twitter was blown to smithereens after each "Woj bomb", and the NBA continued to grow in popularity as more and more people began to pay closer attention to the offseason rather than the real season.


What the NBA has done – and what no other sports league has yet been able to emulate – is to create intrigue about the fluidity of team's rosters, no matter how concrete it seems.


But with the introduction of the transfer portal, the NCAA has the ability to quickly emulate that same level of mass movement...all thanks to a new level of transparency that we've never seen before.


Who would've thought that the Colorado women could still be in the title conversation this year after losing four All-Americans (including the national champion)? With Rachel McArthur and Emily Venters entering the program, they certainly have a shot to at least contend for a podium spot.


And what about Villanova? It is amazing how quickly a young, promising team with a bright future has simply fallen from the top ranks due to a handful of women (Rachel McArthur, Lauren Ryan, and potentially one other) transferring out of their program.


And Iowa State? Almost immediately after losing superstar Andrew Jordan, they reloaded with two-time All-American Addison DeHaven.


If you're a distance running fan, this may be your favorite time of the year.


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However, what some people may not realize is that the portal is a huge asset for coaches as well - not just athletes. The NCAA prohibits coaches from contacting (read: trying to persuade them to transfer) collegiate athletes if the athlete does not have written approval from their current university. However, it would have been impossible for a coach to know which athletes were given that clearance and who is attempting to transfer prior to the portal (or at least, we weren't aware of how they would know).

Yet, with the introduction of the transfer portal, coaches not only have the ability to contact every athlete that is listed, but they also have the power of an entire database that they can pick and choose from.


In other words, it is far easier for coaches to gain transfers since they now know who is available and who they can contact. The transfer portal levels the playing field, giving other universities who may not be at the top-tier of the NCAA a chance to secure big-time transfers. Just think about Elliot Gindi who recently left Northern Arizona to go to Monmouth or Elissa Mann who is leaving Colorado as a graduate transfer to go to San Francisco.


The level of transparency given to all coaches at all universities may be the most overlooked aspect in all of this.


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Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James changed teams and went back home to play for the Los Angeles Clippers and Cleveland Cavaliers on July 5, 2019 and July 11, 2014, respectively. Both decisions were met with analysis, criticism, and praise. Some of the attention was positive and some very negative, but they did receive plenty of exposure.


To become one of the most popular leagues in the world, the NBA needed people to care about every aspect of the sport, including the offseason.


With the blueprint in hand, the NCAA could quietly follow in the NBA's footsteps...and become even larger than they already are.