Navigating the NCAA Transfer Portal in College Sports

In the past few years, the more lenient NCAA transfer portal has become a hot topic of debate within the world of collegiate sports. While intended to provide student-athletes with greater flexibility and autonomy in their athletic careers, many argue that the current transfer portal process is deeply flawed and fails to put the needs and interests of student-athletes first.

So… the big question I hear right now: Is the NCAA Transfer Portal a bonafide S**tshow? Well for some, it definitely can be. Certainly more discussions on how to navigate it are critical for our young student-athletes that may struggle to find their fit.

Many of us parents of collegiate athletes know that the transfer portal can be a whirlwind of emotions for everyone involved. As a parent with two sons in the portal this year, watching them navigate this process was challenging, confusing and sometimes very stressful for all of us.

Parenting a college athlete is a journey filled with pride and excitement. However, when your child doesn’t get the playing time they hoped for, it can be a source of immense stress and heartache. For many parents, watching their child pursue their passion for sports and earn a spot on a college team is a moment of immense gratitude. However, when that dream doesn’t unfold as expected and their child finds themselves on the sidelines more often than on the field or court, it can feel like a dream deferred. The disappointment and frustration can be palpable, leaving parents grappling with a range of complex emotions.

Recently, one of my clients called me and said, “My coach told me that he doesn’t see a significant role for me on the team, going forward. I don’t know what to do. Should I go into the transfer portal?” Although NCAA Regulations only allow a student-athlete to lose their scholarship based on the following four reasons: a student-athlete’s voluntarily quitting the team, engaging in serious misconduct, providing false information, or suffering from a disabling injury, sometimes coaches push an athlete in that direction. It can be very complicated.

In my mental fitness coaching practice, I recently started seeing clients who were actually the parents of athletes who were transferring. These parents were struggling because the process has become so daunting, and many of them don’t know where to turn.

One of the flaws of the NCAA transfer portal process is the inherent power imbalance between student-athletes and athletic programs. Coaches and athletic departments have significant control over the transfer process, often dictating where student-athletes can transfer, imposing restrictions on potential destinations, and even blocking transfers to certain schools or conferences. This imbalance of power can leave student-athletes (and their parents) feeling powerless and exploited, with little agency over their own athletic careers.

Be. Patient. Don’t. Panic.

One of the most significant issues with the NCAA transfer portal process is the lack of transparency and communication between student-athletes, coaches, and athletic departments. Oftentimes, student-athletes may enter the transfer portal without fully understanding the implications of their decision or the potential consequences for their eligibility and future opportunities. Additionally, the transfer process can be shrouded in secrecy, leaving student-athletes and their families in the dark about their options and rights.

Most importantly, ask questions and reach out for help. You do not need to fly this journey alone. Ask your child’s high school coach, their club coach or high school Athletic Director for guidance. In addition, there are websites online that can provide guidance like:

Entering the transfer portal can take a significant emotional and mental toll on student-athletes, as they navigate the uncertainty, stress, and pressure of the transfer process. The fear of losing playing time, scholarship opportunities, or eligibility can weigh heavily on student-athletes, impacting their well-being and mental health. Additionally, the stigma and judgment surrounding transfers within the collegiate sports community can exacerbate feelings of isolation and anxiety for student-athletes who choose to transfer.

Unfortunately, the NCAA transfer portal process often fails to provide student-athletes with the support, resources, and guidance they need to navigate the transfer process successfully. Many student-athletes are left to navigate the transfer process alone, without access to adequate information, assistance, or advocacy. This lack of support can leave student-athletes vulnerable to exploitation, misinformation, and unfair treatment by coaches, athletic departments, and other stakeholders. I’ve seen it in my practice so many times and I’ve been through it as an athlete, as a coach, as a mental fitness advocate and as a parent of an athlete.

According to Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo, “The transfer portal is here to stay, but it’s creating a situation where it’s harder for kids to fight through adversity. Sometimes leaving is not always the best answer.” A recent article about Coach Izzo suggests that he may be evolving on his approach to using the portal.

With the NCAA transfer rules changing and becoming less strict, we are seeing more and more athletes looking to change programs. With that is a lot of judgement, finger pointing and scrutiny from fans, media, and even fellow athletes for their choice to seek a new opportunity elsewhere..  Everyone must keep in mind that there are many factors that go into these decisions. There does not need to be so much judgement since most people don’t understand all of the circumstances that led an athlete into the portal. I have heard from athletes that were “pushed” into the portal by coaches and parents and also athletes who are looking for more Name-Image_Likeness (NIL) money. It doesn’t matter why an athlete goes into the portal; the important thing is that they find another opportunity to play their sport.

Every athlete has their own unique set of goals, aspirations, and preferences when it comes to their collegiate experience. For some, finding the right fit academically, athletically, and socially is essential for their overall well-being and success. Entering the transfer portal allows athletes to explore different opportunities and find a program that aligns more closely with their values and priorities.

The process is a difficult one and many athletes are not prepared for the intense negotiations, stressful and time-sensitive decision-making, increased pressure to make the “right decision,” facing rejection, etc..It can be a whirlwind of emotions and stress.  Regardless of the circumstances, it’s essential to support your child’s decision and provide a listening ear during this pivotal moment. While it may be difficult to see your son leave his current team and school, it’s important to trust in his judgment and believe in his ability to make the best decision for his future.

Once your son or daughter enters the transfer portal, uncertainty can become constant. As a parent, it’s natural to worry about what the future holds and how the transfer process will unfold. Will he find the right fit? Will he be able to continue pursuing his dreams of playing basketball at the collegiate level? These questions may weigh heavily on your mind, but staying positive and offering encouragement can help alleviate some of the stress during this time of transition.

Throughout the transfer process, your role as a parent is more critical than ever. Whether it’s providing emotional support, helping with logistics, or offering guidance, your unwavering support can make all the difference. Encourage your son or daughter to stay focused on his goals, remain open to new opportunities, and trust in the process. Remind him that setbacks are a natural part of any journey and that resilience and determination will ultimately lead him or her to success.

As your child navigates the transfer portal and ultimately finds a new home, it’s a time for celebration and excitement. Whether he’s transferring to a new school closer to home, seeking a fresh start, or pursuing new opportunities, be there to cheer him on every step of the way. Embrace this new chapter with optimism and enthusiasm, knowing that your son/daughter is embarking on a journey filled with endless possibilities.

NFL Quarterback and former Clemson player Trevor Lawrence said, “I think it’s great that players have more options now with the transfer portal. Sometimes a change of scenery is what’s needed for a player to succeed.”

In conclusion, the decision of athletes to enter the transfer portal should not be met with judgment or criticism, but rather with understanding, empathy, and support. By recognizing the myriad of factors that influence an athlete’s decision to transfer, we can create a culture that values and respects the individual journeys of each athlete, both on and off the field.

After all, in the game of life, we’re all just trying to find our perfect fit.

linda smiling<br />

Written by Linda Martindale

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