NCAA Transfer Portal: How it Works and How it’s Changing the Game

nca-transferportal-winners-losers-ohio-state-michigan.jpgNew York Post

Justin Fields.

Jalen Hurts.

Kelly Bryant.

Brandon Wimbush.

These players have a lot in common- They’re all quarterbacks, they all have been making some highlight reel plays in the first 2 weeks of college football, and most importantly, they all transferred within the past two years from high prestige programs like Clemson, Georgia, Alabama, and Notre Dame to be able to get playing time elsewhere. This frequency of transfers is a relatively recent development in the college football world, but it is something that I believe has already changed the game for good, and something to keep an eye on for the next couple seasons.

How it started

These new transfer rules are extremely new, as the NCAA only updated the rules in 2018. Before the rule changes, any athlete that wanted to transfer had to sit out the following season at their new school. In 2018, the NCAA introduced the “Transfer Portal,” which works kind of like a trading block does in professional sports.

How it works

If an athlete decides to transfer, they can enter their name into this “portal,” which means coaches from other schools are allowed to contact them about playing for their school. It’s basically like they go through the recruiting process again.

(this portal can be followed online here)

If the athlete doesn’t find the opportunity they want out of this portal, they are allowed to withdraw from the portal and return to their previous school.

But probably the biggest change the NCAA made is that now, athletes do not necessarily have to sit out the year after transferring. They are now allowed to, after transferring, apply for a waiver that will give them “immediate eligibility.” This means that, for instance, a player can decide to transfer after the college football season ends in January, and still be allowed to play in the next season starting in August.


For example: Let’s say I am the starting QB at UCLA. I have a good sophomore year, but the #1 QB in the nation commits to UCLA to play starting the next season. I don’t think I’ll be able to beat him out for the starting job, so in January, I go to the UCLA compliance office and enter my name into the transfer portal. A number of coaches who are looking for a QB contact me, and I decide to settle on Louisville, as their starting QB just graduated and they don’t have a great option for the next year. Once I submit the paperwork and complete the transfer, I apply for a waiver to be able to play the following season, and if the NCAA approves it, I’ll be suiting up for game 1.

How do the waivers work?

This is the most unclear part of the whole process. It’s a case by case issue on how the NCAA decides to give these waivers, and so far, they seem to have been very lenient on giving them out. The waiver rule was more put in place for cases like, if a head coach gets fired and players want to transfer out, or special situations like that. But as we saw this past year, there are plenty of players who are transferring out just to have a better or new opportunity. A few of them:

Justin Fields- Fields was the number 1 QB in his class coming into Georgia, but he was unable after 2 years to win the starting job over Jake Fromm, who will likely be an NFL draft pick in 2020. He decided to transfer knowing Fromm would be back for another year and he wouldn’t be getting much playing time.

Brandon Wimbush- A series of inconsistent performances as the Notre Dame starter saw QB Ian Book take the job over for him, and Book did not look back as he created distance between himself and Wimbush before the end of the season, leading Wimbush to transfer.

Jalen Hurts- Hurts had probably the most notable transfer process, as he led his Alabama team to the National Championship in the 2017-18 season, before he was benched for freshman QB Tua Tagovailoa at halftime of the game. Tua led the team to a comeback victory, and the following season, was named the starter. After backing up Tua and playing a lot of second-halves of blowout games, Jalen Hurts came in for him in the SEC Championship game and helped lead Alabama to a win over Georgia. After the season, Hurts graduated from Alabama (which meant he would not have to sit out a season either way) and entered his name into the transfer portal.

Tate Martell- Martell had to sit behind J.T. Barrett and Dwayne Haskins, one of which holds multiple Ohio State and Big Ten all-time quarterback records, and the other whom was drafted in the first round of this year’s NFL draft following one season of starting at OSU. So, coming into his junior year, Martell likely assumed the job was his finally. But, because of the transfer into the program by Justin Fields, it became an open competition this summer. Martell wasn’t exactly confident he would win this competition, so he entered his name in as well (eventually ending up at the University of Miami, where he didn’t win the starting job and has since changed position to Wide Receiver).

Going Forward

Because of all these different reasons for players getting the waiver to be eligible right away, the transfer portal is becoming a little like college free agency. I think this might lead to the NCAA changing the rules to clearly define the ways you can and can’t get a waiver to play. However, in the meantime, it is changing the way college recruiting is done. Where before, replacing graduates or draft picks had to be done from recruits or backups, now transfers are another way to replace or upgrade players. It’s a rule change with positive and negatives, and it will be interesting to see how it develops in the future.


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