In the previous portal cycle 20% of FBS players tossed their names in the portal and sought new homes and new fortunes. That’s a fifth of college rosters. Now sure, Colorado dumped 71 names in as the new coach sought to build himself a merch store, I mean new team; but that is crazy to think about. And while this year’s transfer/recruiting cycle is just getting started, its already seen 1500 players raise their hands as seeking new opportunities. What is striking is who is entering the portal. Not just depth chart players hoping to find the field at a new school. With the coaching carousel in full swing, NIL dollars seemingly growing on trees in front of athletic departments, and even conference realignment triggering moves, top talent is jumping ship, even from top programs, to find a new home.
It may be a silly thing, but I’m about to get loud about it.
Change, Now Change Again
In recent years, the college football landscape has witnessed a significant shift in the dynamics of the transfer portal. Initially designed as a platform for younger players seeking more playing time, the transfer portal has transformed into a tool for established starters aiming to join winning programs, capitalize on Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) opportunities, and gain better exposure for their athletic careers. This evolution underscores the changing priorities of student-athletes and the broader impact of recent developments in collegiate sports.
The Traditional Transfer Portal Narrative:
Traditionally, the transfer portal served as a lifeline for young and aspiring players who found themselves buried in the depth chart, seeking opportunities to showcase their talents on the field. The primary motivation for transferring was often the pursuit of more playing time and a chance to prove oneself at a higher level of competition. Coaches and players alike saw the portal to discover untapped potential and reshape the trajectory of their careers. Occasionally, players would seek a new squad as a result of coaching changes; either to follow a beloved coach or jump ship ahead of a new regime.
Shifting Priorities: Winning Programs and Championships
This year more than ever, the transfer portal has become a tool for established starters and impact players to make strategic moves to enhance their chances of winning championships. Top-tier programs have seen an influx of experienced talent as players look beyond individual playing time, prioritizing team success and the pursuit of titles. This shift has led to a more competitive landscape, with perennial contenders leveraging the portal to strengthen their rosters and maintain a competitive edge. Though, some of those contenders are also seeing their starters leave. Ohio State had one loss and still managed to have its starting signal caller show up in the portal. Starters across the country are looking for new teams. Oregon picked up a 2-year starter from Oklahoma in Dillon Gabriel (who was already a 2-year starter at UCF with an injury shortened 3rd season) even though the Sooners were likely a win away from a shot at a playoff berth.
Show Me the Money!
It is no doubt that NIL has been a game-changer for college athletes, creating new avenues for financial opportunities. Unlike the briefcases full of cash, free cars, and other perks that got wins vacated and trophies taken away, the
bribes opportunities are now advertised on social media and boasted on recruiting visits. Players now view the transfer portal as a pathway to programs with strong marketing opportunities, sponsorship deals, and a supportive community that can help maximize their earning potential. The ability to capitalize on NIL endorsements has become a significant factor in a player’s decision-making process, prompting them to seek programs that offer the best combination of on-field success and off-field earning potential. Sometimes it’s not just about the school, but the market. USC has capitalized on the fertile NIL grounds of Los Angeles to attract top talent away from other schools.
Where’d You Play College Ball?
In an era where social media and digital platforms play a crucial role in shaping an athlete’s brand, the transfer portal has become a tool for players seeking enhanced exposure. Joining programs with a robust media presence, large fan bases, and high-profile matchups can elevate a player’s visibility and marketability. As athletes become more conscious of their personal brand, the transfer portal has evolved into a strategic vehicle for career advancement beyond the confines of the football field. Schools aren’t the only ones that want their games aired nationally in prime time. As the Pac-12 imploded, there are likely a lot of players at Washington State and Oregon State hitting the portal to avoid playing a Group of Five schedule for the rest of their college careers. Beaver quarterback DJ Uiagalelei is hunting for his 3rd school in as many years after losing his coach and conference in the same year.
Revolving Door Recruiting
The emergence and evolution of the college football transfer portal has significantly influenced the landscape of high school recruiting. As student-athletes witness established players navigating the portal to seek better opportunities, the traditional approach to recruiting has experienced a notable shift. High school recruits now consider the portal as a glimpse into their potential future, understanding that their chosen college program may undergo changes due to incoming transfers. This awareness prompts recruits to evaluate programs not only based on the current roster but also on the likelihood of additions through the portal. Coaches, in turn, must adapt their recruiting strategies to account for the transient nature of team compositions, emphasizing program stability and showcasing the potential for individual growth and development within their systems. It seems like every portal commitment is accompanied by either a de-committing recruit or an existing player popping into the portal. It is an added a layer of complexity to the decision-making process for high school recruits, forcing them to anticipate and navigate the evolving dynamics of college football programs in an era where player movement is more prevalent than ever.
Players used to commit to a school, a coach, and a program, hoping to achieve their dreams of playing at the highest level, winning championships, and making a name for themselves. Transfers were usually reserved for unusual circumstances. Even in the first years of the transfer portal, in mostly just made it easier for those needing a change to find success. Lately, the portal has undergone a significant transformation, evolving from a mechanism primarily driven by the pursuit of playing time to a multifaceted tool used by established players to secure championships, explore NIL opportunities, and build personal brands. The portal has also created a new dynamic of competition, not only on the field, but also in the market, where players are looking for the best deal, the best fit, and the best chance to achieve their goals. And it makes it that much harder to have up-to-date player jerseys for game day.
At least I can dust off my #8 jerseys next season. Go Ducks!