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Ethical Issues of the NCAA Transfer Portal

Is it a Good Thing for Collegiate Athletics?

The Transfer Portal was created as a way for student athletes to transfer from one NCAA school to another and not have to sit out one year. It seems to have created a ‘monster,’ in the sense that competition for student athletes can be intense with outside parties dangling payments to athletes in the form of being able to market their name, image, and likeness (NIL) thereby cashing in after they transfer. To learn more about the way the NIL system works, read my blog on this issue.

If you listen to some coaches and administrators right now, they are being inundated by players who can transfer a single time without having to sit out for a season and then boosters and coaches at opposing schools may entice them to move with promises of money and playing time.

How Does the System Work?

The NCAA's one-time transfer rule created free agency in college athletics. Now players can more easily change schools and maybe strike it rich in the process. It appears the most successful programs will benefit most from the transfer portal.

The transfer process starts when a student-athlete approaches their coach to declare their intention to enter the transfer portal, the institution then has 48 hours to release the students’ information into a database. The portal connects students with recruiters from other schools, helping them boost their name through the NCAA. Athletes can remove their names from the transfer portal and choose not to be contacted by other coaches in the division.

The NCAA allows students to transfer once during their collegiate career without any reduction in their play time after instituting the transfer. A second transfer requires a player to sit out for the remainder of a year and extend athletic eligibility by one school year.

The door to collegiate transfers opened in October 2018 when the NCAA decided to update its rules by creating the portal where athletes from all three NCAA divisions post notices of their intent to transfer and where coaches can search for players to recruit. More than 15,000 athletes from all sports entered their names in the transfer portal in the first year it was created.

But it wasn't until 2021 that the door to free agency blew open with the “one-time transfer rule” without penalty and being able to profit from the use of their NIL, which can motivate a student-athlete to jump ship.

Transfer Portal: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

There is no doubt that student-athletes can benefit by going through the transfer process. They may be able to play more and gain greater visibility for their efforts thereby increasing the likelihood of being a high draft pick by the NBA. And, of course, there is the monetary angle.

Some athletes get snapped up quickly by coaches. But for others the future is uncertain. Many lose their scholarships, according to Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey who noted in July 2021 that roughly 13,000 Division I student-athletes had entered the portal and that 11,000 remained without a new team.

"We have to support an environment that provides more flexibility, permits legitimate transfer while holding to account those who tamper and want to turn college rosters into their personal recruiting grounds," Stankey said.

Some believe the transfer portal creates ethical issues such as a lack of loyalty to the schools from which they transfer, a lack of loyalty to their teammates, many of whom cannot take advantage to the transfer portal because of their anonymity as a student-athlete, commercialization of college athletics, which once was a fully amateur sport, and outsiders buying the allegiance of student-athletes through promises of being able to financially benefit from their NIL after they transfer.

Bryan Clinton believes that a few rules need to be added to the transfer policy to help players and coaches through this transitional time in college athletics. He says: "The Transfer Portal needs to be closed during the regular season and players become eligible to transfer after their team has played their final game of the season. This would allow time for players and coaches to work out their differences midseason and keep players from making brash decisions. Too many times, a young player leaves a good situation to find that the grass isn’t greener somewhere else and ends up essentially ruining his career."

Transfer portal

The Effect on Coaches

Ethical issues abound and we have already seen some acrimony between Alabama coach, Nick Saban, and Texas A&M (Aggies) coach, Jimbo Fisher. The feud started May 19 when Saban alleged the Aggies got the nation's No. 1 recruiting class by paying players through their use of NIL partnerships. After Saban's initial comments, Fisher called a press conference to respond and ripped the seven-time national champion.

Clemson coach, Dabo Swinney, has said: "It's crazy. It's really sad, to be honest with you," It's total chaos right now," he added. "There's so much tampering going on and so many adults manipulating young people, and it's sad."

Another downside to the transfer portal is that while some schools benefit, others can be devastated by the loss of key players. "There's been Division II's that have gotten absolutely killed with eight, nine, 10 guys in the portal," said Oklahoma Baptist coach Jason Eaker.

Where Do We Go from Here?

The NCAA has studied the transfer portal issue. A 2020 poll commissioned by the NCAA found that "a smaller proportion of NCAA student-athletes (22%) than non-athletes (38%) transferred to the institution from which they graduated."

Despite complaints from coaches and administrators, it appears that the new rules, particularly NIL rules, will remain unchanged. A draft of the new NCAA constitution calls for the NIL to remain in place.

The bottom line is while being able to transfer without penalty seems to make sense. After all, a non-athlete can transfer schools and not be penalized. There needs to better controls over the transfer process to make sure it doesn’t become a corrupt system.

Blog posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on June 8, 2022. You can sign up for Steve’s newsletter and learn more about his activities on his website  (https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/) and by following him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.