Half of College Athletes in Transfer Portal Go Unsigned

The NCAA's new transfer portal dashboard is designed to help college athletes make informed decisions about transferring.

May 2, 2022 · Updated on May 2, 2022

Edited by Alex Pasquariello
Half of College Athletes in Transfer Portal Go Unsigned
College Sports
Photo by Icon Sportswire / Contributor / Icon Sportswire / Getty Images

  • Division I college football players were the most active users of the transfer portal.
  • The number of graduate students in the transfer portal swelled during the two-year period reported on the dashboard.
  • Coaches have voiced concerns about the transfer portal's impact on college sports.

College athletes looking to change schools might want to log on to the NCAA's new transfer portal dashboard before making any moves.

The NCAA last week launched its new transfer portal dashboard in response to requests for more transparency to help college athletes make informed decisions about transferring. The data for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 academic years reveal a grim reality for college athletes hoping to change schools: Only half of athletes entering the transfer portal enroll in a different school.

According to the transfer portal dashboard data published April 25, just 50% of athletes (9,567) who entered the transfer portal in 2021 enrolled at another NCAA school. Forty three percent, or 8,284 athletes, are still exploring their options, transferred to a non-NCAA school, or left their sport. The remainder of athletes withdrew from the transfer portal.

In 2020, 49% of athletes (6,703) who entered the transfer portal enrolled at a new school, while 44% (6,009 athletes) are still exploring their options, transferred to a non-NCAA school, or left their sport, the NCAA data shows. The remainder of athletes withdrew from the transfer portal.

For those athletes stuck in the transfer portal without a school or team, Len Elmore, sportscaster and co-chair of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, has some advice: If there's no conflict with the coach or academic issues, athletes stuck in the portal should think about why they picked the school where they first enrolled.

"You made that original choice, step back and look at why you made that choice and try to find those same virtues again, look for those. I choose you again because, you know, sometimes your intuition is the best guide. Intuition led them to this particular institution. So, try to make the best of it," Elmore told BestColleges.

College Football Players Most Active Users of Transfer Portal

Division I football players were the most active users of the transfer portal during the 2020-21 and 2019-20 academic years, according to the NCAA data.

A total of 4,084 Division I football players entered the transfer portal in the 2021 academic year, a big increase from the 2,868 football players who entered the portal during 2020 academic year.

Those figures include both Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) and Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) players. The FBS is the highest level of college football and consists of the largest schools in the NCAA, such as the University of Alabama, Ohio State University, and the University of Georgia.

Notably, just 54% of FBS players (2,323) who entered the portal in 2020 and 2021 enrolled at a new school, while 41% (1,798) are still exploring their options, transferred to a non-NCAA school, or left their sport, the NCAA data shows.

The numbers are even worse for FCS players: Just 36% (1,097) of FCS players who entered the transfer portal during the two-year period enrolled at a new school, while 58% (1,734) are still exploring their options, transferred to a non-NCAA school, or left their sport.

The NCAA’s data also showed the number of graduate students who entered the transfer portal swelled during the two-year period reported on the dashboard. A total of 3,092 graduate students who entered the portal in 2021 enrolled at another NCAA school compared to 1,631 in 2020.

The increase in Division I graduate student transfers follows an NCAA decision that provided a one-year extension of eligibility for these athetes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For undergraduates, the transfer portal has also become increasingly popular since the NCAA gave the OK for student-athletes to make a one-time transfer and play the next season without penalty.

Colleges Coaches Not Fans of Transfer Portal

The transfer portal was on the mind of college coaches across the country during April's spring football practices.

Clemson's Dabo Swinney told ESPN's Chris Low that the transfer portal is "not what it's supposed to be" because of the broader changes brought about by the NCAA's name, image, and likeness policy.

"It's an absolute mess and a train wreck, and the kids are going to be the ones who suffer in the end," he said. "There are going to be a lot of kids that end up with no degrees and make decisions based on the wrong things. There are going to be a lot of decisions based on short-term stuff, and they're going to sacrifice the long-term value of education, relationships and connectivity."

Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher implied that tampering is rampant in the transfer portal.

"It's funny, when a guy gets in the portal, he already knows where he's going," Fisher told the Paul Finebaum Show. "A lot of schools have been using that portal extensively. So they're getting guys like that. I think that's a big factor that goes on right now."

Some basketball coaches are also skeptical about the transfer portal.

University of Kansas men's basketball coach Bill Self just won the national championship with a starting guard who is a transfer student and his program is considered a possible landing spot for a player dubbed the "most coveted player in transfer portal history." Still, he has concerns about the transfer portal.

“Coaches can move. In theory, kids should be able to move too. But it's out of control right now.”

— University of Kansas coach, Bill Self

"I think it's bad," Self told Houston Fox 26 sports director Mark Bermans. "I think sometimes it gives young people a way out without trying to fight through some things… Coaches can move. In theory, kids should be able to move too. But it's out of control right now, where the reason you're moving is because, well, I can get a bigger NIL [name, image, likeness] deal somewhere else."

Elmore agrees that NIL is influencing athletes' decisions to transfer, saying it has turned college sports into "a combination of beauty contest and a shopping spree."

"I think NIL has powered a lot of this curiosity by student athletes, particularly in the more visible revenue-generating sports like basketball and football," Elmore said. "Kids are trying to see what they can get."