The college football season has begun. With the Peach Bowl and Fiesta Bowl scheduled for Saturday to decide who will play in the College Football National Championship on January 9th. While the games are newsworthy in their own right, the underlying conversation surrounding this season’s plethora of bowl games is the NCAA portal metaphor.
The transfer window opened on December 5, and players who chose to enter it lose their ability to play in this year’s bowl games for their current team if they qualify. The transfer portal has long been a source of controversy and debate in college sports. However, the stakes are higher now that college athletes can get paid and the transfer gate is even more controversial.
ESPN reports that last year more than 3,000 NCAA football players from DI, DII and DIII schools entered the year-round transfer portal. Most in portal history. The NCAA changed the portal entry dates so students don’t lose a year of eligibility. This year, in the first four days of the portal opening on December 5, ESPN reported that over 1,325 students entered the portal. The current portal window is open until January 15 and is expected to attract a record number of players looking to succeed at various universities.
In February, Sports Illustrated called the transfer portal “college football’s free agency” because students aren’t exclusively tied to the school and can transfer with little resistance. High student transfer rates put more pressure on schools to keep players and the future of some sports programs up in the air.
The Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) rules allow student-athletes to benefit from their use in advertising and representing the school. Students can be paid either through internal programs and university recruitment or external programs from booster clubs and collegiates where donors provide money to recruit or pay players. USA Today reports that the University of Oklahoma and Ohio State University have hired people who work full-time negotiating NIL contracts between students, schools and outside programs.
On Wednesday, the University of Arkansas and the University of Kansas played in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. Leading up to the game, there was extensive talk surrounding the Arkansas roster as 19 players entered the transfer window. Many players who entered the gate were established, leaving Arkansas to play players who hadn’t seen many games yet.
“I don’t know if Kansas is in the same boat as us. I don’t feel like they are. I feel like they haven’t lost that much to us,” Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman told Arkansas NBC. KARK subsidiary. “With that comes opportunity. I’m excited for the guys to go out there and get their chance to play. They’re excited about it. You can feel the excitement from the team.” Arkansas won the game in triple overtime 55-53.
Saturday saw the University of Iowa Hawkeyes play the University of Kentucky Wildcats in the TransPerfect Music City Bowl. Iowa and Kentucky entered the game having finalized deals with new quarterbacks from the transfer portal earlier this month. Kentucky landed former North Carolina State quarterback Devin Leary, and Michigan’s Cade McNamara committed to play for Iowa.
As was the previous rule, NCAA players who benefit from the NIL will not lose their scholarships or playing status, incentivizing players to make decisions based on financial opportunity over other factors such as program culture and coaching staff . Athletic exhibition programs offer students up to six-figure deals, apartments and new cars as recruiting offers, increasing the pressure on schools to deliver on the field to justify the additional player costs.
Going into the 2023-2024 season, expect significant changes to team rosters as the culture and climate of college sports changes to fit the NIL system and transfers become more common.