College football is more complicated than ever, especially when it comes to recruiting and the transfer portal. The transfer portal has been a boon for players looking to better their chances of seeing the field and, in some cases, finding a school that is simply a better fit for them and their education. With each passing year, more players are entering the transfer portal, and if the scholarship rules around recruiting do not change, the transfer portal will negatively impact players.
The Current Rules
One thing that has become abundantly clear is how many fans don’t know the basics of college football recruiting, so here are the current rules. Every Division I school has 85 scholarships to award to players. These scholarships are often referred to as “counters” and every year a program can award a maximum of 25 scholarships to incoming players.
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We often see teams adding more than 25 scholarship players in any given recruiting class. These teams are not breaking the rules, but are instead bending the rules. If a player enrolls early, a school can give an unused scholarship from a previous year to that player. This is how programs can, on occasion, sign more than 25 players to a recruiting class.
At this point, with some basic math you will find that over the course of four years if a team were to add, and presumably hold onto, 25 scholarships they will have 100 players on scholarship — which is too many scholarship players. Attrition happens and players come and go, which helps to alleviate some of this stress, but sometimes the number of actual scholarships a school has for new recruits is lower than 25 due to the status of the rest of its players on scholarship.
The Transfer Portal
When student-athletes enter the transfer portal they surrender their scholarships from their current school. The school then has a choice to reallocate that scholarship. If the player changes his mind and chooses to not transfer, the school could maintain that scholarship for that player as they have not actually transferred at that point, but that rarely happens.
When a player does find a new home and he receives a scholarship from that school, they count towards that yearly 25 scholarship limit. A transfer player effectively takes a scholarship as if he were a freshman out of high school.
The Growing Problem of the Transfer Portal
Now we start to see the growing problem with the transfer portal. Players transferring out of a program do give schools one of their 85 total counters back; however, that doesn’t mean they can actually use that scholarship if they have already maxed out their current year’s allotment of counters and either maxed out or are outside the window to use the previous year’s counters. This does help ensure the next year’s class can be larger, but only if the program did not use all 25 scholarships from the previous year. For some schools, players leaving for the transfer portal can leave a program well below the 85 scholarship limit and not truly be able to fill a roster.
During 2020-2021, 2,626 players entered the transfer portal. That is up almost a thousand players from the 2019-2020 season. Now, it is worth mentioning that number is total players, which includes scholarship players and walk-ons who enter the transfer portal with the hope of finding a scholarship. Walk-ons especially deserve the right to go and shop the transfer portal to find a school willing to give them a scholarship for their services; they work just as hard as the scholarship players, and all the while they are paying to attend the school.
We don’t have full numbers for the 2021-22 year at this point, but it is going to be bigger. Student-athletes should absolutely have the right to transfer and, for that right, part of the risk they incur is they may lose their scholarship entirely.
The growing problem is that schools have fewer and fewer spots to offer recruits, whether those are incoming freshman or transfer players. Some schools are opting to fill their classes with more freshman out of high school. These tend to be top tier programs that can recruit the highly-rated recruits, while others will look to fill their needs through the transfer portal. Most programs have opted for both.
We are only beginning to see the negative impact of the transfer portal, and it will continue to grow. This cycle we will see a larger percentage of those student-athletes in the transfer portal not finding a new home, and they won’t necessarily be able to return to their original school either, as they surrendered their scholarship upon entering the transfer portal. Many players will see the end of their college football careers, and in some cases, it may be the end of their college careers entirely if they find themselves unable to pay for their education.
The Rules Need to Change
The transfer portal is here to stay, as it should be. Student-athletes should have the right of any other student and be able to transfer schools. The rules, however, need to keep pace and allow for a better reallocation of scholarships. Any solution will create controversy but college football is changing and player rights are expanding, and the rules around recruiting need to change as well.
Top Photo By Tom Corno
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David Marsh is a high school social studies teacher in Portland, Oregon. As a teacher he is known for telling puns to his students who sometimes laugh out of sympathy, and being both eccentric about history and the Ducks.
David graduated from the University of Oregon in 2012 with Majors in: Medieval Studies, Religious Studies, and Geography. David began following Ducks Football after being in a car accident in 2012; finding football something new and exciting to learn about during this difficult time in his life. Now, he cannot see life without Oregon football.
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