History of the NCAA Transfer Portal

The exterior of the NCAA National Office on September 17, 2020 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by C. Morgan Engel/Getty Images)
(Photo by C. Morgan Engel/Getty Images)

Not even three years old yet, the NCAA Transfer Portal has taken over college athletics like online sports betting has taken over how we watch sports. 

“So-and-so has entered the portal” seems to be something writers tweet in the offseason more than preseason rankings or favorites.

So what is the transfer portal? Why was it made? How does it work? Here’s a scaled-down version of what the portal is all about.

When Did The NCAA Transfer Portal Begin?

The portal debuted on Oct. 15, 2018.

Why Was It Made?

The transfer portal was made to benefit student-athletes. Before the portal, it was sometimes tough for players looking to transfer to get their name out there. Players had to get their current coach’s permission to contact other schools. If their request was turned down, there was a ladder of different administrators the player would have to ask to get permission.

Not only has the portal given players more freedom, it has made the transfer process much smoother. 

Before, once players had permission to transfer, they had to tell a compliance administrator which schools they were interested in. The administrator had to reach out to each school, and those schools would send back a transfer tracer, which is a form asking different questions to gather info.

So if a player was interested in five schools, the compliance officer would have to contact those schools and then fill out five different transfer tracers.

The portal eliminates that process and paperwork. Now there is a website with a big database of players for every sport at every NCAA level. 

The portal is not public. Coaches and school administrators have access to the portal. 

How Does It Work?

Notable college football players like Justin Fields have found their new school through the transfer portal. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Notable college football players like Justin Fields have found their new school through the transfer portal. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Any NCAA student-athlete can enter the transfer portal. Just because they enter the portal doesn’t mean they have to leave their school. However, a team can pull that player’s scholarship at the end of the school term in which they entered the portal. If the player decides to withdraw their name and stay with their current team, the school has the choice to take that player off of their scholarship.

That is the risk for players entering the portal, and it gives them a sense of accountability. The school is no longer obligated to honor that player’s scholarship and can give it to a different player or an incoming freshman.

Players interested in transferring or exploring the possibility of transferring will ask a school compliance administrator to put their name in the portal. They do not need to ask or talk to their coach beforehand if they don’t want to. The school administrator then has 48 hours to submit the information. Once a player is in the portal with their info, any coach can contact that player.

The database has information that is sortable like sport, name, conference, division, and school. A player’s email address is provided but not their phone number.

Players also have a choice to add “do not contact” on their profile. This is in scenarios where the player already has an idea of where they want to go or if they have a small list of schools. The player can then contact the schools first.

Players can add or remove their names from the portal at any time while keeping in mind enrollment periods and eligibility guidelines.

Players who earned a degree from their current school and are looking to transfer are known as grad transfers. Grad transfers can play at their new school right away, as long as it’s not midseason.

For those who are not grad transfers, immediate eligibility depends on the level they are transferring to. If a player transfers “down,” meaning transferring from FBS to FCS or Division I to Division II, they can play right away. If they transfer “up” a level or across the same division, they have to sit out a season unless granted a waiver by the NCAA.

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Sam Herder is a writer for BetMGM and HERO Sports. A North Dakota State journalism grad, he spent several years in the print media industry before writing for online outlets. Sam has covered sports at all levels — high school, college, and professional — since 2011.