What is Transfer Portal, and How does it affect College Football?


The NCAA Transfer portal is an application, database, and compliance tool launched in the fall of 2018. It was launched as a means of facilitating, overseeing, and managing the process for student-athletes to transfer between other universities. 

The transfer portal allows student-athletes to place their name into that database, declaring their intention to transfer. Athletes then officially enter the portal by informing their current school of a (potential) desire to transfer. The school then has two business days to enter that student’s name into the database.

Once an athlete enters the database, coaching staff from other universities are allowed to make contact with that athlete. They can then talk about transferring to (and accepting a scholarship from) that other school.

The portal was intended initially to bring widespread transparency to the transfer process. It also enabled student athletes to publicize their desire to transfer, which often brings more attention and offers. 

transfer portal

NCAA new regulations

However, new regulations were adopted in 2021 – allowing student-athletes in previously non-allowed sports to transfer schools without sitting out a year after transferring. This regulation placed all NCAA sports under the same transfer rules, as the so-called “one-time transfer” rule had been in place for a large swath of other DI, DII, and DIII sports. 

This decision almost immediately impacted college football above all others. Student-athletes wishing to take advantage of that one-time transfer rule had to enter the portal during a designated window for their sport.

As football was a fall sport, collegiate football players were granted a 45-day winter window opening the day after championship selections were made in that sport, as well as a spring window from May 1st to May 15th. 

However, there was a perhaps unexpected consequence of these new transfer portal regulations. The result of these new rules created an atmosphere almost akin to free agency in professional sports. Talented players at schools with lesser visibility could let big-name programs vie for their attention and talents. Players, more easily than ever, could jump from one school to another. 

This created quite a bit of chaos across the college football landscape. Between the 2021-2022 College Football (CFB) season and the 2022-2023 CFB season, there were a lot of high-profile transfers, causing a stir among coaches and fanbases alike.

How does the Transfer portal work?

Perhaps no school benefitted from the transfer portal quite like the oft-criticized University of Southern California. November of 2021 saw them land respected offensive-minded head coach Lincoln Riley, who was effectively poached from the University of Oklahoma. Several of Riley’s highest-profile players immediately entered their names into the transfer portal. Two of the most notable talents ended up at USC. University of Southern California

Mario Williams was a consensus top 50 high school recruit in the country, initially playing for Oklahoma as a freshman (in college). Shortly after the season concluded and Lincoln Riley departed for USC, Williams entered his name in the transfer portal.

Caleb Williams was the highest-rated quarterback in his recruiting class and, like Williams, initially committed to play for Oklahoma under Riley. In the seven games he started during his freshman year, he passed for 21 touchdowns and ran for 6 more. Like Mario Williams, Caleb entered the transfer portal not long after Riley became the head coach for USC. On February 1st, 2022, he officially transferred to USC, reuniting him with Riley.

This move was a source of widespread aggravation and anger among the University of Oklahoma faithful fanbase (known as the Sooners), as they believed Riley had unfairly poached their top talent (which has some merit). Caleb Williams went on to have a prolific season for USC. The Trojans went from 4-8 in 2021 to 11-2 in 2022, and Caleb Williams went on to win the AP College Football Player of the Year, as well as the Heisman Trophy (awarded to the most outstanding player in college football). 

USC wasn’t the only school to benefit from a high-profile transfer, though. Teams like Alabama (Jahmyr Gibbs), Michigan (Olusegun Oluwatimi), Washington (Michael Penix Jr.), Arkansas (Drew Sanders), and Florida State (Jared Verse) all benefited from transfer portal additions. 

Thus spawned an endless debate among fans, coaches, and pundits alike.

Is the Transfer Portal Helping or Hurting Collegiate Athletics?caleb williams ncaa

I think the answer is complicated and mixed and really depends on how you view the portal itself.

If you’re pro-player rights, then you likely view the portal in a positive light. 

Designed for players, the portal gives student-athletes an advantage that they previously did not have. Maybe there’s a five-star talent not getting reps in a talented position group. What if there’s a player who’s from Florida who regrets playing so far from home in California? Maybe there’s a junior who would just benefit from a fresh start with a new coaching staff. 

The portal helps players like that leave negative or just unfortunate situations, giving them a better outlook and chance for future success. 

If you’re pro-fanbase, you might view the situation with a little more disbelief and negativity. 

If you’re a longtime supporter of a team like Oklahoma, it’s understandable to be upset when your head coach leaves in a hurry. Combine that with Riley using a tool like the portal to raid your roster of its best players. Is it increasingly commonplace for coaches to pull star athletes out of the portal? Yes. Does that make it sting less for dedicated fans? No. 

Ultimately, the transfer portal can be and should be a useful tool for collegiate athletes. I would caution the NCAA and hope that they set more concrete guidelines (re: rules) on transfer portal usage. At the rate that we’re trending, we might see the portal combined with the increasingly slippery slope of NIL to create a college athletic landscape unfamiliar to the one we’re used to seeing.

The future of college sports may look very different in ten years, and the portal, for better or worse, is one of the elements leading that charge. 


The transfer portal permits student-athletes to place their name in an online database declaring their desire to transfer. Athletes enter the portal by informing their current school of their desire to transfer; the school then has two business days to enter the athlete’s name in the database.

The answer changes regularly as players enter and exit the portal. But as an example, on Feb. 25, 2022, the portal tracking site at 247 Sports lists 55 quarterbacks.

If a student-athlete has played at two Division I schools and decides to transfer again, they will have to sit out a year. If student-athletes fail to notify the school by the transfer deadline, they will also have to sit out a year in order to gain eligibility.

Basically never. There are signing days that mark the end of each recruiting class, but you’re already working on the next recruiting class

It is one of three reasons:

  1. An incoming freshman may need time to develop physically and intellectually and thus sit out the first year, allowing him to maintain eligibility for four additional years.
  2. The team has a lot of depth at one position and would rather not use a player’s eligibility for them to sit on the bench.
  3. An injury prevents a player from playing, and they would prefer to save his eligibility for a future year.


Click here and read about Transfer Portal Data: Division I Student-Athlete Transfer Trends.

Catie Di Stefano has worked in the gambling industry since 2011 for major brands like Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Gaming Innovation Group and Betsson Group. She started in customer support at age 19 and has since worked her way through VIP, CRM and Marketing. Today, Catie is passionate about educating players on consumer rights and the best approaches for legal play in the United States as the Director of Community Marketing at OnlineGamblers.com. Catie was born in Indonesia but grew up in Sweden. Currently, she resides in Spain with her two daughters.

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