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Misunderstandings abound about how the Transfer Portal is designed to work

Brian Hendrickson

The college sports world is complex. And sometimes — often understandably — even the people who work in it every day get a little confused about how it works.

The governance structure, including committee roles and jurisdiction, often can seem like a spaghetti bowl of pathways. And when important changes, such as academic reform, are being discussed, there often is an eagerness to share ideas, but the clear paths to a solution appear cloudy and uncertain.

Which brings us to the year-old revamped transfer process. The NCAA Transfer Portal, the technological Sherpa designed to make compliance easier, seems to have gained as much fame as the coaches who use it — and sometimes complain about it. It’s been hailed both as a new-age marvel granting student-athletes more control over their experience and a villain creating a free-agency process within college athletics.

But what exactly is it, and how does it work?

That’s where Champion magazine is trying to help. Part of our role is to make sense of the complex, nuanced elements that seem to come naturally to a diverse Association of more than 1,100 schools. Rules and procedures that can apply equally come with a fair amount of complexity and, as a result, confusion. Over the years, we have tried to be your guide to making sense of it all. A few years ago, we created “How the NCAA Works,” a series of infographics explaining the NCAA governance system. Even today you can see copies hanging in cubicles around the national office and in member schools’ athletics offices. Similarly, we have explained the NCAA’s work in concussion research, the approach to the Native American mascot policy and, also in this issue, the Association’s transgender policy. Each time, we aim to clear up misconceptions.

This time, Associate Editor Greg Johnson explains the new Transfer Portal and many of its nuances in “What the NCAA Transfer Portal Is ... and What It Isn’t.”

The transfer process may never be an easy issue on which college athletics departments can agree. It will always walk a line between being fair to student-athletes who deserve to make choices in their college experience and being fair to coaches who want stability in their programs so they can succeed. The layers within those simple statements often weave their influence into discussions about transferring.

As a result, prominent coaches make comparisons to free agency in professional sports. Others point with frustration to recent waivers that granted players immediate eligibility rather than requiring them to sit out a year — and question why their player didn’t get the same treatment. Those comments come not from a disagreement with the process but confusion about how it works.

So you get critics treating the Transfer Portal and the waiver procedures like a single flawed process rather than separate evolving measures. And you get coaches voicing frustration when players enter the portal and turn their transfer into a news event. And that feedback loop spreads misinformation.

In this issue, Johnson aims not to take a side in the conversation about whether the portal is working but to explain it, give some context behind the decisions, clear up confusion and facilitate dialogue about what could be better.

Issues like the transfer process are always going to be as much a part of college athletics as touchdowns and buzzer-beaters. Our hope is that by making it an informed conversation, we can turn a potential loss into a win.

About Champion

Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.