Research Extra Point

Tracking Transfer in Division I Men’s Basketball

National data indicates that many of today’s college graduates transfer at some point on their way to a degree.  This is true among student-athletes, as well, and may be most visible in Division I men’s basketball. Tracking movement from school to school for research purposes can be difficult, but recent NCAA studies have done just that and uncovered some interesting findings:

  • The rate of transfer between four-year colleges in Division I men’s basketball is high relative to most other sports, but not the highest (see tables in full report).
  • The percentage of 4-4 transfers (those who transfer from one four-year institution to another) on Division I men’s basketball squads increased in 2018 and 2019 (blue line in Figure 1), while the rate of two-year college transfers in men’s basketball has remained relatively flat (red line).
  • That said, about 40% of all men’s basketball players who enter Division I directly out of high school depart their initial school by the end of their sophomore year.

Where do these transfers end up? Transfers were identified by merging the 2020 Division I Basketball Transfers list from the Verbal Commits website with all Division I men’s basketball student-athletes listed in the 2019-20 Transfer Portal. Of the scholarship players on the list, 648 were identified as transferring to another school and joining the basketball team. In 2020, 63% of the transfers went to another Division I school, which was an increase from 2019 (54%). The percentage transferring to Division II remained near 25%, while those leaving for non-NCAA colleges (two-year colleges or National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics schools) declined to their lowest levels since we began tracking transfers (Figure 2). Similar to years past, 1 in 10 “up-transferred” to a more competitive program.

NCAA GOALS survey data finds close to 90% of all men’s basketball transfers say they leave for athletic reasons. Absent proper academic planning, many of these student-athletes lose credits upon transfer and register lower Academic Progress Rates and graduation rates at their new schools than seen among nontransfers


PowerPoint describing methods and data in more detail.

Download a PDF copy of this Extra Point: Tracking Transfer in Division I Men’s Basketball

(Published Feb. 2021)

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Academic outcomes for Division I postgraduate student-athletes

As progress-toward-degree standards have increased in Division I, more student-athletes are completing their undergraduate degree with athletics eligibility remaining.

Prevalence of Graduate Transfer in Division I

Division I student-athletes continue to earn their undergraduate degrees in record numbers, and many are doing so in four years or less due to NCAA academic progress-toward-degree standards, expanded financial aid opportunities for summer coursework and college credits earned while in high school. This has led to more student-athletes completing their undergraduate degree requirements before exhausting their athletics eligibility. These postgraduate students may continue to compete in NCAA sports if they enroll in graduate coursework or a second degree program. In 2019, 3,512 postgraduates — just over 3% of nearly 113,000 student-athletes in the 2019 Division I Academic Progress Rate cohort — competed for Division I teams.

While NCAA research has found that most postgraduates remain at the same college, they have been able to participate in athletics as a graduate student at another Division I college if they meet certain criteria (NCAA Bylaw 14.6.1) or obtain an NCAA waiver. These enrollment restrictions will change in 2020-21. In April 2020, the Division I Council adopted legislation to permit postgraduates to seek a second undergraduate degree or enroll in general coursework if they transfer to a new institution.

How many graduate transfers are there? From 2014 to 2019, the number of such participants has more than doubled. However, there were only 706 graduate transfers identified in the 2019 Division I APR cohort, which equates to 0.6%.

Graduate transfers are most prevalent on a percentage basis in men’s basketball (2.7% of current players are graduate transfers), women’s basketball, football, and men’s and women’s track and field. In 2019, 1% of men’s football student-athletes were graduate transfers. However, the number of such individuals has more than tripled in the past five years. Trends across all Division I sports are shown in the full study results.

Download the full study results: Changes in the Number of Division I Graduate Transfers

Download a PDF copy of this Extra Point: Prevalence of Graduate Transfer in Division I

(Published Oct. 2016. Updated June 2020)

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The First in Their Family

In the most recent NCAA GOALS study, 16% of student-athletes reported being first-generation college students (defined here as neither parent having attended college).

Who is most likely to be a first-generation student?  Division II student-athletes (20%) are more likely to be first-generation students than either Division I (14%) or Division III (15%) student-athletes. Football (25%) and wrestling (23%) have the highest percentages of such students in the NCAA. Twelve percent of white student-athletes and 26% of student-athletes from a racial/ethnic minority group report being first-generation college students.

Do athletics play a role in their opportunity to attend college?  Only 47% of first-generation students strongly agreed they would have attended a four-year college had they not been an athlete, compared with 62% of student-athletes who are not first-generation students.

Who assists first-generation students in choosing a college?  Across all segments of the student-athlete population, parents are reported as playing the most important role in the college choice process. However, both coaches and teachers / guidance counselors are credited with playing a larger role in the college choice process for first-generation students as compared to their non-first-generation peers.

Do the parents of first-generation students have different athletics expectations?  Twenty-six percent of NCAA first-generation students reported that since they were young, their parents/family expected they would eventually become professional or Olympic athletes. Only 12% of their non-first-generation peers reported that same parental expectation. 

What are the future plans of first-generation students?  Most (93%) first-generation student-athletes are confident that they will graduate from college.  However, they are less likely to believe they will eventually attend graduate school (58%) than other student-athletes (68%).  First-generation students are more likely to believe they will become a professional or Olympic athlete and that their future jobs will involve sports in some form.

Do first-generation students have bigger financial concerns than their peers?  Financing their education is a larger concern for this population.  Whereas 56% of first-generation students are concerned finances could affect their ability to finish their degree, only 36% of other student-athletes feel the same way. Additionally, how these students finance their education differs from their non-first-generation peers (see chart).

Download a PDF copy of this Extra Point: The First in Their Family

(Published June 2016)

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The True “One-and-Done” Problem in Division I Men’s Basketball

Since the NBA made high school players ineligible for the Draft, there has been discontent about college basketball’s “one-and-done” problem.

Come and Knock on Our Door

For better or worse, living arrangements profoundly impact every student’s college experience.  Because compatibility with roommates is recognized as a key factor in academic success, college satisfaction, mental well-being and transfer decisions, the days of randomly assigning roommates are over at many colleges.

Playing it Forward: Commitment to Service Among Student-Athletes

Being an NCAA student-athlete is demanding in terms of both time and energy.  So, you might excuse them for focusing solely on sport and school during college.

Tracking Division I Graduate Transfers

Division I student-athletes who earn a bachelor’s degree prior to exhausting their athletics eligibility may go on to compete as graduate students for another school provided they meet certain criteria (NCAA Bylaw 14.6.1) or obtain an NCAA waiver...

If I could change one thing about my student-athlete experience...

Recently we published a word cloud that displayed how a national sample of NCAA student-athletes described the best part of their college experience. The NCAA GOALS survey also included an opportunity for student-athletes to comment on the aspects of their college experience they would most like to change. The 75 most common words in their responses are shown in this word cloud.

The most frequently used word (largest in the cloud) was time, which was cited by nearly 1 of 5 respondents. Time-related comments most often referred to some aspect of time management difficulties or time demands (the GOALS survey showed the typical NCAA student-athlete spends 39 hours/week on academics and 33 hours/week on athletics inseason). References to time also included numerous comments about dissatisfaction with playing time.

Ten percent of respondents described some aspect of their coach or coaches. Such instances were more common among women than men and tended to express dissatisfaction with coaching quality or how they and/or their team were being treated by their coaches (for example, citing a lack of positivity, honesty, communication, engagement or respect). The impacts of such dissatisfaction are surely substantial. As shown in the GOALS study, coaches are a major factor in a student-athlete’s college choice and in the setting of expectations for what life will be like at their chosen college. Coaches who are ethical and respectful tend to develop student athletes who feel better about their college choice and their team environment.

The only other theme cited by more than 10% of student-athletes was related to changing nothing about their experience. As one respondent noted, “I wouldn’t change anything... I am very content where I am. I’m getting a great education and playing golf for free. I feel as if I am one of the luckiest people on the planet.”

Download a PDF copy of this Extra Point: If I Could Change One Thing about My Student-Athlete Experience...

(Published August 2014)

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The best part of my student-athlete experience is...

The 2010 NCAA GOALS survey gave student-athletes an open-ended opportunity to complete that sentence. This word cloud highlights the 75 most commonly used words 12,000 NCAA student-athletes included in their responses.

The most frequently used words (the largest ones in the cloud) — team (cited by 23% of respondents), friends (17%), teammates, meeting, people, playing — highlight obvious themes that are seen throughout our research studies. Winning championships and potentially moving on to post-collegiate athletics opportunities are important to many student-athletes. However, love of sport, connections with teammates and the development of lifelong friendships are predominant themes across NCAA division.

Recent data from the NCAA Student-Athlete Study of Social Environments highlights the extremely important role that the team plays in a student-athlete’s college experience. Teammates are cited as the people on campus student-athletes trust most and with whom they are most comfortable. The connections and climate on a team are also related to affinity toward one’s school—an important factor in college retention.

Download a PDF copy of this Extra Point: The best part of my student-athlete experience is...

(Published July 2014)

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