Part 2: Examining why Non-FBS athletes enter the Transfer Portal

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This is part two of a four-part series examining the effects of the transfer portal from a Non-FBS perspective. Part one can be found by clicking this link.

It’s a scene that often happens outside a football coach’s office before the Transfer Portal opens. The player nervously paces the hallway while thinking of the right words to use when he enters the office. The coach feels his player is thinking about entering the portal and wonders what he should say to the young man. 

“When a player comes into your office and tells you they’re transferring or quitting football, there’s been a lot of forethought that went into that decision,” one FCS head coach said. “It wasn’t decided at that moment, so trying to talk them off the ledge at that point isn’t advantageous for anybody.”

The reasons a player enters the Transfer Portal vary. The NCAA conducted a student-athlete well-being study in May of 2022 and asked the respondents why they considered entering the portal. The results were divided to show the differences between male and female athletes considering transferring. The top reason for male athletes to consider entering the portal was mental health reasons (40 percent).

“I have a conversation with each of these kids before they make that decision. I lay it out and let them know what they’re risking,” another FCS head coach said. “We’ve all been that age once, and we’re going to do what we want to do before realizing that you shouldn’t have done that in retrospect.”

Every coach contacted understands the player isn’t likely to reconsider entering the portal based on the conversation soon to happen in the scenario at the beginning of this piece. Yet, every coach believes the player should receive more education before entering the portal.

Currently, the NCAA requires athletes to click through a module on the Transfer Portal before entering. Every coach mentioned the need for more education before a player enters the portal because, as one FCS head coach said, “I’ve never heard a kid who did a transfer portal module say, ‘That’s good information. I’m not gonna go.’”

Outside of mental health, 36 percent of male athletes considered transferring due to playing time, while 34 percent considered entering the portal after a conflict with a coach, 31 percent of respondents marked financial reasons for considering transferring, 30 percent said academics was a factor, 27 percent said family or personal reasons were influencing their decision, and 14 percent had other reasons.

Every coach contacted said they support players who enter the portal for the “right reasons” or after receiving their degree. The meaning of “right reasons” depends on which coach you ask.

“If they’re leaving for the right reasons, I will support them and call people for them. I will do anything in my power to help them find the right spot for them,” one FCS head coach said. “In some cases, a guy will get a call and be told they have a certain amount of money for them. If that works for the player and his family, I’ll never hold that against a player.”

However, coaches warn players to ensure they get any promises in writing, especially if money is involved.

“I tell the player the truth and not because I want them to fail or not have success,” an FCS head coach said. “I’m telling them because the way the world works is if somebody hasn’t contacted you or promised something, I wouldn’t go into the portal unless you really hate it here.”

Entering the portal is not without consequences for the athlete.

“If you’re going to get in the portal, then you better have a plan because teams will disown you if you get in the portal,” a Division II coach said. “I think a lot of the guys have a plan, but those plans don’t always work out. That’s the problem with getting into the portal.”

Some players choose to enter the portal on an exploratory basis. The goal of nearly every player growing up is to play for an FBS institution, and that dream continues to live inside many who play at Non-FBS institutions. What happens when that player doesn’t receive another offer?

“We had a kid last year who entered the portal, then came back and said he had changed his mind and wanted to stay. We had to tell him we didn’t have room because we signed someone for his spot,” an FCS head coach recalled. “The reality is that once a kid enters the portal, we can cut aid and try to sign another player. The player who left doesn’t get to back out of the portal and reclaim the money he was originally offered.”

The unfortunate reality above is common in the Non-FBS ranks.

“When that decision (to transfer) is made, that scholarship is open, and I have a need,” a DII coach said. “If that kid decides he wants to come back, I can’t create a scholarship out of nowhere.”

Only some coaches are open to welcoming players back to the team if they enter the portal.

“I tell our players to make good decisions. I have no problem if you’re in the portal for the right reasons because the reason the portal is there is for those guys who aren’t the right fit or if a school doesn’t have your major or something along those lines,” an FCS head coach said. “But once you cross that threshold, I’m not going to bring you back because that doesn’t send a good message to the team.”

One coach went so far as to allude that some players aren’t left with an option to remain on the team by some coaches.

“Some kids are pushed into the portal by coaches, and that’s another disgusting conversation we need to have to discuss how some coaches handle (the portal).”

That’s a conversation we will have in part three of this series, where we will examine what happens when an athlete enters the Transfer Portal.

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