The rippling effects of college basketball's transformational transfer portal

Liam Matney '22

Kansas’ nail-biting, come-from-behind win over North Carolina to claim the Men’s Basketball National Championship marked the conclusion of the initial season impacted by the NCAA’s “One-Time Transfer Rule,” allowing student-athletes to transfer schools without having to sit out of competition for an entire academic year. By effectively creating a “free agency” period, previously only commonplace to professional sports, the NCAA’s new legislature has had a rippling effect that has trickled throughout all of college basketball and down into the SSSAS community.

 

10 years ago, there were 577 Division 1 (D1) men’s college basketball transfers, according to verbalcommits.com. Over the course of the following decade, that number steadily increased until drastically spiking from 1013 D1 transfers in 2020 to 1725 in 2021, the first offseason following the establishment of the “One-Time Transfer Rule.” This year, as of April 28, that number is already up to 1545 with a couple of days to go until the NCAA transfer portal closes for Winter athletes on May 1st.

 

There is arguably no greater example of the positive impact that the “One-Time Transfer Rule” can have on college basketball than the 2021-2022 Iowa State Cyclones team. After a 2020-2021 season in which the Cyclones won a whopping two out of their 23 games, the worst season in their program’s 115 year history, Coach T. J. Otzelberger took in four recruits, who, unlike in previous years, would be immediately eligible to play. 

 

The following season, the Cyclones posted a 22-win season and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen during March Madness. All four transfers started at least one of the team’s three March Madness games, and Gabe Kalscheur, who played for the Minnesota Gophers the previous season, led the way in the Cyclones’ upset win over Wisconsin in the second round of the tournament, scoring 22 of the team’s 54 points. 

 

In previous years, those four recruits would have had to sit out for an entire academic year before becoming eligible to play, meaning that the only immediate additions the Cyclones could make would be high school recruits. It likely would have taken years for a two-win program to build itself up into a Sweet Sixteen team. Under the new transfer rules though, programs can completely revamp their teams in a single offseason.

 

Simultaneously, though, the “One-Time Transfer Rule” offers a bleak outlook for talented high schoolers hoping to play at the next level. According to Xavier Lipscomb (‘19), a former standout guard for the SSSAS Varsity Boys Basketball team whom himself transferred from Radford to Mount St. Mary’s this offseason, it was much easier to be recruited before the new transfer rules were in place: “now… college coaches can get an immediate impact player who has already proved themselves on the collegiate level,” instead of “taking a chance on a high school kid that has no idea what the college game is like.”

 

In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Oakland Men’s Basketball Coach Greg Kampe echoed this message, emphasizing the pressure college coaches feel to take in transfers as opposed to high school recruits: “if you’re building for your future, you’re going to lose your job.”

 

This lack of demand for high school recruits has already affected the SSSAS community. According to SSSAS Athletic Director Stephanie Koroma, “the recruiting process… specifically for basketball [players]... has been very challenging these last few years,” citing “players being offered additional years due to COVID” as the reason that roster spots are limited. While the new transfer rule applies to all NCAA sports and has also had a significant impact on college football, Koroma noted that “the change has not impacted SSSAS football players specifically, but that “it will be interesting to see how the new transfer portal changes recruiting in different sports.”

 

One basketball player whose recruiting process has directly been impacted by the new transfer portal rule is Garrett Brennan (‘22), a guard for the SSSAS Varsity Boys Basketball team who has committed to play Division 1 basketball at Loyola University Maryland. Brennan noted that it was “definitely harder” to get recruited out of high school, because, just as Lipscomb and Kampe stated, “college coaches are going to want to look for players in the [transfer] portal, players that are stronger and have been in college for longer… because they have more experience.”

 

While in most cases the new transfer portal negatively affects high school athletes, Brennan’s recruitment process was a rare example of the new transfer rules proving to be beneficial for a high schooler. “I ended up getting lucky,” he stated. “One of [the Loyola University Maryland] players transferred out which opened up a spot for me, and I was fortunate enough to accept it.”

 

Life in the transfer portal, however, is not quite the walk in the park that it may seem. Lipscomb noted that entering the transfer portal comes with an inherent risk: scholarships are limited in number, therefore “there is a possibility that you will not get picked up from the portal and then may have to go to some other college and pay out of pocket.”

 

However, barring the rippling consequences of the “One-Time Transfer Rule” on the recruitment of high school athletes, the new legislation has, for the most part, accomplished what it was apparently created to do. Said Kansas Head Coach Bill Self, “I think sometimes it gives young people a way out, without actually trying to fight through some things.” For that, Lipscomb is grateful: it has allowed him, and many other collegiate student-athletes, “to go to a new situation and have a fresh start.”