CBS Sports college basketball insiders Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander spent a month surveying 100-plus Division I men’s basketball coaches for our annual Candid Coaches series. They polled across the sport’s landscape: some of the biggest names in college basketball, but also small-school assistants in low-major leagues. Coaches agreed to share unfiltered opinions in exchange for anonymity. We asked them 10 questions and are posting the results over a three-week span.
On Thursday we addressed arguably the hottest topic in college basketball the past two years: NIL.
But there’s another factor entwined with NIL and, I would posit, even more incendiary: the transfer portal. That’s our subject for today. As many a coach, administrator and commissioner will tell you, we are still in the throes of the most chaotic time in college sports history. A major part of that is how rosters are assembled, disassembled, plucked, put in place and pieced together. So much of this is a function of the fallout from the portal.
Almost nobody is content with the status quo. If coaches could change one thing about it (and one thing only), most would choose to shorten the 60-day open/close window. The good news: a cut to a 30-day formal period is expected to pass across Division I in the months ahead. So, being that it seems inevitable the portal’s getting a calendar chop, that option was the only one not on the table when we asked coaches …
What is the biggest fix needed with the transfer portal process?
|Only one transfer with immediate eligibility allowed for undergrads (only exceptions: coach leaves or proof of abuse)||20%|
|Implement transparency legislation: have enforceable rules for tampering and stronger NIL governance||19%|
|Open portal after the Final Four||18%|
|Have a specific end date for all transfer eligibility/grad transfers can’t leave after June||14%|
|Require non-grad students to sit for a season on ALL first transfers (unless coach leaves or proof of abuse)||12%|
Also receiving multiple votes: Eliminate the portal; limit official visits; don’t allow freshmen to transfer; no intra-conference transferring; have players pay some NIL money back if they leave a school
Quotes that stood out
Enforce tampering penalties and better-govern NIL
• “At some point this has to be regulated to where there’s more transparency. No corporation is really functional like this. There’s absolutely no rules of engagement. Right now this is a complete free-for-all. This is not what it was intended to be. There’s no restriction, no legislation.”
• “Cheaters will cheat and work deals behind the scenes. In my opinion, the penalty has to be ridiculously severe for tampering. Lifetime ban. Done. Without teeth it won’t deter.”
• “The portal concept isn’t terrible, but combined with the NIL salaries, it has created nothing but professional free agency. Our profession was once about transformational relationships and now it is highly transactional. The recruiting enticements are a problem. Particularly when certain Power Fives are blatantly shopping off rosters with offers and nobody wants to confront it.”
• “[Have a] centralized system where everybody knows. You can see, and have to report, what your NIL deals are and what you’re getting compensated for. I feel like if we were transparent in what was out there, I think that and a standardized contract — some sort of transparency between NIL deals on compensation levels for kids — that would protect everybody. Players, more than anyone, are getting lied to.”
• “Transfers need to sign a binding agreement with schools when they make their decision. Even after transfers are verbally committing to schools, coaches from other programs are continuing to call them and recruit them, offering more NIL, etc. This is continuing to happen even as late as August.”
No second-time transfer with immediate eligibility
• “I think if we want some stability in our sport, one free transfer before graduation is perfect (obviously keep grad transfers as well). Eliminate all two-time transfer waivers. Mental health waivers should be legitimate, therefore we can’t just use that as a ‘go-to’ for anyone trying to transfer a second time. When I was talking to a fan not too long ago, they were trying to figure out who even was on our team this upcoming year.”
• “For mental health and well-being, it’s better for them. More kids look back at the benefit of redshirting. It helped our game, it helped development and so much of what we’re focused on now, we’ve moved away [from].”
• “Not having to sit out a year is the biggest negative to the portal by far because coaches are much more likely to cut kids, save scholarships, and most of all, poach players. When a player had to sit out, coaches were far less likely to rely on transfers or take risks on mid-major kids moving up, kids with baggage, etc. Now there is so little risk involved because kids can play right away and most coaches deem it worth the risk.”
• “The sit-out year helps the kids and the programs. It would get the transfer situation under control. Probably would cut the transfer rate by 30-40%. It would also help with graduation rates. And would bring more stability for coaches to build a sustainable program.”
Open the portal after the national title game
• “It’s asinine to have the portal open before the end of the Final Four.”
• “The basketball season for everyone should be done before a kid should be allowed to enter his name in the portal. Everyone should be on an even playing field from that standpoint. There are teams right now being punished for being good because they are still trying to win postseason games while kids are already being recruited. Some would say, ‘Well, the portal guys are going to wait for the better teams, anyway.’ But on top of that, I think we all should get a dead period right after the Final Four to collect ourselves and take a deep breath. That gives everyone a chance to recruit their own teams.”
• “I hate that teams that are in the tournament are at a disadvantage with portal recruiting. Punishing best teams. Not sure answer but that needs to be thought out. Maybe like NBA free agency, which starts after the NBA Finals, portal shouldn’t open until after Final Four.”
• “Specific time demands (or basically a cutoff date is needed). I’m a high-major coach — but it’s bad for our game when high-majors poach a mid-major kid in August.”
• “We need a new recruiting calendar with the portal open 30 days — and grad students have to fall into that calendar as well. Also, everyone has to decide by June 1 which school they’re attending so they can start summer school.”
• “The transfer portal officially has ‘rules’ now, but the grad transfer portion of it has turned into the wild, wild West. Grad transfers currently have the ability to transfer whenever they want, losing a kid in July because he’s a grad transfer is something that isn’t fair. If I bring my team on an international trip and play 4-6 games, and I have a graduate student that’s not happy with his playing time or he didn’t score enough, there is a chance the minute we get home he can put his name in the portal and find a better situation because he’s considered a grad transfer. Just is not right.”
Folks, let me tell ya: Coaches can complain about the portal FOREVER. They love to hate this thing — while acknowledging the whole way they’re also in line to benefit from it.
A few actually suggested eliminating the transfer portal altogether, which is obviously not going to happen. Regardless, here’s one person’s logic as to why: “I just hate that the portal is a ‘thing’ or a ‘place’ where everyone has to enter, gain access to contact info, make a public decision to participate in. As high school kids, if someone wants to recruit you, there isn’t a central database of info and stuff outside of the (NCAA) clearinghouse. People call a coach, call a kid, get the info they need and go for it. Why does the portal have to be a thing? Why can’t kids just transfer and then make these coaches have to work for it all over again just like they did in high school or JUCO recruiting? We shouldn’t be looking for ways to make this process easier for people.”
Transferring was a thing before the portal, but the portal is here to stay. And for the overwhelming majority of coaches who are resigned to live with it, they’re asking for some rules and regulations that make it less likely to have more transfers on an annual basis. Transfer decisions have a way of gaining downhill momentum, causing a chaos effect that impacts the majority of power-conference schools, then dissipates all the way to the bottom of Division I.
Is it killing college basketball? Of course not. But having north of 35% of the sport go into the portal (as was the case in 2023) isn’t helping matters.
To the coaches who voted to bring back the redshirt year on a first transfer: you’re dreaming. For all of the benefits that rule provided, that is off the table and never coming back.
As for the leading vote-getter on this question, the NCAA is aiming to firm up its rule that doesn’t allow for a second-time undergrad transfer to be immediately eligible. It’s a reasonable position. If two- or three-time undergrad transfers are allowed immediate eligibility, the transfer economy would further erode a lot of familiarity in a sport that’s already aching for it. You’d also have fewer graduates in all sports, not just basketball.
“If more and more schools file and receive waivers for two time transfers, mid-major basketball is toast,” as one coach accurately put it.
I am in favor of player empowerment, but have no issue with the concept of an undergraduate only being allowed one transfer with immediate eligibility. If you want to leave a second time before you graduate, sitting for a year and getting to go to college for free is far from the worst thing. You still play in the practices and participate all the team activities, just not the games. History suggests the redshirt year is beneficial on multiple levels, and having it still in use for a second-time transfer would likely help the person opting to do that while also acting as a resistance barrier for additional x-hundred transfers annually.
As for grad transfers’ ability to freely move to a new school if they choose as late as mid-to-late August, that’s a sticky one. I get where the coaches are coming from, but I’m not sure this is a solvable problem. NCAA eligibility is tied to academic standing at NCAA schools, and if someone graduates from one college before another begins its fall semester for graduate school, I don’t see how you can write up legislation that would prohibit someone from making that choice and enrolling in a graduate program of their choosing.
While it is a looming worry for many coaches — and we have seen a handful of instances of this in the past two years — it’s far from a plague on the game.
The deadline for a decision on the front end does make sense for undergrads, however — and that ties into the most logical response of them all. Keep the portal officially closed until after the conclusion of the national championship game. Open it the Wednesday after the season ends, then give players 30 days to enter the portal and six weeks after they’re in to make a decision on their school.
While nothing is stopping players from posting on social media in the first week of March that they plan to enter the portal in the lead-up to it officially opening, the extra couple of weeks also allows time for further consideration. Might not be the worst thing. It’s a bad look for coaching staffs in the NCAA Tournament to be holding Zoom calls with transfers the night before or the day of their tournament games — which is what happened with multiple teams last season.
Let the NCAA Tournament be the focus, and then have college basketball’s ersatz free agency be its own media cycle for the month-plus after the conclusion of March Madness. College basketball stands to benefit from its own, EPL-type transfer window — but would be best served if that began after the final horn sounds on the season.
Previous Candid Coaches questions:
- Would Gonzaga be better off staying in WCC, or moving to Big 12, Big East or Pac-12/MW combo?
- Is it better for UConn to stay in the Big East or try to join the Big 12 or ACC?
- Have coaches experienced a major increase in burnout in the past two years?
- What one on-court rule change does college basketball need most?
- Who is the best coach yet to make a Final Four?
- How much does the average high-major transfer ask for in college basketball?