The transfer portal has completely transformed collegiate athletics. Before the portal came into existence in 2018, athletes were tightly bound by their initial decisions — ones that were clouded by youth — and words from recruiters and head coaches.
Student-athletes have been, essentially, given the right to take control of their future.
Prior to 2018, student-athletes were at the mercy of their head coach to decide if they could contact other programs. If these requests were denied all the way up an athletic department’s long bureaucratic ladder, student-athletes could still transfer, but run the risk of losing valuable scholarship opportunities gained from communicating with coaches from a potential destination school.
Since then, student-athletes have been allowed to transfer to new programs without having to waive a year of eligibility, a stipulation that was previously mandated.
Reasons for entering the portal can range anywhere from wanting to be in a program where you can start — rather than warm the bench — to getting away from an abusive situation or moving closer to family.
Even graduate transfers benefit from these changes. A change in NCAA rules in 2022 gave graduates more flexibility to move to a program — and a school — that will provide for them well after their final time in a uniform.
Cal sports are no strangers to being victims of the portal. This past offseason, the Bears’ football program lost several starters who were key to the program, including receiver J.Michael Sturdivant and Oluwafemi Oladejo. The women’s basketball program also lost its lynchpin in Jayda Curry, who led her team in points for two seasons.
These moves have undoubtedly stung Cal athletics and blue and gold faithful alike — but fans are not in a position to complain.
No one has any idea what goes on behind closed doors, let alone what decisions are best for these players to feel like they can flourish both as athletes and as students.
Those attending colleges with successful — or even unsuccessful but loveable — athletics programs are allowed, and even encouraged, to be fans of those programs. That being said, for even the most passionate fans, it’s important to remember that these athletes are your peers, classmates — and, most importantly, adults capable of making their own decisions.
Much like an undergraduate has every right to a change of scenery, or fans are entitled to feel hurt by an unexpected transfer, teenage student-athletes should be able to make the best decision for themselves, especially if a recruiter’s lofty promises never come to fruition.
This brings us back to the portal. For five years, this relatively new freedom for student-athletes has had a profound impact on the college athletics landscape. For every complaint about NIL tipping the scales in a portal decision, there is an athlete gaining the chance to provide for themselves or their families — yes, some student-athletes are parents, too.
And for every player lost to the portal, there will be another arriving soon, ready to make a name for themselves.
It’s true, the portal has changed everything. But the fact that student-athletes have been given the agency to do what is right for them is a change for the better.