New rules mean progress for athletes, challenges for sports programs |
GREENVILLE — This battle to recruit and retain strong athletes at the college level has never been heated, said Jon Gilbert.
The East Carolina University athletic director says the process has always been competitive, but with new NCAA rules, the competition never ends.
As the governing body eased restrictions on players’ ability to transfer and allowed players to earn money with their name, image and likeness, programs across the country are able to attract players already registered on a university list.
Teams no longer focus most of their recruiting power on new college players.
“The reality is that our very good student-athletes are identified and recruited by other schools,” Gilbert said at a recent board meeting.
It is becoming more and more difficult for schools to retain their best players. There are fears that current Pirates guard Tristen Newton could be turned away from the men’s basketball team. And he will not be the first player.
The ECU men’s basketball team lost their best player to Virginia when Jayden Gardner announced his intention to enter the transfer portal in March 2021.
The Pirates women’s basketball team lost their best player from a season ago at the transfer gate when Lashonda Monk went to Ole Miss after announcing her intention to enter the gate.
Gardner, a Wake Forest native and 2018-19 American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year, led the league in scoring the following year and was second in the AAC in scoring, rebounding and minutes played in his third season in Greenville in 2020-21.
Monk, a talented playmaker and Greensboro native, had a similar career path as she was twice AAC Defensive Player of the Year in consecutive seasons.
No more “sitting”
These high-profile transfers were made possible when the NCAA announced changes in April 2021 to a longstanding rule that required athletes to take a year off from competition if they transferred to another Division I program.
Now athletes benefit from a one-time, penalty-free transfer and are immediately eligible to compete at their new school.
For Gardner and Monk, and for the thousands of other athletes who decide to enter the portal across the country, this is progress.
The move allows student-athletes to make decisions based on their best interests, breaking with the old power dynamic that gave colleges most of the power as athletes were punished for changing schools.
Further steps towards student-athlete progress were taken when another major change was instituted when the NCAA adopted a policy allowing its student-athletes to benefit from their name, image and likeness in July 2021.
Both of these decisions were guided by the spirit of progress, which athletes have been fighting for for years. And while athletes have gained freedom of movement, teams are considering how best to take advantage of this new reality.
ECU women’s basketball coach Kim McNeill filled these gaps by recruiting transfer athletes. She signed four players who played at Power 5 schools.
They include Clemson guard Danae McNeal, Clemson forward Tylar Bennett, Virginia Tech guard Da’Ja Green and 6-foot-5 Kansas center and Plymouth native Brittany Franklin.
Caroline Lee, vice chair of the Division I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, said in an NCAA statement that student-athletes are excited about the rule changes.
“SAAC feels honored to be a part of this landmark decision and legislation,” said Lee, who played football and earned a pre-med biology degree in Southeast Louisiana. “The ability to compete immediately provides the greatest flexibility and support for the student-athletes we serve and is a positive step towards improving their overall experience and future success.”
With progress comes the need to find the best way to deal with these new realities.
A record number of more than 3,000 athletes had entered the transfer portal in January, and coaches and colleges are looking to keep these athletes in their schools and out of the portal.
“I think recruiting is going to change permanently for the foreseeable future,” said ECU football coach Mike Houston. “I don’t know what it’s going to look like.”
Part of this process means that colleges must become competitive in the NIL era in order to provide the best fit for an athlete.
Houston added that he thinks Greenville will provide many opportunities for potential and current athletes.
“The one thing I will say about this is that I think this area will be a place where student-athletes will benefit more than our peer institutions at NIL because you have such a passionate fanbase,” said Houston. “It’s a college town; there are no professional sports in Greenville. It’s football in ECU.
“So the opportunity is there for a company to sponsor a student-athlete, or there are fans passionate enough to participate in the NIL thing.”
For soccer, the transfer portal has created the college version of free agency. ECU football participated in this, and it was a fruitful source of players for Houston to complete its roster. This becomes a year-round process, which was normally reserved for the two signing periods.
Of the 18 players signed during the December early signing window, 13 were high school students. The other five came out of the transfer portal, leaving community colleges or other FBS programs to join the Pirates in 2022.
ECU made significant improvements to its offensive line by acquiring three players from the transfer portal this offseason.
The Pirates added offensive linemen Justin Redd and Ben Johnson, securing both players from the transfer gate in February. ECU also landed the transfer of West Virginia Parker Moorer, a 6-foot-4, 313-pound offensive tackle during December’s first signing period.
Yet some schools go to extremes. Look at Sun Belt Conference Texas State’s recruiting approach. The Bobcats added 11 transfers and no high school athletes in the last signing period.
“For us, philosophically, I still want high school kids,” Houston said. “I’m big on recruitment and development, you get your kind of culture and character.
“But now you recruit a high school student and he can leave. At least if you sign a transfer, at least they’re linked to you, but I think it’s going to be a balancing act and you’re going to sign a bit of everything.
After losing Jayden Gardner, the ECU men’s basketball team, led by then-coach Joe Dooley, fought fire with fire.
The Pirates added notable transfers Alanzo Frink from South Carolina, Vance Jackson from Arkansas and Wynston Tabbs from Boston College.
Jackson led the league in 3-point shooting, while the addition of Frink bolstered the team’s size in the front court.
Tabbs had the potential to be ECU’s best player before and injury robbed him of his 2021-22 season.
Players will have a chance to take advantage of this, especially if they propel the Pirates to the top of the AAC in future seasons.
“We continue to operate in name, image and likeness space,” Gilbert said. “It will only get worse over the years.”
The Transfer Portal has completely changed college athletics.
With student-athletes given the ability to move between schools without the penalty of missing a year, the number of college football players exploring their options has reached an incredible new high.
According to an ESPN story, more than 3,600 FBS-level players entered the transfer portal this year.
No specific date was mentioned, nor was the number of student-athletes who have found new homes included.
Breaking that down by the number of teams at the FBS level (130 in 2021 and 131 in 2022), that equates to roughly 27.5 players per team.
This would include scholarship players, extras and incoming rookies.
Before the NCAA changed its transfer rules, college football players had to sit out a season after making the decision to transfer.
Now, student-athletes are allowed to have a one-time transfer rule that allows them to maintain immediate eligibility at their next destination.
Transfer graduates also have the option to be eligible immediately.
Due to the influx of players entering the transfer portal, some football programs place a strong emphasis on recruiting in this way.
Others continue to lay the groundwork by recruiting from high schools and adding pieces to the puzzle through the portal.
The longer the portal has been around, the more popular it has become among student-athletes.
According to the NCAA, the portal was created as a “compliance tool to systematically manage the transfer process from start to finish, add more transparency to the process between schools, and allow student-athletes to make their desire to transfer known.” consider other programs.
Men’s basketball is at the height of transfer talk.
The sport’s transfer rates have risen steadily over the past few years, having more than doubled in the past six years and recently increasing since the introduction of the transfer portal. If you like sports and enjoy gambling online, find out more about casino games that can win you money.
But despite the rise in men’s basketball transfers, men’s soccer maintains the highest transfer rate in Div. I exercise at 18.6%, including a net increase of 4.6% from 2015 to 2019.
Each of the nine major Divs. I sports have seen transfer rate increases over the past five years, according to NCAA data.