Are NIL And the Transfer Portal Ruining College Athletics?
Imagine for a second you are a Division 1 women’s gymnast, you’re getting offers from some of the best athletics programs in the country, Georgia, Alabama, LSU, Clemson etc, and you commit. Now you’re at a university, and you being there brings them lots of money. While at that university you gain an incredibly large following on social media, all while being a student, an athlete, and working. Before June 30, 2021, this was the life for most collegiate athletes unless you played one of the big three sports: football, basketball, or baseball. Most of your needs outside of the things covered in athletic scholarships, you had to pay for. But now it’s different as in 2021 with the case of National Collegiate Athletic Association v. Alston, the world of college athletics changes as that case allowed for NIL. This was a huge change for college athletics, but established not much earlier, there was another massive change in the NCAA transfer requirements. Pre-2021 as an athlete, you could transfer schools, but you would have to sit out a year and lose one of your four years of base eligibility. Now you can transfer once without losing any eligibility.
With these huge sweeping changes many critics began believing the Wild West status of both the transfer portal and NIL would lead to “paid to play” like in professional sports, and some even said that they were “killing the spirit of college athletics”. Let’s look at both the pros and cons of both the transfer portal and NIL.
First up is NIL. First off, what is NIL? NIL or Name, Image, and Likeness is the ability for someone to make money off their name, image or likeness, which was previously illegal under NCAA rules. As Alston argued in NCAA v. Alston, these athletes can bring in hundreds of thousands, millions, or even tens of millions of dollars in merchandise sales and increased ticket revenues. These athletes should be able to profit off of being at that university and contributing to its success. So what are some pros of NIL? Well NIL can lead to equal compensation for athletes who don’t play the big three sports, athletes can get their name and brand out into the collective conscience, and athletes can take the weight of paying for college off the university. Some of the negatives include the possible abuse of the NIL system or “pay to play” for recruits. One example was the Florida QB controversy with 2023 recruit Jaden Rashada who originally committed to the University of F lorida but wanted out of his letter of intent because the university wouldn’t give him 7.2 million dollars in NIL. You can also see the abuse of NIL with 2021 transfer portal wide receiver Jordan Addison, Addison was a wide receiver at Pitt and won the Biletnikoff Award, which is given to the best wide receiver of the year. He entered the transfer after QB Kenny Pickett declared for the NFL draft, and he went to USC who’d just hired former Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley, mainly because he was given a $3 million NIL deal.
Next up is the transfer portal. The transfer portal has been around for years, but it was never really utilized for building teams until a few years ago when the rules were changed. As previously mentioned, pre 2021 the rule was you could transfer, but you’d have to sit a year and lose one of your four years of base eligibility. But in 2021 the rules were changed so that you could transfer an unlimited amount of times and not lose any eligibility. This led to to over 1,000 athletes entering the transfer portal on its first day. Since then though the rules have been changed, and you may only transfer once without losing any eligibility. This combined with NIL have led to many people taking issue with the new transfer portal. But there are many positives. One big positive is someone who stands out on a bad team in a good conference has the opportunity to show themselves at another better school in a better conference. It also allows for players who wouldn’t have gotten playing time at another university to change their situation or to just surround themselves with a better team like Micheal Phenix did when he transferred to the University of Washington. But just as recruits can abuse NIL, so can the transfer portal, as with USC wide receiver Jordan Addison’s deal . Additionally, many colleges who release their NIL numbers, these teams spend millions on NIL deals with transfer portals to get recruits which often means certain universities acquire all the talent in the portal, and some universities have rebuilt their entire team using the transfer portal.
While many like these changes and many hate them, ultimately we are stuck with them and will have to deal with them. The NCAA continues to legislate the NIL to prevent its abuse as they do the same with the transfer portal, and hopefully one day these reach a place where it benefits athletes, universities, and fans.