The perils of the portal

Earlier this month, Mitch Albom, the Detroit Free Press sports columnist and occasional best-selling novelist, wrote a column entitled “College athletes jumping schools should skip the teary goodbyes.” This piece resonated with me on several levels.

Like many college sports fans, I have mixed emotions about the transfer portal. Sure, it is perfectly permissible per current NCAA guidelines. And it is a good way for teams to restock their rosters without waiting for unproven recruits to develop into solid performers. But something is fundamentally wrong when the portal is used promiscuously.

Case in point: Alexis Morris. Morris was the starting point guard for LSU, the women’s national champions this past season. Morris played for four teams in four years – including Baylor where she was kicked off the team by none other than then-coach Kim Mulkey who ended up recruiting her three years later to join Mulkey’s new team of LSU. 

There are tons of other examples of so-called student-athletes jumping from one college to another without consequences. The old NCAA rule was that a player wishing to transfer had to sit out a year. That rule was admittedly a bit unfair to a player who may have been recruited by a coach who left the program unexpectedly before the recruit enrolled. Those players deserve to change colleges just as coaches do.

 So, my recommendation would be to allow an athlete one transfer without sitting out a year. Any additional transfers after the first should revert back to the old rules. That would make the athlete think twice before changing schools on a whim, the perception of more playing time (or more money through the grossly unregulated NIL (name, image and likeness) opportunities). 

I’ll save my disdain for the current NIL situation for another article, but when a student-athlete can receive literally millions of dollars, something is fundamentally wrong. Albom put it this way: “No longer is it (choice of a college) about the best academics, the best coach, the best program. Now it’s also ‘Where can I cash in?’ With the sudden ability to do commercials, ads or billboards, and earn big money for relatively little effort, athletes are choosing to go where the fever is the hottest, where the boosters have the biggest connections, and where the school can best market their image.”

Albom went on to point out the curious comment made by Alabama quarterback Bryce Young as he was about to go into the NFL draft, “Finally, I can get paid!” Never mind the fact that he was believed to be making more than a million dollars as a college athlete.

Another point Albom made in his article, which struck home with me, was the hypocrisy of the statements released by athletes parting with their current program to enter the portal. It’s almost like there is a template for such statements. The standard verbal fare is “This was a hard decision. I love the school (I am leaving to play elsewhere) and my teammates and I will always cherish my time here at XYZ University.”

Well, that begs the question if there was so much joy and love at his or her former school, why leave?