Transfer Portal

I have written some blurbs about the transfer portal recently but for the most part I haven’t really given it too much thought in the DIII volleyball world. While doing the recruit updates, I had a coach tell me that they really don’t look at the portal at all while another said that they’ll have transfers from the portal this year. That’s a pretty big discrepancy so I reached out to a few coaches in each of the four Region X conferences to see if we could find any consistency or patterns.

First off, the transfer portal is a relatively new creation by the NCAA that allows student-athletes to add their name, which tells coaches who is looking to leave their schools. The NCAA has an interactive database that includes the results of DI volleyball student-athletes that put their name in the portal. Unfortunately, they do not have this information (that I could find) on DIII. Still, it gives us a measure on how popular the portal has been for the 2020 and 2021 years. In 2020, there were 226 undergraduate transfers and 67 graduate transfers. In 2021, there were 256 undergraduate transfers and 127 graduate transfers. I would expect the graduate transfers to keep increasing because of the COVID year granted to the student-athletes in 2020. Basically, students are graduating in 4-years but will still have a year of eligibility so graduate school makes sense for some. For those that transferred, 78% stayed in DI while 22% went to DII with less than 1% moving to DIII (4 total). Off the topic, but you can see that the potential golden ticket of a DI student-athlete moving to DIII is incredibly rare. Of those that put their names in the portal, 53% reported that they moved to a different institution. 39% didn’t update their status (could have stayed or transferred) and 8% withdrew their names with the assumption that they stayed at their original school. So, we can see that the transfer portal is useful for the student at the DI level but we still don’t know about the DIII level, which is why I reached out to the coaches. Back in January, a coach told me that there were 14 student-athletes from Region X DIII programs in the portal so it is being used at some level. Keep in mind, that DI and DII student-athletes would also be of interest to DIII programs.

Before I get to whether coaches use the portal, and yes this seems like a long tease at this point, we should probably talk about transfers in general. The coaches that responded all clarified that they prefer to recruit the high school senior. A number of reasons were given why this is. All pretty much indicated that they would rather have four-years to develop the athlete than just one or two years. One coach mentioned that the normal DIII recruit is looking for a quality education with volleyball being an added bonus while the transfer is often looking for the volleyball opportunity first. A number of coaches touched on the academic aid and how it is easier to obtain as a high school senior as opposed to a transfer. A few mentioned their school’s acceptance rates and how difficult it is for transfer students to get in. One coach even mentioned that their school, at times, will not allow transfers depending on how well high school acceptance is going. A couple of coaches mentioned that they worry about the fit of the transfer student and how it could impact the players already on the team and the team culture. That is a lot of cons to the transfer recruit and probably more than I thought about going into this article.

On the flip side, if you get a quality transfer into the program, it can change your fortunes around quickly. I’ve written before how it helped Cal Lutheran to a national championship and helped Whitworth more recently when it looked like they were going to struggle a bit. I think it’s safe to say that the transfer has to be the right fit for a DIII program and probably has to fill a need that has opened up on the program. I think it’s also safe to say that a DIII program is not going to live off of transfers year-to-year. You have to have a solid base and that comes form the high school recruits.

Another thing before I get to whether DIII coaches are using the portal…Okay, that was a joke. Sorry, let’s get into it.

Right now on my recruiting page I’ve got two schools with transfers (each have two) so although I don’t have the full list of recruits, it’s not a lot. In 2021 (again off my recruiting page), I had 16 transfers recorded. In 2021, I had just 10. In talking with Pacific’s Assistant Coach Savannah Cox she said, “We certainly aren’t operating in the way many Division I programs are in regards to the transfer portal. We are still primarily focusing on recruiting high school players. But, with that being said, I do check the transfer portal every day and do some research on players that seem in reach for us.” Pacific does seem to be active with transfers more than others as they have had at least one each of the last couple of years. You also have to remember that Pacific has a large program that includes a JV team. They typically pull in more recruits every year than any other school so looking at every avenue makes a lot of sense. I did find that most coaches will look at the portal but recruiting from it wasn’t very prevalent. Some of the more costly schools as well as a couple of elite volleyball schools didn’t really use it all. One common sentiment from all of the coaches was that it really hasn’t been very helpful to their programs, yet. Another popular response was that most coaches don’t have a full-time assistant to do the leg work and investigations to really see if a portal athlete would be a good fit at the school.

One of the more active programs on the portal is probably Puget Sound and Coach Mark Massey. While admitting that the impact from the work he does on the portal is probably minimal, he feels like “you only need to get lucky once”. He then clarified further that, “I mean, somebody decided to marry [both of] us.” Although I originally took offense to that statement, he’s not lying, at least in my case. (Side note – The Mark Massey responses to my questions pretty much could be an article by themselves or maybe a skit on Saturday Night Live. Quite entertaining.)

Another thing Mark mentioned, and this was echoed by a few other coaches, is that they still get contacted by transfers directly (even schools that don’t use the portal). I think if I were to give advice to portal athletes it would be to do your own research and find the right fits and reach out directly. Don’t trust the portal to do the work for you.

More Mark when I asked if the portal can help certain schools and not others, “For sure. Less niched schools, with more flexibility, or less academic rigor, can definitely leapfrog themselves into existence. It only takes one good gun at this level to make a splash, and make you look like a great coach.”

I think that is what I’m coming away with from my coaches. DIII schools are typically good academic programs and most come with a cost. That’s not really the best market for the portal athlete. Throw in the problems with accepting a transfer student into a school and the reduction in academic aid they will be eligible for and you really have a number of big roadblocks that the portal can’t overcome. That’s before you even get to the desire of all of my coaches to have a 4-year athlete that learns the system and the culture and can be developed over “TIME”. As ETBU Coach Mallory Matthews expressed, “I am really big about people wanting to buy into the culture and building it so it [taking a transfer] has to be the right fit for the right reason.” CMS Coach Kurt Vlasich echoed these thoughts, “Personally, I’d rather develop for four years rather than rely on a one-year player.”

There are a couple of other interesting items that I came away with from my coaches that I will touch on, but I thought it was time for more of my (grand) fatherly advice. The most important tool a prospective volleyball player can obtain prior to college is academics. Unless you are a talent that is so good you can play professional, academics will open more doors to colleges than a great serve or the perfect swing. Academics opens up every college at every level with only your volleyball ability limiting you. The next piece of advice is to consider every level out of high school. I did an article on Merit Aid a few years back and while the numbers are out-of-date, the concept that DIII colleges can give you more in academic aid than DI and DII colleges can give you in athletic aid is not. The high school senior needs to find the best fit academically and culturally and frankly, a lot of times, that will be DIII. I see too many student-athletes taking the athletic aid at a DI or DII or NAIA school because it’s more prestigious in their mind only to ultimately be disappointed and need to transfer. A lot of that “prestige” stems from the club volleyball coaches and that really borders as a crime in my mind. Every volleyball club should push their players to find the right fit and not the best volleyball program.

Alright, off my soapbox so let’s get to some other interesting items brought up by my coaches. I had a couple of coaches mention how the portal could be a help to an institution that offers a graduate degree. Pacific Lutheran Coach Kevin Aoki mentioned that he really doesn’t recruit from the portal but did reach out one time to a student-athlete that was looking for a graduate degree they offered. Colorado College Coach Sharon Dingman felt that the portal could really have a major impact on a program where the school offers graduate programs. She’s another that really doesn’t use the portal and since Colorado College only offers two graduate degrees (both in education), it’s really not that helpful to her program. One interesting note about Colorado College is that both 2021 seniors Georgia Mullins and Isabella Vasquez used the portal to play a 5th year at DI schools that offered graduate studies in the areas they needed. Not the direction I was concerned about with this article but great for them for getting that opportunity.

One last area to mention is the club side of volleyball. Coach Vlasich mentioned that he’s seeing the ugly side of the portal as it’s “killing the unsigned seniors”. He went on to say that schools won’t engage with the high school senior because they are shopping for the quick fix in the portal. He mentioned one prospective student-athlete had four colleges ready to offer her scholarships and was mapping out her visits when each of them came back a month later and told her they were going in a different direction with transfers. He actually said that it’s forcing some of these seniors to reevaluate their thoughts on DIII institutions so I’ll come back to my advice about getting academics into your volleyball toolkit.

This is where I write some clever ending that circles back to the beginning that leaves you smarter for reading. This time, I’ll let Coach Massey finish this up because at one point he started ripping into the NCAA and that’s one of my favorite sports!

“The NCAA is in the middle of a massive transformation, and in another 10 years will not look anything like it looked 10 years ago. Do I like most of it? No. All of the stuff (e.g., amateurism) the NCAA swore on a stack of Bibles they cared about…they chunked in the trashcan as soon as their money got threatened.”

“I kind of feel like the NCAA was a giant experiment. The rest of the world organized sports around clubs, mostly outside of educational institutions. Do you want to play your sport? Semi-pro? Pro? Go do it. Smart, in my estimation. Do you want to go to school? Do that. Play some sport on your college team for fun. NCAA tried to basically merge non-pro, semi-pro, and pro athletes into a system where education needs to drive the bus and we see where that got us. Incompatible, really.”

What did any of that have to do with the portal? Well, it’s part of the transformation he’s talking about, but most of all it was highly entertaining!

Okay, let me try to finish this again. Gee, thanks Mark! The portal is a tool that probably should be used by coaches but offers different worth to different institutions. It’s far better, however, for the high school senior to really look at the best fit so the need for the portal is lessened, but giving young adults more freedom in their choices on something that is so important is never bad. Still, you have to remember what the coaches want from their recruits…Mark, what say you?

“So, yeah, high school. I like watching, helping them grow, seeing a TEAM emerge and morph over time. That takes…time.”

And that’s the problem with the portal. It’s the conclusion of time at one school and the start of time at another. It’s not the continuation of time that our DIII coaches want.


4 thoughts on “Transfer Portal

  1. Interesting. Not Region X player but a D1 to D3 player, Lauren Gips, went from Rice to Babson last season as an OH. She is a Senior this coming year. Did not help them much really it seems but maybe in ‘23. She may be one of the 4 you found.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, one of the best moving to DIII was Annie Lockett (Hope). So, that’s two. Sure seems like there were more than 4. Three would be Gabriella Spaethling (NYU) who’s sister played for CC starting my daughter’s last year at Southwestern (2016). Maybe there were more than 4 golden tickets than what the NCAA says?


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