Here’s one more reason why the NCAA’s transfer portal — the gift that keeps on giving — continues to be a pain in the backside for college sports: Alabama wide receiver Agiye Hall was suspended by Alabama for violating team rules, so what did he do?
He entered the transfer portal.
Rather than face the consequences of breaking team rules, Hall packed up, left the school and began the process of selling himself to the highest bidder. When the going gets tough … the transfer portal gets them going. Other schools should avoid him like the (COVID-19) plague; they won’t.
They’ll line up to sign him.
According to Alabama coach Nick Saban, Hall was suspended for the remainder of spring practice. Saban explained via 247Sports, “He is suspended from the team for violations of some team rules; whether they’re academic or whatever, it doesn’t really matter. Everybody has a responsibility and obligation to respect the principles and values and do what they need to do. They’re all there to help them be more successful, so to respect those and do those are always really helpful. He had that opportunity once, so I don’t know what his plans are for the future.”
Instead of respecting his coach and his rules, instead of fulfilling his obligation to a team that had given him a scholarship, Hall chose to leave. That’s a problem.
The transport portal has robbed coaches of at least some of their ability to run a team as they see fit. Athletes can hold the portal over the heads of their coaches. If the athletes don’t like being disciplined or corrected, if they don’t like having to run laps, if they simply don’t like being pulled out of a game, if they don’t like being assigned to block downfield, they can transfer. That’s what a coach has to consider the next time he tries to coach a player — if he corrects a player, will he lose him, and can he afford that?
The transfer portal — or at least the concept of it — is a good thing. It allows players to transfer once and play immediately instead of sitting out one season as the NCAA previously required. Athletes need a certain degree of freedom to move to another school for better opportunities to pursue their chosen field of interest, just as other students do. Especially when the decision to sign with a school was made by an 18-year-old. Besides, if coaches can come and go as they please, why not athletes, most of whom commit to a coach more than a school.
But it’s not that simple, and there needs to be some constraints.
Under the current rules of the transfer portal, college athletes have much more freedom of movement than professional athletes. Pro sports have rules to limit player movement that are necessary to maintain competitive balance. The portal is free agency run amok. Even in the business world, there are noncompete clauses that protect a company’s competitive edge in the marketplace.
Players used to transfer in search of more playing time; now the transfers are players who get plenty of playing time — some are stars — who are transferring simply because they like a coach that was hired by another school, or because they are following their own coach who was hired by another school, or there are more opportunities for NIL (name, image, likeness).
Sports Illustrated reported in February that more than 3,400 D-I, D-II and D-III players had entered the transfer portal the previous three months. About 1,300 scholarship FBS players had entered the portal since Aug. 1 — an average of 10 per team — according to research from Rivals.com. Here’s another growing side effect of the portal: nearly half of them had not found a new school at the time.
Not even the opportunity to catch passes from Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young was enough to keep Hall in Alabama. Nor was the loss of Alabama’s top three targets from last season, who had declared for the NFL draft, and two other receivers who had already entered the transfer portal. Not even Alabama’s annual habit of sending receivers to the NFL was enough to keep Hall at the school.
The bottom line is that somebody didn’t really think things through completely before opening the portal and starting a stampede that has produced many unforeseen ramifications. No one foresaw the mass exodus that is occurring.
And then along came the NIL rule, allowing players to monetize their name, image and likeness. What’s to prevent a booster from enticing a player to leave his school with promises of financial opportunities under the NIL?
But how do you fix the portal? Do you bar suspended players, such as Hall, from entering the portal? Do you mandate that players can enter the portal only under certain conditions? Those will be difficult to police.
Do you open the portal only during certain times of the year, as has been suggested? There are no easy answers, but something must be done. As Shane Lyons, chair of the Division I Council, told Sports Illustrated, “We’re not doing away with the portal. It’s here to stay. But how do we modify it legally?”
Correction: A previous version of this article included a picture of another player who was wrongly identified in the Associated Press photo that also wore No. 84 during the 2021 season.