By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Don Patterson misses the good old days when student-athletes picked schools based on multiple factors, including comfort away from the playing field.
The former Iowa assistant coach under Hayden Fry believes that one of the key factors in picking a school should be based on answering the following question:
Where would you feel most comfortable as a student if you couldn’t play your sport anymore because of an injury?
That’s a fair and reasonable question, but it’s outdated because this is now the age of the NCAA transfer portal and a growing number of student-athletes are transferring at the first sign of trouble or disappointment, and there seems to be no end in sight with the transfer portal making it easier to come and go.
At one point this spring, there were almost 1,500 men’ basketball players in the transfer portal.
Iowa lost two players to the portal – forward Jack Nunge and shooting guard C.J. Fredrick – but also gained one in forward Filip Rebraca from North Dakota.
The transfer portal was created to help empower student-athletes, and to make the transfer process more transparent.
I was a big fan of the portal when it was established in 2018, and still believe in its mission to help student-athletes have more power and say in the transfer process.
Head coaches come and go as they please with little to no restrictions, so it seems only fair that student-athletes should have the same freedom and flexibility.
My concern is that the transfer portal is making it almost too easy and acceptable to transfer, and making it so changing the course is more desirable for a growing number student-athletes than staying the course.
Some college basketball coaches are now using the transfer portal to restock, or to build rosters more than recruiting high school players or junior-college players. And that can’t be good for high school basketball in the long run.
The transfer train has definitely left the station, and there is no turning back at this point.
The NCAA recently approved the one-transfer rule, and the transfer portal is likely to stay flooded with kids shifting from Plan A to Plan B.
Right now, it’s the wild-wild west with student-athletes taking advantage of having no restrictions on transferring as part of a sympathetic gesture from the NCAA for competing and persevering through a global pandemic.
But even without the pandemic, the desire to transfer is now as much a part of big-time college sports as tailgating, and that’s unfortunate.
I’m not saying it’s a crisis, or that college sports are in serious trouble. But there is a downside to the transfer portal in that it makes it more preferable for a student-athlete to want to leave at the first sign of disappointment rather than stay and fight and compete.
Some student-athletes also enter the portal without knowing for sure if a scholarship will be available. They just assume that a scholarship will be available when that isn’t always the case.
There is something to be said for staying the course, and for fighting through adversity and disappointment.
But with the portal, it seems the grass is always greener someplace else.
It seems with the portal the best way to handle disappointment is to avoid it, or run from it, especially in the case of college quarterbacks.
There just aren’t many college quarterbacks like Mark Vlasic anymore.
For those who aren’t familiar with Vlasic, he waited until his senior season in 1986 to be Iowa’s starting quarterback. He spent three of his four college seasons watching from the sideline as Chuck Long became arguably the greatest quarterback in program history.
That’s almost unheard of for a college quarterback these days.
Vlasic was from Pennsylvania, so he didn’t even have the comfort of being close to home, and yet, he still stuck it out at Iowa.
He could’ve transferred to another school, and almost certainly would’ve had opportunities to do so because of his talent.
Vlasic played six seasons in the NFL for three different teams despite having only started for one season at Iowa.
Perhaps he was rewarded in the NFL for his patience and unselfishness in college because it couldn’t have been easy being a backup for three seasons.
The easy way isn’t always the right way, though, nor is leaving always better than staying.
But on the other hand, each case is different.
Jack Nunge, for example, stayed at Iowa for four seasons before entering the portal. His father died suddenly and unexpectedly just days before the start of the 2020-21 season, and Nunge also suffered two serious knee injuries as a Hawkeye.
So in Nunge’s case, maybe transferring to Xavier was in his best interest. He wanted to be closer to his family in southern Indiana, and he gave Iowa four years of blood, sweat and tears.
But for every case like Nunge, there are countless other student-athletes who enter the portal at the first sign of disappointment, and that’s a concern.
The transfer portal plays a vital role, and is designed to help student-athletes make difficult decisions.
But with that help comes the perception that leaving is usually the right answer when maybe is isn’t.