What is the transfer portal?

The NCAA transfer portal is a digital tool that was created in 2018 to streamline the college transfer process for student-athletes. It allows athletes to officially declare their desire to transfer before starting to communicate with prospective coaches while still attending their current school. This has empowered student-athletes by giving them more control over the decision to transfer and by preventing their current schools from blocking potential financial aid from future schools.  

In April of 2021, the transfer portal rules were updated to prioritize student-athlete opportunity and choice. Division I student-athletes who transfer within the division do not have to sit out a year and are immediately eligible to play once they transfer. Sitting out the first year after transferring is called academic residence. The NCAA also has one-time transfer exceptions that allow student-athletes to compete immediately. 

How does the Transfer Portal work?

Once a student-athlete decides they want to transfer, they ask their athletic compliance administrator to enter their name into the portal. For Division I, the school has two business days to submit the information. For Division II, the school has seven days to submit the athlete’s name into the portal. Other schools can begin to contact the athlete once their name is in the portal. Prior to the transfer portal, athletes needed to request permission from their coach in order to be transferred and schools could deny the student-athlete’s request to transfer.

When do athletes have to sit out a year?

Student-athletes have to sit out a year when they transfer to a Division I school for the second time. For instance, if a student-athlete has played at two Division I schools and decides to transfer again, they will have to sit out a year. If student-athletes fail to notify the school by the transfer deadline, they will also have to sit out a year in order to gain eligibility. 

Eligibility Timelines

Each division has a timeline for how many seasons a student-athlete is allowed to compete in. It is important for athletes to know how many seasons they have competed in when looking to transfer to another school.

For Division I, student-athletes have a five-year play clock. This means they have five calendar years to play four seasons of competition. This includes if they spend a year in academic residence as a result of transferring to a Division I school from another division.

Division II and Division III student-athletes are on a 10-semester or a 15-quarter clock. Student-athletes have the first 10 semesters or 15 quarters to play four seasons enrolled as a full-time student. For Division I and II athletes, if they compete for any amount of time during the season, it is included as one of their four seasons. For Division III, if an athlete competes or practices after the first date of the season, it is included as one of their four seasons.

Rules for Division I transfer

Student-athletes transferring once within the division can play immediately as long as they notify the school by the deadline. The deadline for fall and winter sports is May 1 every year. The deadline for spring sports is July 1 every year. If a student-athlete transfers for a second time to a different Division I school, they have to sit out a year. These rules impact all NCAA Division I sports. 

Rules for Division II and Division III transfer

Student-athletes transferring from a Division II school to a Division I school go through the same process to get their name into the transfer portal. If a Division III student-athlete is looking to transfer to a Division I or II school, the athlete will have to register with the NCAA Eligibility Center if they have not already done so. The NCAA Eligibility Center determines a student-athlete’s eligibility based on academics and their athletic history at their school. If transferring within Division III, student-athletes can release themselves and contact schools. Division III sets their own admission and eligibility standards. Typically, athletes just need to meet the admissions requirements of the school they are planning on attending.

Rules for NAIA transfer

Transferring from an NAIA school to a NCAA Division I or II school has the strictest rules. Student-athletes need to make sure they qualify as a transfer student first. They qualify if they meet at least one of these five requirements:

  1. Been a full-time student at a two- or four-year college during a regular term (excluding summer).
  2. Have practiced with a college team.
  3. Competed or practiced with a college team while enrolled as a part-time student.
  4. Have received athletic-related financial aid while attending summer school.
  5. For Division I only: The student received any type of financial aid from a college while attending summer school.

From there, student-athletes need to decide which division level they want to transfer to and get their eligibility status. If an athlete is transferring to a Division I or II school, the athlete needs to register with the NCAA Eligibility Center. Lastly, the athlete needs to get a permission-to-contact letter from their athletic department or compliance office. A permission-to-contact letter is only necessary for transferring to a Division I or a Division III school.

NAIA student-athletes are immediately eligible to compete after transferring to a NCAA Division I or Division II school. Also, athletes who transfer from one NAIA school to another receive immediate eligibility after filling a transfer release form. 

The rules remain the same for student-athletes transferring from NCAA to NAIA schools. Student-athletes transferring to a NAIA school need to register with the NAIA Eligibility Center.

Rules for Two-Year College Transfers

For student-athletes looking to transfer to a four-year school from a two-year school, the requirements rely more on academic eligibility. The first thing student-athletes need to do is register with the NCAA Eligibility Center. The NCAA will certify the athlete as an academic qualifier, meaning they are eligible to transfer to a four-year school based on their academics. If an athlete completed their Associates Degree at a two-year school, they will automatically be eligible to compete at any four-year school. Student-athletes don’t need permission from the school to transfer.

What happens to Scholarships when you transfer?

It is important for an athlete to be 100% sure that they want to transfer schools due to the risks it potentially poses with an athlete’s current school. A student-athlete’s current athletic scholarship will not be affected, but it could be revoked in the future. If a student-athlete decides to stay at their current school, there is a potential risk of being cut from the team and losing athletic scholarships.

The transfer portal creates an easy way for athletes to transfer schools and continue to play collegiate sports. By knowing these rules and steps, student-athletes can be successful in the transfer process and find the right school to continue their academic and athletic careers.