Columbia College Robert W. Plaster School of Business Dean Jonathon Moberly, J.D.

*Editor’s Note: CC Biz Buzz is a monthly column series that features insightful commentary from a member of the Columbia College Robert W. Plaster School of Business faculty.

By Jonathon Moberly

In the August edition of Biz Buzz, we examined four NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) programs with first-time head coaches (CEOs) in the 2023 season and the impact of the transfer portal on their ability to build team culture and success on the field: Kenny Dillingham at Arizona State, Biff Poggi at Charlotte, Trent Dilfer at UAB and Ryan Walters at Purdue. 

The NCAA transfer portal window for fall sports opened Dec. 4 and closed Jan. 2. Players must communicate in writing with their current head coach and athletic department of their intention to enter the transfer portal and can technically do so prior to Dec. 4. However, the player’s current athletic department actually submits the player’s name into the portal, and the player is not supposed to communicate with other schools until receiving confirmation that their name was officially entered.

Dillingham led his alma mater to a 3-9 record in 2023 with wins over Washington State and UCLA, a close loss to national runner-up Washington by eight points, and three-point losses to Colorado and Cal. Once the transfer portal opened, Dillingham saw 18 players enter the portal. Eleven of those 18 played in at least two games during the 2023 season, with six of them playing in nine games or more. Eleven players who entered the portal have committed to a new program as of Jan. 22. However, Dillingham welcomed 22 new players who transferred to ASU from other FBS programs.

Poggi likewise led Charlotte to a 3-9 record, with two wins over conference opponents and a one-score loss to Memphis. Poggi saw 19 players enter the transfer portal at the close of the 2023 season. Three of those players played in eight or more games, five played in one to four games, and 11 did not play at all in 2023. Of the 19 players who entered the portal from Charlotte, only six committed to a new program as of Jan. 22. Poggi welcomed 19 new players who transferred to Charlotte during the transfer period.

Dilfer led UAB to a 4-8 record, with three conference wins and the final game ending in a three-point loss to conference foe North Texas. Dilfer saw 17 players enter the transfer portal at the end of the season. Four of those players played in all 12 games, four played in two to four games, and nine did not play at all in 2023. Eight of the 17 players who entered the portal committed to another program as of Jan. 22, while Dilfer welcomed six new transfer players to the UAB program.

Walters led Purdue to a 4-8 record, with wins over conference opponents Illinois, Minnesota and Indiana, and close losses by eight points or less to Iowa, Northwestern and Fresno State. Walters led the way among the four first-time head coaches with 25 players transferring out of the Purdue program after the season, including 10 players who started at least one game in 2023, seven who played in at least three games without starting, and eight who did not play in any games last season. Eighteen of the 25 players who entered the transfer portal committed to a new program as of Jan. 22. 

Players enter the transfer portal for a number of reasons, particularly with new head coaches, just as employees of organizations choose to find employment somewhere new. Reasons for this can include:

  • No opportunity for experience or advancement;
  • Opportunity for experience and advancement is there, but the culture or strategy is not something that they buy into;
  • The employee sees the opportunity for advancement and buys into the culture and strategy, but leaves for higher compensation at another organization;
  • The employee has been counseled to find employment elsewhere due to poor performance. 

Players enter the transfer portal for a number of reasons, particularly with new head coaches, just as employees of organizations choose to find employment somewhere new.

While we cannot see inside the minds of the 79 players combined who decided to leave ASU, Charlotte, UAB and Purdue, nor do we know their reasoning for doing so, we have to assume their reasoning aligns with one, or a combination of several, of the four reasons above for why employees leave organizations.

It’s important for us to keep in mind that these players had the opportunity to leave much sooner, but decided to stay. They bought into the vision, strategy and culture of the program that was presented to them when each of the respective new head coaches joined the programs this time last year. They stayed for winter conditioning, spring practices and the spring game in late April, and finished the spring semester despite having the transfer portal window open again from April 15-30.

Just as in a place of employment, there is a “honeymoon period” before it gets “real.” For many of these players, that honeymoon period may well have lasted from January through fall camp, and it got “real” once the season started. While the transfer portal allows an opportunity for each player to potentially find a new home to continue their dream of excelling in college football to earn a chance to play in the National Football League, the portal also allows thousands of other players to transfer to their schools and compete for what they thought was “their job.”

The transfer portal makes the competition for those starting roles – or even to get on the field – much higher and intense. If NFL teams cannot see that you excel in competition (i.e. be on the field when it counts and dominate), they do not have a reason to invite you for an interview (i.e. training camp) as you do not have a “resume” that sets you apart.

Jonathon Moberly, J.D., is the dean of the Columbia College Robert W. Plaster School of Business. Moberly has more than 16 years of experience in higher education after working for five years in the sports business industry representing professional athletes.