Last week was an eventful one for the UTEP men's basketball program. In a span of 24 hours, two of the team's top sophomore guards, Nigel Hawkins and Jordan Lathon both entered their names into the NCAA Transfer Portal. Hawkins changed his mind 24 hours later while Lathon needed a week to figure things out and also return to the Miners. Meanwhile, UTEP fans went on a roller coaster ride of emotion, wondering what kind of team would be left if one or both players departed for good.

For Miners fans, men's basketball is not the only sport where the portal is having a big impact on the program. According to 247 Sports, UTEP football currently has eight players in the NCAA Transfer Portal, including former walk-on Tre' Wolf, who emerged as a featured receiver for the Miners and then was put on scholarship by head coach Dana Dimel.

Gaby Velasquez.
Gaby Velasquez.

In the 15 months since the NCAA Transfer Portal was created, thousands of athletes in all sports now have the ultimate empowerment when it comes to their college careers. In fact, of the 302,000 student athletes competing in Division 1 and Division 2 sports in 2018-19, 15,000 of them entered the portal. Prior to October 2018, student athletes would have to ask their coach for permission to transfer. If they were denied, the school's athletic director, campus administrator, and campus committee (in that order) would all have the opportunity to grant or deny the student's athlete's transfer request.

Now, the NCAA Transfer Portal makes it easier than ever. All a student athlete has to do is give their compliance director a letter in writing that states they wish to enter the portal. Then, the school has 48 hours to process the request and enter their name into the portal. At that point, the athletes can choose to list their cell number and email so they can be contacted or list no contact information so they can seek out another school. At the same time, college coaches and compliance directors have access to every name in the portal.

There are no current regulations when it comes to the NCAA Transfer Portal. Students athletes can stay inside the portal as long as they wish while they decide about their future. Some schools may choose to take the athlete back if they have second thoughts about leaving. In that case, the athlete would withdraw their name from the portal and return to their old school. However, each institution reserves the right to decide if the student athlete keeps their scholarship and financial aid at the end of the semester if they decide to leave the portal and return to their college or university. Other athletes will stay in the portal until they transfer to another school. In some cases, athletes can even remain in the portal while returning to their former college or university. In this case, they could be actively recruited by other schools while playing with their team.

My biggest issue with the NCAA Transfer Portal is that there are currently no restrictions when it comes to players entering and leaving. An athlete could decide to return to school but re-enter the portal at any time to explore their options again. That puts a strain on the school's program including their APR (Academic Progress Rate). Since each of a university's athletic teams gain points from retention and eligibility, the portal can hurt their APR total score if the student athlete is not able to find another school. In today's age of college athletics, many 18-20 year old student athletes do not think about the long-term effects a move could have on them both scholastically and athletically. Often they will be told by their AAU coaches or other friends that they should get more playing time whether or not they deserve it. The easy choice is entering the transfer portal since there is no consequence, especially if their old school will always leave the door open to a possible return. If you listened to UTEP Director of Athletics Jim Senter yesterday on SportsTalk with his "Front and Senter" show, he discussed the NCAA Transfer Portal in detail and its impact on not just the Miners but also college athletics.

I am hoping the NCAA will add restrictions to the portal in coming years, especially a waiting period that must be met once a player enters and leaves the portal. I think one year is a fair amount of time before a student athlete can go back and re-enter. Until that happens, UTEP fans will just have to brace themselves for the annual roller-coaster ride that is Division 1 college sports.

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