Into the portal: Transfer portal becoming hot topic around collegiate athletics

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Jordan McAlpine
SPORTS EDITOR

Ayo Akinwole recently entered his name into the transfer portal, which is full of student-athletes from all around the country. Photo courtesy of Omaha Athletics.

As winter sports come to a close and coaches begin their evaluations and year-end meetings, there’s one more item on coaches’ minds. The transfer portal.

A compliance tool designed to help athletes, coaches and administrators monitor the transfer process, the transfer portal launched in the fall of 2018. With all athletes being granted an extra year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the transfer portal has garnered more attention than ever before.

Winter sports are almost starting to have the look of a professional free agency in the past few weeks, as athletes around the country look to find a new home or pursue other opportunities.

“You’re seeing a lot of movement right now, so I think it’s just about trying to be transparent and trying to figure out what’s best for your program and what’s best for the athlete,” said Omaha hockey head coach Mike Gabinet. “It’s uncharted waters right now with the extra year and with the transfer portal, so I think we’re all just trying to do our best to navigate through it.”

As of April 1, there were over 1,000 players listed in the NCAA Basketball transfer portal and over 200 in hockey’s. With athletes being granted that extra year, it’s created a seemingly never-ending list of headaches for coaches to take into consideration in the coming weeks.

Roster spots, class sizes, scholarships, recruiting, depth charts, lineup decisions- the list keeps going. Although transferring is not a foreign concept throughout collegiate athletics, nobody has ever seen anything like the current rate athletes are doing it.

Look up and down the rosters of several Omaha teams and you’ll see transfer students scattered throughout them. It’s something that’s always existed within college sports and the change of scenery can prove to be beneficial for the athlete and program alike. That’s especially been true with Gabinet’s team in recent years.

At this time last year, the Mavericks brought Jonny Tychonick into the fold from North Dakota. Nate Knoepke (Minnesota), Kevin Conley (Denver) and Jack Randl (Michigan) also transferred in from other schools, while five other members of the Omaha roster were once committed elsewhere.

With so much movement and activity around the sport right now, that list could potentially be added to. As of now the hockey program hasn’t been affected or seen anyone enter their name, but there’s a lot of offseason left. However, other Maverick teams have already started to be impacted. One of those being the men’s basketball team.

In the past month, the Mavericks saw their two leading scorers from this season enter the transfer portal. Junior Marlon Ruffin made his announcement on March 8, while senior and Omaha native Ayo Akinwole followed on March 30.

In most cases, the decision stems back to the athletes being in search of more playing time or a new opportunity. It’s also become a numbers game with so many athletes on the move around the country.

That numbers game has also created an interesting dilemma for coaches. Do you jeopardize future years for your program and risk losing a freshman or incoming recruits over one more year of a returning senior? Or do you just decide to move on? It’s the tough spot every coach currently finds themselves in.

It’s all part of the current landscape of collegiate athletics and it doesn’t look to be going away any time soon.

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