Transfer Away from the Transfer Portal

FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster

If you’re an athlete, a parent of an athlete, or a coach and happen to scroll through social media on any day ending in the letter ‘Y,’ you are bound to come across something like the following post:

“Honored, blessed, and humbled to announce my commitment to attend The University of ABC to pursue my athletic and academic goals. I couldn’t be more excited to wear the XYZ’s uniform. Thanks to all who helped me along the way.”

High school kids cannot wait to announce their college commitment to the world. After years of the proverbial blood, sweat, and tears, it’s a proud life moment to be celebrated, as it should be. When athletes share their college plans with their followers, they do so while envisioning the perfect college experience. They see themselves in the starting lineup from day one as a freshman. They picture themselves leading their team to multiple championships. They finish their collegiate careers as high draft choices. They imagine all the good that they want to happen.

We always hear about the commitment. We rarely hear the times when it doesn’t work out. And more and more now, things aren’t working out at a rampant rate.

A month ago, there were more than 2,200 college baseball players in the transfer portal. TWENTY. TWO. HUNDRED. To understand how significant that number truly is, consider that the traditional Division I program carries 35 players on their roster. More than 60 entire rosters can be filled with players looking to transfer this summer.

That’s a lot of bad decision making.

That’s a lot of poor advice from “trusted” people.

That’s a lot of college programs and their coaches going back on their commitment.

Having spent six years on the Rutgers University baseball coaching staff from 2006-2011, I had a front row seat to see the depths of recruiting and everything that went into it from both the program’s perspective as well as the student-athletes’. Selecting a college to attend is arguably the most important decision teenagers will have to make up to that point in their lives, and it isn’t one that should be taken lightly. Understanding the significance of that decision as essentially being a four-year experience that sets someone up for the next forty years of their life, we, as a program, made the conscious effort to educate families on everything that should go into that college commitment, to make sure it was a good fit. Baseball was just one of those things, albeit a pretty essential one.

Our guidance with recruits and their families simply revolved around figuring out what things were important for them in their college experience, in all aspects of the college experience, not just baseball. We found that when decisions were made solely based on baseball, as they often were, things had to be perfect on the diamond for it to have a chance to work out, and even then, it wasn’t guaranteed.

First and foremost, academics had to be the priority; that is what college is all about, right? Good grades create options, while poor grades will limit them. If a kid had grades good enough to get into an Ivy League school but decided to go to a poorly regarded college just for baseball, he is sacrificing his academic prowess. There are good academic schools with baseball programs that attract some of the most talented players in the country. There are also some incredibly good academic colleges that are perfect for someone who may not be the cream of the baseball crop.

Naturally, baseball is the next piece of the puzzle. While the focus should always start on the educational side first, there is absolutely nothing wrong with investing a lot of time in finding the best fit on the diamond as well, especially for those who have a passion for the game and dream of playing in the Big Leagues. Different kids have different baseball goals. For those who aspire to play professional baseball, the opportunity to get significant at bats or meaningful innings then must play a part in the decision since few players will ever get drafted if they don’t ever play.

Some players love to play so much that they can’t stomach the thought of being redshirted or holding a backup role for a year or two. Well, then it’s important for that player to find a program where his talent would enable him to play right away. Often that opportunity is going to be found at a smaller school, possibly at a lower division. Conversely, others might feel the need to be a part of a big-time college program and would be perfectly happy being a role player for the duration of their playing career, some maybe even turning down a scholarship from a lesser program so they could walk-on at a major university.

The last major piece of choosing a school comes with the social aspect of the experience. Colleges and Universities come in all shapes and sizes. From vast campuses in the suburbs, to concrete blocks in the city; from small student bodies of a couple thousand, to huge enrollments that could fill football stadiums every Saturday, the options for campus life are almost endless. Much like finding the perfect fit in the classroom and on the baseball field, many should also consider what kind of campus life they would enjoy the most. Some might be completely overwhelmed by the enormity of a big-time ACC or SEC school by sheer numbers, just as others need to be at a place where half of the students don’t go home on the weekends. Is the campus a short drive from home or a long flight away? Do you have to be in warm weather year-round? Homebodies probably will be much better off at a school with closer vicinity to home, while those with a greater sense of independence will be fine farther away.

Between Division I, II, and III, not to mention NAIA schools and junior colleges, there is assuredly a fit for everyone who wants to play a sport beyond high school. To find the best fit, recruits and their families need to do their due diligence. It is clear, with more than 2,200 baseball players registering in the transfer portal, that many do not. Time after time, while I was coaching in college, we watched countless recruits commit to other schools where we had a pretty good idea that things were not going to work out. Sadly, we were right far more than we wanted to be. The perfect fit is there; it’s just a matter of you taking the time to find it. Do that, and the only place you’ll be transferring is away from the transfer portal.

Darren Fenster is currently the Minor League Infield Coordinator for the Boston Red Sox. In addition to being the Third Base Coach for the 2020 US Olympic Team, Fenster was previously Manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. A former player in the Kansas City Royals minor league system, Fenster joined the Red Sox organization in 2012 after filling various roles on the Rutgers University Baseball staff, where he was a two-time All-American for the Scarlet Knights. Fenster is also Founder and CEO of Coaching Your Kids, LLC, and can be found on Twitter @CoachYourKids.