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Explaining The NCAA’s Transfer Portal & What It Means For Penn State

At least four members of Penn State’s 2018 football team are taking advantage of the NCAA’s new transfer portal to facilitate their potential departures from Happy Valley.

Juwan Johnson, Brandon Polk, Zech McPhearson, and Lamont Wade all submitted their names to the transfer portal last offseason, and former five-star recruit Justin Shorter reportedly entered the portal on November 26, 2019. The portal has caused quite a stir among college football fans due to the fact that its creation and launch weren’t all that publicized.

After big names like Johnson, Jalen Hurts, and Justin Fields entered the portal last offseason, it got tons of press and left fans confused about how it works.


The NCAA transfer portal is a student athlete’s first step toward changing teams. The NCAA’s official rule change regarding the transfer portal was announced in July, and it launched on October 15. Here’s a look at the portal itself:

Perhaps the biggest losers of the new rule are the coaches of student athletes who want to leave. Before the NCAA implemented this transfer method, players needed to get permission to contact other programs if they wanted to transfer. Thanks to the transfer portal, that’s no longer necessary.

Student athletes now notify their teams of their desires to transfer, and the university has two business days to submit their names into the portal. Entering the portal allows other coaches to contact student athletes, but it isn’t a binding agreement forcing players to transfer.

Obviously, the biggest winners here are the student athletes. They now have plenty of freedom to transfer if they choose, and they can explore their options without the pressure of being forced to leave. That said, the portal doesn’t necessarily give players the right to hop from team-to-team like free agents in pro sports.

This is the NCAA we’re talking about, so there are still plenty of hoops to jump through when it comes to eligibility. Since he’s an underclassman, Justin Shorter would likely have to wait a year before he’s eligible to play for his new team. That wouldn’t be the case, however, if he and his new team successfully got a waiver for immediate eligibility from the NCAA.

The student athletes do have more freedom to explore their options now, but deciding to enter the transfer portal is a double-edged sword. If any of Penn State’s four football players in the transfer portal are still there by the end of the spring semester, James Franklin doesn’t need to honor his scholarship next season. He’s also not obligated to invite the athlete back to the team.

Another consequence of the transfer portal is that transferring is a much more public process now, especially when it comes to football. Juwan Johnson and Zech McPhearson both announced their intentions to transfer on social media hours after news broke of their names appearing on the portal.

Make of that what you will, but 247Sports reported a college administrator gave a member of the media his/her username and password for the portal, which is only meant for use by student athletes and administrators.


What does all of this mean for Penn State? In the short-term, it could mean mean that Justin Shorter has played his last game as a Nittany Lion.

The key here is simple: Shorter’s Penn State career is not definitely over. In theory, the wideout can come back to Happy Valley if he has a change of heart with no issue, but that’d be a decision for the coaching staff to make.

Lamont Wade voluntarily withdrew his name from the NCAA’s transfer portal after entering early last offseason. That decision has clearly worked out, as the junior safety has registered 61 tackles while consistently improving over the course of the 2019 season.

Long-term, the transfer portal could end up helping Penn State. Franklin’s strongest characteristic as a coach is recruiting. He hasn’t relied too much on transfers in the past, but there will likely be a lot more options to work with now that the portal facilitates player movement.

Ultimately, the portal may hurt Penn State more due to the amount of depth seen at certain positions. It’s impossible to predict who will want to transfer, but talented players at positions with plenty of depth might not be patient enough to wait for their opportunities, now that this new option is available.


Editor’s Note: This post was updated on November 26, 2019 following reports of wide receiver Justin Shorter’s entry into the NCAA’s transfer portal.

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

In the most upsetting turn of events, Mikey graduated from Penn State with a digital & print journalism degree in the spring of 2020. He covered Penn State football and served as an editor for Onward State from 2018 until his graduation. Mikey is from Bedminster, New Jersey, so naturally, he spends lots of time yelling about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey also loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is really hard. If you, for some reason, feel compelled to see what Mikey has to say on the internet, follow him on Twitter @Mikey_Mandarino. You can also get in touch with Mikey via his big-boy email address: [email protected]

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