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College Coaches Weigh in on Navigating the Transfer Portal and NIL

On3 imageby:Jamie Shaw03/13/24


The men’s college basketball transfer portal opens on March 18, less than a week away. Two of the biggest hot-topic items in college athletics are the transfer portal and NIL. And the two topics can oftentimes find themselves intertwined within the same conversations.

I was curious to talk with college coaches about how NIL affects their transfer portal recruitment. Many of the coaches I spoke with suggested that NIL was the most important piece of the process.

“NIL is the single biggest factor in the criteria prospects now use to pick a college,” a coach in the Big East said. “Playing time, style of play, conference affiliation are now clearly second tier criteria.”

I reached out to over a dozen college coaches, across the high-major landscape, to talk about NIL as it relates to the transfer portal. 

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How Important is NIL in the Transfer Portal?

“NIL plays a huge role in transfer portal recruiting,” a coach in the SEC said. “Unfortunately, too much in my opinion.”

In 2021, the NCAA implemented rule changes to allow players to enter the transfer portal without the penalty of sitting out a year and to allow players to profit off their Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL). 

“I’ve seen that the NIL number is often the most important part,” a coach in the ACC said. “I do think that kids still want to win, but that number better be right.”

While the new rules surrounding the transfer portal are less than five years old, coaches have gone through the process for multiple cycles. Even while many are still adjusting, the importance of NIL when recruiting the transfer portal has not wavered.

“You cannot have enough money to compete in the portal,” an ACC coach said.

“From recruiting in the portal, in order of importance, I believe NIL is 1a and opportunity to play is 1b,” a coach in the SEC told me.

A coach in the Big 12 summed it up, “The transfer portal and NIL is unrestricted free agency with no salary cap. Every player is impacted by perception and reality. The misinformation and confusion is the cost of NIL, but those who have it and compete in the space have a big advantage in recruiting.”

What are the earnings of a Power Six Starter?

Not all teams are built the same. Just like not all players earn the same from their name, image, and likeness. So, I wanted to talk with the coaches. Get a sense of what NIL earnings looked like to field a competitive Power Six team. 

“I would say, to really compete in the portal/NIL era, as a Power Six school you got to have $1.5 million or more,” a coach in the SEC said. 

Furthering that thought, “A full starting five, to be serious, cannot be done for less than $1,000,000,” a Big 12 coach said.

Breaking things down a little further. On average a starting player at a competitive Power Six school can expect to earn six figures from NIL.

“I’d say it’s about $150,000 is an average starter,” a coach in the Big East told me. Another coach in the SEC similarly said, “Probably about $150,000 is the average cost for a starter at a Power Six school.”

A coach in the ACC told me, “It is hard to get a starter at the P6 level for less than $150,000-$200,000.”

While on average the starters make a certain amount, the coaches agree that quality big men were typically the top earners. 

“I wouldn’t necessarily say that prices vary by position,” one coach in the SEC said. “But bigs usually command more because of supply and demand.”

A coach in the Big 12 similarly stated, “I would say that bigs and good point guards are the highest earners.” An ACC coach added, “I would say that bigs earn the most NIL.”

NIL is personal, a player will earn what their specific name, image, and likeness can bring in. Even when breaking things down one coach told me the transfers are usually the biggest earners on their team. 

“Everything is case by case, but I would say that transfers are the highest earners on the team. Then returners second, and high school recruits third,” a coach in the SEC said.

What’s the Biggest Numbers You’ve Heard?

Most NIL is done quietly. A lot of the numbers floating around are unsubstantiated. So I wanted to note that before getting into this final section. At this point, the majority of the numbers we hear are from word of mouth. 

But I wanted to see what some of the numbers the coaches were hearing. 

“I’m not sure the biggest,” an SEC coach told me. “But I have heard there are a couple of schools that have between $2.5 and $3 million in NIL.”

“The top NIL budget at each Power Six school is around $3,000,000. Everyone else fits in after that,” a Big 12 coach said. Along the same lines, a coach in the ACC told me, “I’ve heard teams having over $2 million to work with.” 

But what about for a specific player? 

“Biggest number I’ve heard for a player is $1,000,000,” an SEC coach said. A coach in the Big East told me, “The highest I’ve heard for a high school kid is $600,000.”