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GUEST POST: A potential important transfer portal wrinkle? Academic calendars.

Could schools on a quarter system get a transfer portal advantage?

Good morning, and thanks for spending part of your day with Extra Points.

The 2023 college football season is over, and the bulk of nationally important high school recruits in the 2024 class signed in the early signing period.

But the coaching carousel isn’t over, thanks to Nick Saban and whatever downmarket effects come from his sudden retirement, which means the transfer portal isn’t completely closed.

The timing for football transfers right now is far from ideal, with the portal opening during preparations for the football postseason, the end of the major high school recruiting period, significant coaching changes, the holidays, and oh yeah, final exams. But thanks to the academic calendar and current NCAA bylaws, it isn’t really practical to move that portal window to late February.

But higher education doesn’t run on a standardized academic calendar. Schools start on different dates, and some schools don’t have semesters at all. It’s different now, but when I attended Ohio State, we operated on a quarter system, which meant Fall classes started way later than other schools, and the Spring quarter extended into June.

Travis Smith, the Director of Student Athlete Academic Services at Indiana State University, host of the Higher Ed Athletics podcast and a longtime Friend of the Newsletter, dug into this for us. He wonders…could schools on Quarter Systems…the type of schools that also offer an enrollment period in March…have an advantage in the transfer portal? His words are below:


December is a very crowded month for college football programs. You have to prepare for postseason competition, you have the bulk of high school players signing during the early National Signing Period, you have the coaching carousel, major holidays, and most recently, the opening of the transfer portal. 

The dates for NSD, bowl games, and coaching hires could potentially be changed or adjusted, but it will be much harder to substantially change the dates around the transfer portal. 

That’s because the portal window is tied to the academic calendar. Based on Bylaw 14.2.1 Requirement for Practice,  athletes must be enrolled in a minimum full-time courseload to participate in practice. In practice, that means if an athlete transfers three weeks after the semester starts, they may have missed too much class to satisfy the bylaw, if the institution decides to admit them at all.

But every FBS school doesn’t operate on the exact same academic calendar. Some schools start earlier, some start later, and some don’t operate on the semester system at all.

Academic calendars have not been discussed as an advantage or disadvantage in the transfer portal. I decided to look up the spring start dates of the autonomy institutions in the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC, and Notre Dame. 

What I found was a clear advantage for a handful of these institutions. A later start date for the spring term could allow a program to take its time with the players left without a new home. 

Schools with earlier start dates could miss out on recruits still in the transfer portal because of the amount of time it takes to process a transfer evaluation, admit them, and get enrolled in a full-time course load,

A congested transfer portal will likely continue as the CFP extends to 12 teams. This could result in a delay of portal additions from teams competing in the CFP that are given an extended period than the normal winter entrance deadline.

Five schools have a quarter with a spring start date that would allow an athlete to still be admitted and start classes to satisfy NCAA bylaws and be eligible to practice in spring ball.

  • Northwestern, Big Ten, March 26th

  • Oregon, Big Ten, April 1st 

  • Stanford, ACC, April 1st 

  • UCLA, Big Ten, March 27th 

  • Washington, Big Ten, March 25th

The schools above also have winter quarter terms that are underway now, so athletes who decided to transfer there in December could still be practicing and taking classes today. Offering a spring quarter could potentially be an advantage for prospects who want to graduate on time, but weren’t able to make a transfer decision in December.

Semester-based schools with an earlier spring start date could also still enjoy this flexibility if they offer 2nd 8-week class options in their regular spring term, which has become more of a trend in higher education. Athletes could still be admitted and have their transfer evaluation process completed early enough to sign up for these classes and begin participating in spring practice. The challenge is that calendar speeds up course material, which may not be ideal for a student in a new environment. These schedule options are also typically only available for a handful of classes, which significantly shrinks the ability for transfers to be in enough degree-applicable courses to meet NCAA progress toward degree rules entering the next season.

Reviewing Start Dates

Outside the five quarter term schools, four of which are based in the West, there is not a clear geographic or conference trend on when these schools start.

Of the 68 autonomy institutions:

  • 31 schools begin the 2nd week of January

  • 27 schools begin the 3rd week of January

  • 5 schools begin the last week of January

  • 5 quarter schools begin in late March/early April

Below is a list of each institution in the autonomy conferences sorted by earliest to latest start date, including both quarter start dates for the five quarter system universities.

ACC + Notre Dame

Florida State, Georgia Tech, Louisville, NC State, UNC, Pitt: January 8th

Stanford: January 8th or April 1st

California: January 9th

Clemson, Duke: January 10th

Boston College, Miami, Notre Dame, SMU, Syracuse, Virginia Tech: January 16th

Virginia, Wake Forest: January 17th

Big 12

BYU, UCF, Cincinnati, WVU, Utah, Arizona State: January 8th

Texas Tech, Arizona: January 10th

Baylor, Houston, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, TCU, Colorado: January 16th

Big Ten

Washington: January 3rd or March 25th

Northwestern: January 3rd or March 26th

UCLA: January 3rd or March 27th

USC, Indiana, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue: January 8th

Oregon: January 8th or April 1st

Michigan: January 10th

Rutgers, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota: January 16th

Nebraska, Wisconsin: January 22nd

Maryland: January 24th


Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Vanderbilt: January 8th

Alabama, Auburn: January 10th

Missouri, Arkansas, LSU, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Texas, Oklahoma: January 16th

Tennessee, Ole Miss: January 22nd

Changes to the Academic Calendar

Academic calendars are created several years in advance, and it would be a significant change in a shared governance model with faculty and likely amendments by the board of trustees. This is not the sort of thing an AD can just send an email and change.

However, Colorado changed institutional transfer rules to become more competitive with NCAA transfer rules ahead of hiring Coach Sanders, so anything is possible in higher education to become or remain competitive in big-time football. Colorado’s old system was a slow review process that saw a rejection of transfer credits if coursework didn’t fit a specific academic program. Transfer credits could not even be transferred into Colorado as elective credits. The change in policy comes with a quicker review process and at least allows credits to now be transferable as elective credits. This is incredibly important for a transfer athlete, who still has to meet the same NCAA progress toward degree percentage rules as an athlete that didn’t transfer.

I expect there will be conversations with coaches or administrators around the country already upset about the start dates on their academic calendars. It’s also possible that the flexibility for spring quarter institutions is more theoretical than practical, as we’ll need more data to study how impactful a March enrollment period actually is.

But it’s worth keeping an eye on. Like this newsletter often writes…there’s a lot that goes on across campus that can impact a football program.

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