Division III and the transfer portal

This is the second of a two-part series about NIL and the transfer portal. Today’s focus is on Division III wrestlers. Read Part 1 here.

There are 443 wrestlers in the transfer portal as of May 14, 2024. 31 of those are Division III wrestlers, and two of the 31 were 2024 NCAA qualifiers. Compared to Division I, there are very few Division III wrestlers using the portal. One of the reasons for this is that DIII athletes have other options than the portal to talk to other schools. These three options are as follows:

  1. Fill out the DIII self-release form if the athlete wants to talk to another DIII school.
  2. Get a letter from the current school granting permission to speak with other schools.
  3. Withdraw from school, as unenrolled DIII athletes do not need permission to talk to other schools.

Another reason that there are fewer DIII athletes in the portal is that there are very few opportunities for Division III wrestlers to earn NIL money. There are not as many big money donors looking to buy athletes at the Division III level, so there is rarely a financial incentive for a successful DIII wrestler to transfer to another DIII school. This could change as NIL rules are clarified and DIII schools ramp up fundraising in the NIL era. Several Division III schools have collectives supporting them, but the numbers are small and often focused on a single sport (like Marietta Basketball’s Two Rivers Trust).

Wrestling is also different than some other sports in portal usage. There are over 1,100 DIII football players in the portal as of May 14th. That means there are 37 times as many football players in the portal even though there are only about 7.5 times as many football players as wrestlers overall in Division III. The ratio in men’s basketball is even greater with 21 times as many players as wrestlers in the portal even though there are only about 2.5 times as many basketball players.

Why are there so many more basketball and football players in the portal? One reason is playing time. With multiple entry tournaments and multi-dual events, most Division III wrestlers get to compete, no matter how far down they are on the depth chart. The fourth string 141 might wrestle 15+ matches while the fourth string right guard never gets in a game. Also, wrestling teams often have wrestle-offs where the athletes determine who starts with direct competition. In other sports, the coach decides who plays, and many players on the football and basketball bench are sure they would be playing more if the coach were smarter. The other reason for the number of basketball and football portal entries is the attention the portal gets in the media in those sports. Something like 40% of Division I basketball players are or were in the portal this year. Division III athletes see countless stories about transfer athletes and decide to give the portal a try. Many of them are holding onto the belief that a DI or DII scholarship is a possibility, even though they lack the stats or game video to warrant that level of attention.

Division III wrestlers will enter the portal for several reasons. Their current school may be a poor fit, the coach may be leaving, the school may be closing, or they feel like they will have a better chance to get in the lineup at a new school. Regardless of the reason for leaving, almost any wrestler, regardless of past results, will be contacted after entering his name in the portal. Small private colleges are looking to add students, and a name in the portal is a student who has already proven that he wants to wrestle, wants to continue in college, and understands the costs of attending college. Since there are no athletic scholarships and wrestling teams rarely have a roster limit, coaches do not risk using scarce resources on a wrestler, and the school gets another tuition-paying student.

As we head deeper into the portal era, Division III wrestlers will likely increase their usage of it rather than rely on the previous, but still valid, methods described at the beginning of the article. Coaches will continue to keep a close eye on the portal to contact both current Division III athletes as well as Division I and II athletes that may be willing to change divisions to find a better fit. The sport is still a ways away from NIL money having a major influence on freshman and transfer enrollment, but that day may be coming as schools increase their competition for students and find creative ways to supplement their rosters.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *