Does Michigan Have A Transfer Problem?

Transferring is becoming easier and easier in today's world of college football and it's no different at Michigan.
Author:
Publish date:

Since January, somewhere between five and seven players who likely would've played in 2021 have decided to leave Michigan's football program. The number isn't set in stone because different people have different views on what each player's potential future could've been in Ann Arbor.

For instance, Zach Carpenter almost certainly would've been in the mix at the center position, while defensive end Luiji Vilain battled injuries and never really found a role at U-M. There are others somewhere on that spectrum like running back Zach Charbonnet, wide receiver Giles Jackson and quarterbacks Dylan McCaffrey and Joe Milton who all, at some point, seemed to have a bright future at Michigan. Now they're all planning to suit up elsewhere. 

Developments like those beg the question — does Michigan have a transfer problem? I would say yes. 

Over the last three years, 60 players from Michigan have entered their names into the transfer portal. That includes scholarship players and walk-ons, and also just counts the pure number on the surface. Some of those guys have withdrawn from the portal, some have already found new homes and some are still looking. However each unique situation started and played out, 60 is the number of names that are in the portal. Only Penn State and Maryland had more from the Big Ten over that stretch of time with 62. 

Here's how the entire conference fared:

Maryland - 62

Penn State - 62

Michigan - 60

Rutgers - 59

Nebraska - 58

Illinois - 38

Iowa - 35

Indiana - 34

Purdue - 33

Michigan State - 31

Ohio State - 31

Minnesota - 31

Wisconsin - 21

Northwestern - 14

Some Michigan apologists would say, "Michigan has a lot of transfers because they recruit so well. If guys get passed on the depth chart and aren't going to play, they leave." Yet that issue doesn't seem to be present at Ohio State. The Buckeyes have recruited as well as any program in the entire country and have only had 31 transfers. Wisconsin, who doesn't recruit quite as well as Michigan on paper at least, but does develop talent and put guys in the league, has only had 21 entries. Recruiting powers Clemson (20), LSU (50), Georgia (36), Oklahoma (50), Oregon (33) and USC (31) all lose less players to the portal than Michigan. Alabama is the lone recruiting machine that loses more players to the portal than Michigan with 85 over the last three years. Of course no one is going to argue with how Alabama is doing things. Whatever formula Nick Saban has in place, it's obviously working.

Another faction of U-M supporters might say, "It's because of Michigan's stringent academic requirements. Kids to get to U-M and just can't cut it." Northwestern is as good or better than Michigan academically, and they've had just 14 transfers. Other big time academic institutions like Vanderbilt, Cal and Stanford also don't seem to have the same issue with 33, 29 and 23 transfers respectively. Maybe Michigan is recruiting from a slightly bigger pool than those programs to start with, but the transfer numbers aren't even close. 

Not even the programs that consistently seem to deal with some level of dysfunction has transfer numbers as high as Michigan over the past three years. Teams like Auburn (47), Tennessee (58), Arizona (57), Texas (40), Kansas (43) and Florida State (50) all have lower numbers than Michigan. They're all close, but still not at the 60 mark.

Some would say that these numbers don't mean much — that it's just the nature of college football now — but I'm not so sure. To me, the transfer numbers at Michigan indicate that something is off, and former UCLA head coach Jim Mora Jr. agrees in the video above. If U-M was in the middle of the pack, you could argue that it's just the way things are now, but being in "rare" and somewhat unexplained company when it comes to players leaving a program, suggests that there's an issue. 

In fact, only eight Power 5 programs have had more transfers than Michigan over the last three years — Alabama, Maryland, Penn State, Louisville, Kansas State, West Virginia, Arizona State and Utah. Of those eight, five have gone through coaching changes within the last three seasons — Maryland, Louisville, Kansas State, West Virginia and Arizona State — which often leads to more transfers. 

Whatever Alabama is doing is working and no one will question the approaches in Tuscaloosa no matter how high the transfer numbers get. Transfers obviously happen during coaching changes so those five teams can explained on some level as well. However, the numbers at U-M, Penn State and Utah are a bit puzzling. James Franklin, Jim Harbaugh and Kyle Whittingham have all been running their shows for a while, and all three have had some decent levels of success. That makes the transfer numbers noteworthy, in my opinion.

I don't know the ins and outs of Utah and Penn State football, and I don't talk to anyone currently within the programs or past members of the teams, so it's hard to speak on what's going on there. However, I cover U-M on a daily basis and feel like I have a good grasp on what's going on in Ann Arbor. I've been quite clear when giving my opinion on Michigan football and Harbaugh. By all accounts there has been and still is a culture issue, and I can't believe he was extended after last season. The transfer numbers seem to support that belief and it's quite hard to explain why the number is so high if everything is just fine under Harbaugh.


Since the 2018-19 academic year, which is when the transfer portal was created, Kansas State leads all Power 5 programs with 90 names in the transfer portal. Alabama has 85 and West Virginia has 66 to round out the top three. Here's how the numbers look across the other four Power 5 conferences, keeping in mind that these are scholarship and walk-on players combined, and that these are names entered and not necessarily definitive departures:

ACC

Louisville - 65

Va. Tech - 53

Florida State - 50

NC State - 45

North Carolina - 41

Miami - 40

Georgia Tech - 34

Virginia - 33

Boston College - 32

Duke - 32

Syracuse - 31

Wake Forest - 31

Notre Dame - 29

Pitt - 26

Clemson - 20

Big 12

Kansas State - 90

West Virginia - 66

Texas Tech - 61

Oklahoma State - 58

Oklahoma - 50

TCU - 48

Kansas - 43

Texas - 40

Iowa State - 31

Baylor - 25

Pac 12

Arizona State - 65

Utah - 62

Washington State - 57

Arizona - 57

UCLA - 52

Colorado - 48

Oregon State - 38

Oregon - 33

USC - 31

Cal - 29

Washington - 27

Stanford - 23

SEC

Alabama - 85

Arkansas - 59

Tennessee - 58

LSU - 50

Mississippi State - 48

Auburn - 47

Texas A&M - 43

South Carolina - 39

Georgia - 36

Ole Miss - 36

Kentucky - 35

Florida - 34

Vanderbilt - 33

Missouri - 31