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For Chandler Martin, the NCAA Transfer Portal has Opened Doors

In his first season at Memphis, Redshirt Sophomore Chandler Martin has been nothing short of a splash addition to the Memphis Tigers’ defense. Possessing the ability to line up at the Sam, Mike, and Will linebacker positions, Martin has led the Tigers in tackles in four of seven games, leads the team in TFLs with 6.5, and is tied for the most forced fumbles with two on the year. If it weren’t for the NCAA transfer portal, however, Memphis fans may have never heard of Martin’s name.

When we look back on this era of college sports, April 14, 2021, will be a date that’ll certainly be noted in collegiate athletic history. In a move that would ultimately change the college experience for student-athletes at every level of sports, the NCAA Division One Board of Directors adopted a one-time transfer legislation allowing college athletes who had never previously changed schools to be immediately eligible for competition upon arrival at their new institutions. No pending waivers, no court proceedings, no appeals needed. Over the next two years, 38,692 student-athletes entered the transfer portal, representing an estimated 13 percent of all players at the Division One level.

Critics of the move point out that, of all who enter the transfer portal each year, approximately 54 percent will find a new school to play for. In 2021, 41 percent of students who entered the Division One transfer portal reported they were either unable to locate a new school, transferred to a non-NCAA institution, or left their respective sport altogether. From this phenomenon, a conversation arises regarding what the honest, overarching purpose of college athletics truly is in the year 2023. If it is to “provide a world-class athletics and academic experience for student-athletes that fosters a lifelong well-being” like the NCAA mission statement currently reflects, some would suggest that losing an estimated 7,290 students in 2021 alone doesn’t necessarily promote the greatest well-being for a student-athlete.

Enter ETSU transfer Chandler Martin’s transfer experience. An early high school graduate at the age of 16, Martin said his initial college recruitment got off to a less-than-ideal start. “You know that guy that’s always in the comments under the coaches’ Twitter posts? I was that guy at one point,” Martin humorously recalled. He told Bluff City Media that a lack of exposure and still being in the early stages of physical development influenced many college coaches to ignore his interest in playing for their schools. “It wasn’t a very good experience for me, so it was good for things to flip around and actually be wanted by some people” after entering the transfer portal last November.

Lightly recruited out of Arabia Mountain High School, then two-star Chandler Martin enrolled at East Tennessee State University some five hours away from his hometown in Georgia. After two seasons of physically and mentally developing, Martin burst on the scene for the Buccaneers in 2022, leading the team in tackles and finishing tied for most sacks. Knowing he was capable of playing at the level he’d always dreamed of, Martin decided to enter the transfer portal after three seasons in Johnson City, Tennessee. “The day I left ETSU and had all my stuff packed up in my car, Coach (Jordon) Hankins was sitting in my living room,” Martin recalled, “I was probably home for ten minutes before Coach Hankins came to see me.” The two, along with Martin’s parents, talked about what the University of Memphis could offer, and despite competing offers and interest from North Carolina, UCF, SMU, Toledo, and others, Martin was visiting the Memphis campus and committing to the Tigers a week following Hankins’ visit.

“The transfer portal is really a great opportunity for athletes to expand themselves or find a new place for a fresh start,” Martin said, “In my case, it was a chance for me to continue to grow, to expand. At ETSU, they gave me a lot, but me wanting to constantly improve, I didn’t want to settle.” Martin went on to speak glowingly of his time in East Tennessee, telling Bluff City Media that he made lifelong friends that he still remains in contact with just like he’s made new friends at Memphis. “(Transferring to Memphis) is what I expected — it’s been good to me,” Martin said, “I’m thankful for the great relationships I’ve built and great people I’ve met even outside of football.”

Critics of the one-time transfer waiver can find negative consequences of the ever-changing landscape in college football. Stories like Chandler Martin’s show there are benefits to the new legislation, too. Ryan Silverfield touched on the benefits of the NCAA transfer portal on National Signing Day last February. “There’s a lot of guys in the SEC that couldn’t play here at Memphis and there’s a lot of guys at FCS football that could play here at Memphis. Take a kid like Davion Ross that was an All-American or Malik Feaster that was an All-American at Jacksonville State. He went to Florida State and probably didn’t play as much as you want but hopefully has that opportunity here at Memphis. Davion Ross, an All-American at Eastern Kentucky, comes here and has been good. (To the contrary), we’ve also signed some SEC guys that couldn’t see the field for us. That’s the nature of the whole thing.”

And while the transfer portal allows student-athletes like Chandler Martin the opportunity for better development and national exposure, he says there are some careful considerations to be made. “One thing about the portal that I don’t think a lot of athletes realize is that you’re going somewhere else to play football, but you’re also moving your whole life, too,” Martin said, “I was just ready to go play FBS football, but it’s kind of hard leaving all your friends.” He went on to describe the moments of loneliness he experienced after arriving in Memphis. “It’s getting used to a different locker room, new teammates; I was just kind of figuring out my place,” he reflected, “I kind of told myself going into it that I was just going to be myself, I wasn’t going to try and be someone I wasn’t, I was just going to let the people gravitate toward me.”

Like at ETSU, Martin has proven to be a major contributor to the Memphis locker room and looks to be a focal point on the Tiger defense for years to come. Following five consecutive weeks of nationally televised games, the Tigers will be streamed on ESPN+ this Saturday for the first time since week two. Before coming to Memphis, Martin’s teams had only been featured on cable television one time while he was redshirting in 2021. Does the NCAA transfer portal have its flaws? Sure. But the positive impact it has had on student-athletes like Chandler Martin is simply undeniable.

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