Hailey Van Lith announces her move to TCU in the transfer portal. Via Hailey Van Lith on X.

College sports is currently in its transfer portal era–and despite criticism, it’s really good for the game. While these features offer benefits to all sports, women’s basketball in particular has benefitted from transfer activity and this past offseason is proving that transferring isn’t just a trend–it’s the new norm for collegiate sports.

Sports media should be nothing but thrilled for this new development because although the transfer portal can be a hotly debated topic in college sports, it’s clear that it positively impacts storylines, name recognition, and even parity.


If there’s one constant among sports that sell, it’s that the most popular sports out there have excellent storylines attached to the people involved. Whether it’s coaches, athletics staff, athletes, or fans, sports media and its followers love a good storyline for two reasons:

1. From a basic biological perspective, the human brain is wired to follow narratives–after all, myths, folklore, and cave drawings are how humans have always shared information, societal rules, and cultural values. In other words, storytelling has millions of years of evolution on its side, so it makes sense that modern-day sports fans eat up stories around the figureheads they love.
2. Although sports have long been framed as a hypermasculine, intellectual realm, the truth of the matter is that fans love sports because of how sports make them
feel. Regardless of the genre, stories with sympathetic characters, heroes, villains, and the obstacles a protagonist faces in pursuit of what they want are surefire components for an emotional ride–and it’s emotion, not logic, that makes sports truly great.

Women’s sports have plenty of compelling stories, thanks in large part to the transfer portal. Who could forget LSU’s quest to their first women’s basketball championship in 2023, spearheaded by Maryland transfer and 2024 first-round Draft pick, Angel Reese? Had Reese stayed with the Terps, not only would she likely not have secured a national title over her impressive collegiate career, but sports media would have never witnessed the Reese/Clark rivalry peppered with controversial moments from start to finish.

The transfer was also an excellent business move for Reese, whose stats and NIL evaluation both skyrocketed in between her sophomore and junior seasons–since transferring to LSU, Reese signed a litany of high-profile NIL deals with brands ranging from Mercedes-Benz to Reebok all of which gave her a platform to tell her story, showcase her personality, and connect with fans.

Reese’s presence at LSU was also good for the game–LSU has been a part of multiple record-breaking viewership performances over the course of Reese’s career and their matchup with Iowa in the Elite Eight matchup in April obliterated women’s basketball attendance and viewership records, outperforming both the past year’s World Series and NBA Finals average viewership with a staggering 12.3 million viewers.  

Name Recognition

Earlier this year, PWHL sponsor Molson Brewery made a smart marketing move when it launched its “See My Name” campaign. The idea of the campaign is simple–while most sports jerseys feature athletes’ last names at the top of the back of jerseys, Molson decided to move the names on its PWHL jerseys to the bottom. Like many aspects of the sports industry, athletic jerseys were designed with men at the forefront, which has impacted women athletes’ name recognition since many female athletes have long hair that covers the traditional placement of their names on jerseys. Molson’s simple but brilliant campaign was designed to amplify the name recognition of PWHL players, which in turn boosts their fan engagement and personal brands.

The transfer portal functions similarly for female college athletes. While the top stars in women’s hoops–like Caitlin Clark, Angel Reese, Kamilla Cardoso, and Cameron Brink, for example–are increasingly enjoying more and more media spotlight, plenty of talented players go under the radar. The transfer portal creates a buzz around underrated names because if top schools are vying for these athletes, they must be something special.

Take Kiki Iriafen and Deja Kelly, for example. Both athletes entered the transfer portal after the conclusion of the 2024 March Madness tournament, exiting Stanford and North Carolina, respectively. Iriafen played for the same school as first-round pick, center Cameron Brink, so her name often got drowned out in conversations around talented post players, even though Iriafen averaged a double-double in her breakout junior year last season and was one of five national finalists for the Katrina McClain Award, which honors the game’s best power forwards. After transferring to USC, the world of women’s basketball is now humming with speculations of a West Coast superteam, and Iriafen, a name that was much less well-known in previous seasons, is at the forefront of that conversation. 

Deja Kelly has much more conservative–and still respectable–statistics. But her most prominent strengths of flexibility, endurance, experience, and leadership don’t show up on a stat sheet, and these traits could be a game changer for Oregon next year. Without the transfer portal to amplify names like Kelly and Iriafen, these players would likely perform just as well without being rewarded with the attention they deserve. In other words, transfer chatter not only contributes to great stories in sports media, but it can also help launch the careers of athletes who otherwise might go unnoticed or underappreciated while pairing them up with great teams. 

The transfer portal also offers these athletes a chance to get creative with their virtual content. For instance, earlier this week, Kelly posted pictures to Instagram of her sitting on a throne donning a Ducks uniform to announce her transfer to Oregon–and it was her most liked post of the year by thousands of engagements.

Similarly, when USC commit, Talia von Oelhoffen, was deciding on her next home, she made a campaign of it, posting photos of her wearing the uniforms of her final four schools–Louisville, Kentucky, Colorado, and USC. Throughout her decision-making process, von Oelhoffen also showcased her love of video games on Instagram with an edit of the popular game, Fortnite that featured her diving onto the logos of her final four picks instead of the game’s popular towns, with the caption “where we droppin?? #top4.” The graphic and overall transfer campaign was great personal marketing, driving speculation and mystery while showcasing von Oelhoffen’s personality. In this vein, like NIL, the transfer portal can function as an extension of athletes’ brands and increase eyes on their athleticism and women’s sports as a whole (plus, it looks like a lot of fun for the athletes).


While transfer portal policies were being debated over the past several years, much of the opposition centered around the idea that if college athletes were able to transfer freely, it would disrupt parity in collegiate athletics–despite the fact that parity doesn’t really exist in college sports in the first place (see: Power Five dominance) and that coaches’ long-held ability to switch schools with few restrictions never brought up the same arguments. While it’s a bit early to see how this plays out in the long run, even teams that were expected to be “superteams” haven’t lived up to that potential. When Hailey Van Lith and Aneesah Morrow transferred to LSU in 2023, such rumors spread like wildfire, but LSU was eliminated from March Madness after falling to Iowa–who didn’t have a single transfer player last season–in the Elite Eight. Van Lith’s high-profile transfer to TCU this offseason adds one more school that will draw national attention this coming season.

Although USC’s superteam speculation has yet to be tested, the buzz in the off-season is just bringing more attention to the sport of women’s basketball. And the other USC–South Carolina–which only brought in Oregon transfer Te-Hina Paopao last season, has looked like more and more of a superteam in recent years, winning two national championships and only losing three games total in the last three seasons, in spite of its conservative transfer activity.

Instead, South Carolina relies more heavily on roster retention and its tried-and-true top-tier high school recruiting pipeline to further its dominance. So although the transfer portal has contributed to some hugely talented rosters in women’s hoops, transfer activity in and of itself hasn’t determined the success of such teams. And considering the fact that it will take a true superteam to beat South Carolina next year, watching multiple star-studded programs bolstered by the transfer portal battle it out next year will be a hell of a lot of fun to watch–all positives for women’s basketball and sports media.

While you can add the transfer portal to the list of controversial topics to avoid bringing up at family Thanksgiving dinners, it’s undeniable that it brings a lot of positives to women’s basketball. Sports media should cover it accordingly–after all, the content basically writes itself. 

About Katie Lever

Dr. Katie Lever is a former Division 1 athlete and current freelance sports writer whose work has appeared in Global Sport Matters, Sportico, Extra Points, Forbes, and other outlets. She is also the award-winning author of Surviving the Second Tier, a dystopian novel about the dark side of the college sports industry, available on Amazon. Follow Katie on Twitter and Instagram: @leverfever.