There’s more to consider beyond wins and losses

Just about every day, you see a headline reading, “Player A has entered the transfer portal.” And, while the NCAA’s transfer portal was established in 2018 to streamline and unify the transfer process for college student-athletes, compliance offices, and college coaches, it has also put a renewed emphasis on team “culture.”

The idea of team culture was emphasized in a recent article in The Athletic about the San Diego State University basketball program. In that article, it was noted that, while more than 1,600 players entered the transfer portal in the spring of 2021, none of them came from the Aztecs. Instead, four players transferred to San Diego State, some from larger programs. And for a mid-major basketball program not named “Gonzaga,” that is pretty impressive.

As the article noted, it’s likely the players coming to San Diego State are coming there for the culture. And, if you’re not considering the different types of culture in your college choice, you should be. Think about:

Winning Culture

The Athletic article cited guard Matt Bradley, who transferred to San Diego State from the University of California, even though he led the Bears in scoring his sophomore and junior seasons. While Bradley’s scoring line was impressive, he realized that those numbers meant nothing if the team wasn’t winning. And, while he received plenty of interest from big-name, major basketball programs, he chose San Diego State because he wanted to be closer to home and a part of the team’s winning culture (selected for eight NCAA tournaments while winning seven Mountain West titles and putting up three 30-win seasons in the last 11 years).

As you consider where you might want to compete in college, it’s important to consider how much importance a school places on establishing a “winning culture.” While a program’s win/loss record is the clearest sign of a winning culture, other factors to be considered include the facilities, program funding, coaching staff size and stability, and even the training staff and facilities.

In addition, think about your own priorities too. Is your goal to go to college to win or simply to compete at the next level while earning a college degree? Those two factors may not be mutually exclusive, but determining how much emphasis you place on one or the other can help you decide how much “winning culture” should factor into your college decision.

Team Culture

Also noted in the article was how San Diego State’s continuing success has been reliant on continually bringing in older transfer players while also developing younger recruits. That the Aztecs’ formula has been so successful for so long speaks to the successful development of a team culture where every player buys into the goal of winning as a team.

Given that, having an understanding of a team’s culture should also be an important factor in your college choice. While it’s important to look at an existing roster to see where you might fit in a year or two down the road, it’s equally important to consider how much that team balances developing younger players with also allotting playing time to older players and transfers. The programs with solid team cultures can do both.

While you can see signs of positive team culture in a program’s performance, you can also get your own sense of it during recruiting visits. How does the team act around each other? Does it feel like a “team” or a collection of individuals? Do you feel like you share the same values of the coaches and the team? More to the point, do you feel you fit in with the team?

Campus Culture

Because there are so many elements that go into determining campus culture, this one is hard to define. Consider whether you’ll be a student-athlete or an athlete-student. Are you looking for a big campus and huge student body or do you prefer a smaller school, fewer students, and more opportunities to connect with faculty? Athletically, do you want to focus solely on one sport, or do you want the opportunity to be a multi-sport athlete? Further, do you want more time to enjoy being a college student while you also compete? A big-city campus or a small town community? What about social opportunities on and off-campus? Cold or warm climate?

All of the above and more can determine a campus culture and it’s up to you to determine what you’re looking for. And remember that, what’s right for your friends or teammates may not be right for you. And ultimately, it comes down to finding that school and campus that feels right to you.

There are numerous factors to think about when choosing where you want to compete in college. But, in the end, considering the team’s culture, the winning culture, and the campus culture before you make your college decision can help you make the right choice the first time. And it might save you from having to enter the transfer portal later too.

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