The first few weeks following bowl games are very turbulent. Coaches are changing at a rapid pace and some players are making difficult choices. This time of the year was made even more turbulent when the NCAA changed its policy on players transferring to new schools. In fact, this year has seen some well-known athletes decide to take their talents to a new school. Justin Fields, Jalen Hurts and Tate Martell are just a few of the big-name athletes that will be donning new school colors.
The co-author, Anthony Schlegel, personally went through the transfer process when he transferred from the Air Force Academy to The Ohio State University and also witnessed athletes he coached make similar decisions. This made him well aware of what goes into the probability and risk associated with this type of decision. The number one thing to understand is that all of these situations are very different — just like all of the athletes are very different.
There are a lot of factors that go into making these kinds of decisions. Science has helped us gain a better understanding of how decisions are made, especially when it comes to the importance of conditions in decision making. Conditions have two major factors, probability and risk, when it comes to looking at decision making.
This framework will help explain how the athletes are making decisions.
Like all decisions we make, there is RISK involved in varying magnitudes. Risk in this case reflects the exposure to or chance of unfortunate consequences of choosing whether or not to transfer. Will I receive a scholarship if I transfer? Will I be able to earn a starting position? Will my credits transfer so I am eligible to compete and/or earn the degree I desire? What are the financial ramifications on my family/self should I transfer? When Anthony decided to leave the Academy, he had zero scholarships and no clue where he would attend school the following year. Times have changed significantly since 2003, yet the risk does not.
Next, we need to understand the objective and subjective probabilities when making this decision. Probability is the likelihood that a specific result will occur.
Objective probability is the likelihood, based on hard facts and figures, a specific result will occur. When choosing a school, Anthony looked at their linebacker depth and what type of defensive scheme they played to understand if he would be a fit. He also knew his coaches at the Air Force Academy were willing to help by giving good feedback as to his abilities should other coaches call them. This was critical in his decision and greatly improved the probability that another team would be willing to offer him a scholarship. These factors all improved the conditions and lowered the uncertainty of his decision.
Subjective probability is the likelihood, based on personal judgment, a specific result will occur. Anthony was a two-year starter at linebacker at the Air Force Academy. He played well enough to be an All-American as a freshman and as a sophomore; he was named as a team captain and all-conference linebacker. Being able to handle the rigors of an academy education gave him the confidence that he could handle the academic requirements at any university. His work ethic and belief in his ability to succeed were subjective, but he felt they greatly increased his chances of success at another university.
These conditions impacted Anthony’s decisions — just like the athletes making similar decisions now. There is a lot of risk associated with transferring and there are no guarantees. Athletes must weigh the risk against the probability of success.
Anthony knew the risk; there were no guarantees but taking everything into consideration, he had a higher certainty that he would find a fit somewhere else, but where? After officially and unofficially visiting a number of schools he decided to go to Ohio State. Upon evaluating this school, they had three young outstanding linebackers, great coaches, and a culture established by Jim Tressel that was the closest to the Academy. Though the competition would be fierce, he knew it would bring out the best in him and his decision was clear.
Stanovich, K. E. Decision Making and Rationality in the Modern World. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.