'The current system is unsustainable': NCAA group supports major change to transfer rules

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The implementation of a rule that would allow all athletes to transfer once and not be required to sit out at their next schools could come to fruition sooner than we thought. 

On Tuesday, a day after the ACC voiced its support for the Big Ten-penned proposal, the NCAA’s Division I Transfer Waiver Working Group released the details of the concept — a concept it hopes to have implemented for the 2020-21 academic year. 

Presently, athletes in football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, baseball and hockey are required to sit out for a season when they transfer to a new school. Athletes in all other sports can participate immediately. 

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If this change comes to fruition, athletes in all sports would be able to compete immediately, provided they “receive a transfer release from their previous school, leave their previous school academically eligible, maintain their academic progress at the new school and leave under no disciplinary suspension.” Seems simple enough, doesn’t it?

“The current system is unsustainable. Working group members believe it’s time to bring our transfer rules more in line with today’s college landscape,” said MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher, the chair of the working group. “This concept provides a uniform approach that is understandable, predictable and objective. Most importantly, it benefits students.”

With the exception of athletes who graduate with remaining eligibility or others who receive waivers under various circumstances, transfers in those five sports have been required to use a so-called “academic year in residence” at their new school. The NCAA has long said the year was to help the athlete adapt academically at his or her new school. 

Major changes to the NCAA's rules on transferring for football, basketball, hockey and baseball players could soon come to fruition. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Major changes to the NCAA's rules on transferring for football, basketball, hockey and baseball players could soon come to fruition. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Change could come by 2020-21 academic year

Steinbrecher noted in an NCAA press release that “more than a third” of college students transfer at least once. With transferring that common, Steinbrecher said the waiver process has been muddied. 

“More than a third of all college students transfer at least once, and the Division I rule prohibiting immediate competition for students who play [the] five sports hasn’t discouraged them from transferring,” Steinbrecher said. “This dynamic has strained the waiver process, which was designed to handle extenuating and extraordinary circumstances.”

Though the NCAA Division I Board of Directors placed a moratorium on transfer legislation in October, the NCAA said Tuesday that “waiver criteria changes do not follow the regular legislative cycle.” That means this rule could be implemented sooner than initially believed, though it still requires approval from the Division I Council.

The Division I Council is set to meet in April with many proposals on the table. The goal of Steinbrecher’s group is to have the new criteria for first-time transfers approved for the 2020-21 academic year. 

Athletes who have transferred previously or do not meet the proposed criteria would be subject to the waiver process. 

Group members think this waiver process should be limited to truly extenuating and unique circumstances that threaten a student-athlete’s health and safety (for example, if the student-athlete is a victim of physical/sexual assault) while recognizing the impact multiple transfers have on the likelihood that a student-athlete graduates.

Transfer waiver decisions inconsistent throughout 2019

The waiver decisions made by the NCAA throughout 2019 seemed inconsistent. While quarterbacks like Tate Martell and Justin Fields were immediately eligible at their new schools, there were the cases of players like Brock Hoffman and Luke Ford. 

Hoffman, an offensive lineman, transferred from Coastal Carolina to Virginia Tech to be closer to his mother, who was recovering from a brain tumor. His initial request for immediate eligibility was denied, as was a subsequent appeal. Hoffman said the NCAA denied his waiver because Virginia Tech is more than 100 miles away from his home and because the condition of his mother had improved.

Ford, a tight end who transferred from Georgia to Illinois, went through the same experience. His initial request for eligibility was denied, as was his appeal. Ford, the top tight end recruit in the class of 2018, transferred to Illinois to be closer to his ill grandfather. According to multiple reports, Ford’s initial waiver request was denied because Illinois’ campus in Champaign is more than 100 miles from Ford’s hometown of Carterville, Illinois. Though there are no D-I schools within 100 miles of Carterville, the NCAA’s rules for hardship waivers include the 100-mile radius rule. 

Had this proposed change been in place, both players would have been able to play immediately at their new schools.

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