The NCAA on Friday rescinded a ruling issued earlier this week that appeared to shut down the transfer portal at the conclusion of the fall semester, confounding college football coaches and compliance personnel across the country. In walking back their guidance, players will be able to transfer between semesters, enrolling in new schools and playing for those programs in the spring despite confusion otherwise.
Legislation adopted in August indicated there will be no room for programs to add undergraduate transfers between semesters given annual financial aid limits for 85 scholarship players. That would have left in limbo potentially thousands of athletes who had already entered the portal expecting to enroll and begin practicing at a new school at the start of the spring semester.
One compliance veteran described the situation as such: The portal is full of athletes going seeking an open door. The effect of current NCAA language is that all doors will be closed.
"What that means is they're effectively shutting down the portal," a distressed Power Five head coach told CBS Sports. "It's a cluster."
The NCAA did not respond to a request for clarification Thursday. However, documents distributed to NCAA members on Tuesday were removed from the association's website Thursday afternoon with the guidance change coming Friday.
Under NCAA rules, a football team that has reached its annual limit of 85 scholarships can replace some of those players between semesters under an assortment of circumstances: transfers, ineligibility, graduation, quitting the team. What the distributed documents stated was that no four-year transfer could come in as a replacement and count against that sport's annual scholarship maximum.
The only students who could have replaced those lost scholarships, then, would have been incoming high school athletes and graduate transfers. Such a circumstance would have been counter to the current movement toward NCAA deregulation and a more athlete-friendly environment; it could have also potentially triggered legal challenges.
"Compliance governance people in conference offices across the country, their phones started blowing up," said a NCAA compliance expert who spoke with CBS Sports under the condition of anonymity. "What [the NCAA] has in here caught a lot of people off guard."
What was termed "guidance" in two NCAA documents sent out earlier this week was contrary to what most coaches, compliance officers and administrators understood Proposal 2022-20 to be. In late August, the NCAA Board of Directors 2022-20 established transfer windows in all sports. An NCAA Division I Question and Answer Document dated Tuesday propositions whether "an incoming undergraduate four-year transfer [can] replace a counter [departed athlete] using an existing exception?"
The answer from the NCAA: "No."
One compliance source called that determination "a record screech."
Typically, schools replacing departed athletes between semesters are allowed to count that scholarship toward the next academic year if they are surpassing their maximum allotment of scholarships. In football, that is 85 annually with a limit of 25 per recruiting class. In men's basketball, that number is 13 annually and unlimited up to that number in any given recruiting class.