NCAA transfer rules may take a big step forward with legislation up for review this week
This will likely be one step of many needed to rectify a major problem facing student-athletes
Tuesday is supposed to be a day of liberation and freedom for the college athlete.
The NCAA Division I Council is expected to forward legislation to its Board of Directors that would allow transferring student-athletes to "notify" programs of their intention to leave a school rather than seek "permission" to do so. If passed, it would be one of the more significant pieces of legislation in the association's history.
For decades, athletes on scholarship have received significantly less freedom than, well, regular students. You know, those on the street paying for their education.
The long-standing requirement that athletic transfers get approval from a school, athletic director and/or coach is at least 54-years-old. That practice has created claims of hypocrisy and indentured servitude.
"It's like your ex-wife determined who is your next wife," said a person intimately involved in the current legislative process.
At the same time, coaches are concerned about how such legislation would affect competition and roster management.
"This is a game changer for the business," said one high-profile Power Five administrator. "I hope common sense prevails."
How one defines "common sense" is another thing altogether. For more than half a century, coaches/schools have been able to "block" athletes from transferring to a school on as much as a whim. Who can forget? Silly? Absolutely.
But making progress on this issue has been similar to unraveling a strand of DNA. Every pull causes unintended consequences. A transfer working group has been gathering since last year in an effort to gain more freedom for athletes.
This one piece of legislation is all the transfer working group is expected to achieve this year.
"I do think it empowers the student-athlete," said Oliver Luck, former NCAA vice president of regulatory affairs and strategic partnerships. "Of course, as we always say, empowerment comes along with a little bit of additional responsibility. If you tell a coach you're interested in transferring, maybe you had a couple of bad days.
"Everything has consequences. This will as well. It seems there is pretty broad consensus."
If the legislation is adopted, transfers would be able to notify their school of their intent to transfer once new rules are implemented (as of Oct. 15). Their name would then be entered into a portal, basically creating a free-agent list.
How does one define the degree of that freedom?
While players will no longer need permission to transfer, the current restrictions on competing immediately still apply.
For the undergraduates in five sports -- football, men's and women's basketball, baseball and hockey -- transfers are still required to sit out a year in residence at their new school (unless a waiver is granted for an extenuating circumstance).
In every other sport, athletes can transfer and compete immediately. However, schools can still block a transfer from playing immediately for competitive reasons. The same rule would apply for graduate transfers in all sports.
"Declaring a victory is silly," said Tim Nevius, a New York-based attorney who used to work at the NCAA. "We used to deny people the ability to contact another school and get financial aid. But, by the way, we still prevent them from playing."
One of Nevius' clients is Evansville soccer player Taran McMillan. The freshman is seeking to transfer after a season in which she was named to the Missouri Valley all-freshman team.
However, Evansville's policies require transfers to request a move within 21 days following the sport's championship game. That would have required McMillan to make a decision in November of her freshman season during which he posted a 3.55 GPA.
The school is blocking her transfer, which would make her eligible immediately to play at another school in the fall.
"What makes that so despicable, to me, it gives the athletic department an excuse why it can deny a transfer release," Nevius said. "It is completely inconsistent with what everyone says is behind transfer legislation -- to protect athletes' academic success . This policy demonstrates exactly the opposite. It is simply about protecting her school's athletic interests and financial investment."
Nevius stressed that he believes the legislation is definitely a step in the right direction.
Under the new legislation, school compliance officers -- not the players themselves -- will enter an athlete's name into that aforementioned database. There will be two days to enter that information.
Some see that as Big Brother still having control over the process. Proponents of the new freedom say the process is so complicated that it's best those compliance sources enter all the information.
There is still discussion whether departing athletes will be required (or urged) to speak to their head coaches on the way out. That sort of exit interview can be perceived as a last shot by the school to talk a player out of transferring, running a bit contrary to legislation about a player's autonomy.
The NCAA Committee on Academics continues to work on a proposal regarding an academic benchmark as part of a transfer proposal.
The committee also continues to work on a proposal tied to a school's Academic Progress Rate that would restrict transfer freedom. By October 2019, explained that legislative source, schools will have little influence over transfer eligibility.
"The intent is for this to not stay the way it is," that legislative source said.
Thirty-seven percent of student-athletes transfer once during their college careers, a period that can last as long as six years.
Division I basketball coaches have screamed for change because 40 percent of freshmen signees transfer by the end of their sophomore year. So if it's about education in the NCAA, why are there so many hurdles to clear for athletes to enjoy their college experience?
"This is supposed to emulate life experience," that Power Five source said. "We better stop treating athletes like they're being tortured."
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