NCAA recommends change to transfer rules

Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE

A proposed change to transfer rules may eliminate a popular way for players to play right away, but could give them another year of eligibility

Most college sports fans are aware that if a student wants to transfer from one FBS program to another, they typically need to sit out a year. Students can apply for a waiver though, if they're transferring due to a particular family hardship (say, to be closer to a sick relative), and play right away. The NCAA is considering a significant change to that rule.

From the NCAA:

Council members propose that student-athletes who cannot transfer and play immediately without a waiver be allowed a sixth year to complete their four years of eligibility, if they qualify.

The change would primarily impact student-athletes who play baseball, basketball, bowl subdivision football and men's ice hockey as well as those in other sports who already used the one-time transfer exception.

These student-athletes would no longer be able to seek a waiver to transfer and compete immediately.

So instead of being able to potentially play right away, the NCAA would make everybody sit, but tack on an extra year of eligibility. The NCAA says this is an academically oriented move, which allows students to take time to acclimate to their new team and academic surroundings, before jumping into sports.

America East Conference Commissioner Amy Huchthausen, who also chairs the Leadership Council subcommittee, added "We hope this change will encourage student-athletes who must transfer based on hardships to focus on the circumstances prompting the transfer during their first year and adjust to their new school, while giving them a season back to complete their eligibility".

Many have noted that the approval process for hardship waivers hasn't always been totally consistent. From USA TODAY:

One of those cases involved basketball player Kerwin Okoro, who transferred from Iowa State to Rutgers last summer to be closer to his mother after his father and brother died. The NCAA staff initially denied his request for a hardship waiver - technically, the rule was supposed to apply only to caring for ill family members - but then a committee overturned that decision during the appeal process.

Meanwhile, the NCAA granted hardship waivers for other reasons that seemed less dire. For instance, Trey Zeigler was granted immediate eligibility at Pittsburgh in 2012-13 after transferring from Central Michigan because his father and former CMU coach Ernie Zeigler was fired.

So one of those things sounds WAY more like a traumatic family hardship than the other. Given that many college players would like to play ASAP, having an occasionally arbitrarily decided transfer waiver could be really frustrating, for coaches, administrators and players.

As a former transfer student myself (and one who transferred under circumstances that would have easily gotten me a hardship waiver, had I played a sport instead of the drums), I am not unsympathetic to concerns about the academic side. Changing schools is a huge logistical pain in the ass, and having to rebuild support systems, take care of your family AND handle a sport could easily lead to academic problems. It could lead to academic problems even if you weren't playing a sport. Of course, different people deal with grief and stress in different ways, and perhaps the structure and the distraction of playing a high level sport could help other people.

However, like most things with the NCAA, there are other motives in mind. From the official NCAA release:

In its feedback to the council, the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee indicated that some student-athletes preferred to be immediately eligible rather than have more time to compete, while others said the current model made it too easy to transfer without consequences.

Coaches and administrators, of course, can change jobs without consequences, as any other student.. I've written multiple times about how NCAA transfer restrictions are tougher than most non-competes in the corporate world. It gets tougher to argue that playing college basketball is not, in fact, a job, with rules like these. If the NCAA thinks there should be consequences to transferring, it's to protect their own interests, not that of a student athlete.

Still, if the proposed change could add some consistency to the process, that would be a positive development. It might hurt the small percentage of athletes who would need a hardship waiver, and are top professional prospects (and thus would have higher urgency to play right away), but could help reduce the number of bogus hardship requests, provide consistency, and save the NCAA a lot of time.

The Div. I Board of Directors will review the proposal on April 24, and the change would begin in 2015-16 if approved.

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