A major change could soon be on the way for the NCAA’s rules involving transfers of student-athletes from one school to another.
According to a report from Dennis Dodd, the Big Ten proposed legislation last fall that would allow players in every sport to transfer once without having to sit out a year.
Under current rules, athletes in 20 of the 25 NCAA-sanctioned sports are already able to transfer without penalty. The only sports where they are required to sit out a year are football, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s ice hockey, and baseball.
The NCAA’s current business model is based on pretending that the name, image, and likeness of athletes in sports like football and basketball don’t have meaningful value. That makes it pretty tough to then rationalize why those five sports in particular, which just so happen to be the most popular with a broad audience, should be treated differently than soccer or field hockey.
The existing rules have a carve-out for student-athletes who have already graduated from their current school, and who want to transfer to attend graduate school at another institution.
Those who haven’t yet graduated are supposed to take an “academic year-in-residence” at their new school. That concept was born in 1951, and based on the charming, but now-antiquated notion that student-athletes would need a full 12 months to adapt to life after their transfer. The idea was to allow them to just focus on academics, and possibly finding the best place to get a malt with their best girl, without the burden of athletics to get in the way.
Nearly 70 years later, in reality it serves as a cudgel to punish those players who leave their initial school by either pushing back their opportunity to turn pro by a year, or costing them a year of eligibility.
There are exceptions to that “year-in-residence” rule, of course. A number of high-profile players including Justin Fields (Georgia to Ohio State), Shea Patterson (Ole Miss to Michigan), and Tate Martell (Ohio State to Miami) were granted waivers in recent years due to some sort of extenuating circumstances.
Fields and Martell were part of the first wave of players to have access to a new Transfer Portal, which first opened in October 2018. For the first time, it gave athletes the chance to publicly put themselves on the market, and ended the old system where coaches had the ability to “block” players from transferring to certain schools.
More than half of all players who transfer under the current system are given such waivers. But others who seemingly had reasonable cases like James Hudson (Michigan to Cincinnati) are not.
This proposal would change that, granting every player one “get out of jail free” card if their initial school turned out to not be a good fit.
Maybe they’re homesick. Or the coaching staff they signed up to play for got fired the next season and replaced by one implementing an entirely different system. Or they have a sick relative back home. Or they simply found a better fit elsewhere.
Coaches jump for better opportunities in the middle of an existing contract all the time, often negotiating down their contracted buyout amount or getting their new school to help pay for it. They don’t have to sit out a year.
Why shouldn’t players have the same opportunity?
The biggest impact of the proposed change could come in how players are treated. Every year there are reports of players being physically or emotionally-abused by coaches. There are undoubtedly far more cases that go on in the shadows and never see the light of day. This would provide every athlete with the opportunity to remove themselves from that type of situation without facing additional punishment for doing so.
As a result, it should also disincentivize those bad actors in the coaching community, who would then run the risk of losing a big chunk of their roster every year.
College sports are wildly different than they were even 40 years ago. Back in 1980, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament brought in $8.86 million in revenue from TV. This year, they’ll bring in $827 million. That’s a 93-fold increase over the span of four decades. The “year-in-residence” rule goes back almost 30 years before that.
It’s a relic of a long-gone era in college sports. The NCAA is happy to keep cashing those March Madness checks because it knows just how much the game has changed since over the years.
Now it’s time for the NCAA to follow the Big Ten’s lead and change the transfer rule to reflect the realities of the modern game.