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Get the facts about transfers

The NCAA believes transferring from one school to another is a crucial decision for a student-athlete that should include a consideration of a variety of factors, including academics, athletics, campus life and personal situation. Because transferring can impact a student-athlete’s academic performance, NCAA member institutions have established rules that require a student-athlete to seriously consider the decision to transfer before leaving for another campus.

The following Q&A examines the key issues surrounding transfers of student-athletes.

Q: Does the NCAA prevent student-athletes from transferring?

A: The NCAA does not prevent any student-athlete from transferring. Student-athletes are free to transfer if they believe the decision is in their best interest; where NCAA rules come into play is with questions about how quickly a student-athlete can compete at the new school. The number of transfers in three key sports – football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball – increased last year, but has remained steady for about a decade.

In 2010-11, 6.4 percent of Division I student-athletes transferred from one four-year school to another four-year school. Included in that figure are 200 baseball student-athletes, 445 men’s basketball student-athletes, 969 football student-athletes and 364 women’s basketball student-athletes. All of those student-athletes were required to sit out a year of competition – this is required because student-athletes who transfer do not perform as well academically over time. A year-in-residence to acclimate to their new school helps offset this dynamic.

Additionally, data show that about 40 percent of men’s basketball student-athletes will not be competing at their original school by the end of their sophomore year. Given the academic performance of transfers, this statistic highlights a key issue in the men’s basketball Academic Progress Rate (APR).

Q: Can coaches dictate where a student-athlete can transfer?

A: Coaches can’t tell a student-athlete when or where he or she can transfer. Student-athletes are allowed to transfer at any time if they believe it is in their best interest to attend a different school.

However, in order to receive an athletics scholarship at another school, a student-athlete must receive permission to contact another school, in writing, from the initial school. This rule applies to all student-athletes, whether or not they are on scholarship at the initial school.

The NCAA does not have a rule specifically preventing schools from imposing conditions on which institutions a student-athlete may contact.  Rather, NCAA rules require institutions to provide student-athletes a hearing outside of the athletics department if the student-athlete’s written request for permission to contact another institution is not granted, or is granted with conditions. Conditional releases are based on institutional or conference policies.

The NCAA encourages institutions to have their own, clearly communicated policies governing how they address a student-athlete’s request for permission to contact other institutions. Division I schools are required to have a written grievance or appeals process for transfers. That process must be shared in writing with staff, coaches and student-athletes.

Q: Why do football and basketball players have to sit out a year after they transfer?

A: The year-in-residence is required to help student-athletes adjust to their new school and ensure that their transfer was motivated by academics as well as athletics. Student-athletes who participate in most NCAA sports are eligible for a one-time transfer exception, which allows them to compete immediately after transfer once in their college experience if they meet all other transfer requirements (such as being academically eligible).

However, student-athletes in sports that are historically academically underperforming –  including basketball, football, baseball and men’s ice hockey – are not eligible for the exception. Though student-athletes in these sports can’t compete in their first year at their new school, they can receive an athletics scholarship and practice with the team. A waiver process is available to all  undergraduates that could provide students who transfer due to difficult life or family circumstances an additional year to complete their eligibility. Prior to the 2015-16 academic year, students could seek a waiver to compete immediately after transfer. That opportunity will no longer be available. Instead, students could apply for a waiver to complete their four years of eligibility in six years.

Q: Are there different rules for graduate students?

A: Student-athletes who have graduated are subject to the same release requirements as undergraduates and must have at least one year of eligibility remaining. To be eligible for the one-time transfer exception, football, basketball, baseball and men’s ice hockey student athletes must have been denied a scholarship renewal at their original school. If the student-athlete wishes to pursue a degree program not offered at the original institution, he or she is eligible for a waiver to compete immediately at the new school.

Q: Why can’t coaches contact student-athletes on other NCAA teams about transferring?

A: The NCAA prohibits contact between coaches and student-athletes on other teams to prevent continuous recruiting of student-athletes. The NCAA and its members believe this runs contrary to our mission, which is to govern competition in a fair, safe, equitable and sportsmanlike manner and to integrate intercollegiate athletics into higher education so that the educational experience of the student-athlete is paramount.

Additionally, in the current environment, many student-athletes in the highest profile sports can be influenced by third parties who may not have their best academic interests in mind. Requiring written permission from the initial school for contact with another school limits the influence of third parties.

These rules apply to all student-athletes, whether they receive athletics aid or not.

Q: Why can’t student-athletes transfer whenever they want?

A: NCAA rules do not prevent student-athletes from transferring. The NCAA has rules for certain aspects of the process, including eligibility for competition and requiring a release from the original school to receive an athletics scholarship during the first academic year at another school.

First and foremost, student-athletes must be academically eligible to compete at the institution to which they want to transfer.

The NCAA places safeguards on the process to promote rational decision-making. Student-athletes who transfer are less likely to earn a degree than those who remain at their original institution; for that reason, it is important that the decision to transfer is carefully considered.

Q: What are the rules regarding permission to contact another school?

A: Generally, student-athletes enrolled as full-time students must get written permission from their athletics director before contacting another institution.  A student-athlete may write to any NCAA school saying that they are interested in transferring, but the new coach must not discuss transfer opportunities unless he or she has received written permission from the student-athlete’s current school.  If the current school does not give permission, another school may not contact the student-athlete. This prevents continuous recruiting of student-athletes once they are enrolled on a campus.

Q: Why does the APR make a school lose points for a transfer if the student-athlete’s GPA is below a 2.6?

A: Data show that transferring has a negative impact on a student-athlete’s academic success and eventual graduation. But, according to NCAA research, student-athletes who transfer with at least a 2.6 grade-point average have the same likelihood of academic success as a student-athlete who remains at his or her original institution.

Q: Is a scholarship a binding contract between a student-athlete and a school?

A: No. The scholarship is an agreement between the school and the student-athlete with expectations on both sides, but the agreement is completely separate from transfer regulations. A student-athlete may choose to transfer at any time. With multi-year scholarships now available, schools have the option of offering athletics financial aid for more than one year. Such an agreement requires the school to provide financial aid to the student-athlete in accordance with the terms and conditions of the agreement. However, the agreement does not bind the student-athlete to the institution any more than the current transfer rules – he or she may transfer during the term of the award.

If a student-athlete signs a National Letter of Intent, he or she cannot transfer during the initial year of competition.

Q: Can student-athletes transfer without penalties if a coach leaves the program?

A: A student-athlete can transfer at any time, subject to the regular transfer rules. Those rules are not waived if a coach leaves a program.


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