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Membership modifies transfer waiver guidelines

The NCAA staff will use altered guidelines when determining which student-athletes will receive waivers of the rule that requires some student-athletes to sit out a year of competition after transfer.

Members of the Division I Legislative Council’s Subcommittee for Legislative Relief made the changes in response to current waiver trends and a belief among the membership that waiver decisions were not consistent from case to case.

The guideline changes are specific to waivers requested when a student-athlete wants to return to a school closer to home due to the illness or injury of an immediate family member (the student-athlete's mother, father, sibling, child or legal guardian). The subcommittee directed the staff to consider relief when:

  • The school presents medical documentation of a debilitating injury or illness to a student-athlete’s immediate family member that is debilitating and requires ongoing medical care. The previous standard had been “life-threatening.”
  • The student-athlete demonstrates he or she will be responsible for regular, ongoing caregiving responsibilities. The previous standard required the student-athlete to be the primary, day-to-day caregiver.
  • The school is within a 100-mile radius of the immediate family member’s home, which demonstrates the ability for the student-athlete to provide regular, ongoing care. Previously, no distance limitation was in place.
  • The school to which the student-athlete is transferring must submit a statement from the athletics director and faculty athletics representative confirming that the student-athlete will be relieved of responsibilities to the team in order to care for the injured or ill family member, and that the coaching staff will support such a departure.

Additionally, the subcommittee decided if a student-athlete’s family member is given a specific amount of time to live, that potentially outweighs all other guidelines.

Subcommittee chair Robert Philippi, associate commissioner for academics and compliance at Conference USA, emphasized that the guidelines were for staff’s initial consideration of the waiver request. Any staff decision can be appealed to the full subcommittee.

“It is important to understand the guidelines are for staff’s initial review,” Philippi said. “There are occasions in which the welfare of the student-athlete takes precedence or other unique circumstances are presented, and those cases should be appealed to the subcommittee.”

The changes to the guidelines are intended to be an updated standard for the staff to use when making waiver decisions. The guidelines have been in place since 2009 and are updated to fit the sentiments of the membership regarding waivers of transfer legislation.

“When transfer waivers are submitted by schools that reveal new trends for such cases, we will go to the membership for direction. The direction provided routinely comes in the form of guidelines for future cases,” said Kelly Brooks, NCAA director of academic and membership affairs.

“It is important to note that our staff also considers the timing of the immediate family member’s injury or illness diagnosis in relation to when the student-athlete makes the decision to transfer.”

The waivers do not affect whether a student-athlete can transfer to another school or receive financial aid at another school; the only issue is whether they can play immediately.

“In reviewing waiver cases, subcommittee members weigh the needs of the student-athletes against the competitive issues which the rules are based on,” Philippi said. “The new guidelines are a more realistic standard for balancing the academic workload, athletics commitments and personal obligations of student-athletes under these circumstances.”

The guidelines are just part of the waiver review process. Schools seeking a waiver of the transfer legislation for student-athletes with ill or injured immediate family members must submit various materials, including written medical documentation from the professional who diagnosed the condition, a letter from the student-athlete explaining the need for relief and information indicating that external third parties were not involved in the transfer.

Waivers (and waiver denials) of the transfer legislation have been well documented in the media, and the Division I Leadership Council is leading a division-wide review of transfer rules. That review began earlier this fall and will include a variety of constituents, including coaches associations and other governance bodies.