I wish I had a clever intro here, but I do not. The challenge is simple: Create a set of transfer rules that promotes what the transfer rules should (graduation and thoughtful decisions in recruiting) without requiring a student-athlete to get permission to transfer. I think I came up with a sufficiently complicated solution.
Fixing Permission to Contact
1. No Limits for Walk-Ons
A common misconception is that walk-ons are treated in a significantly different way than scholarship student-athletes. By and large rules apply the same to a student-athlete on a full grant-in-aid and a student-athlete paying his or her own freight to go to school. In general, this works out well for walk-ons.
But when a walk-on decides to possibly transfer and wants to talk to other schools, it should not necessarily be so. To have any degree of control over a student-athlete’s movements (even the tiny amount below), an institution should have to invest directly in his or her education. A walk-on should not require any permission to talk to schools or transfer anywhere. An institution maintains the ability to offer a walk-on a scholarship for the next term or year, provided the institution has scholarship money available.
2. Scholarship Athletes Can Trade In the Scholarship
The biggest change would allow student-athletes on scholarship to quit the team and give up their scholarship, at which point they would no longer need permission to contact other schools. This bit is pretty self-explanatory.
3. Permission = Cake and Eating
There would still be a mechanism for requesting permission to contact because permission would be needed for a student-athlete to both keep the scholarship and search for another school at the same time. To prevent a student-athlete from unwittingly giving up their scholarship, this bit of Bylaw 18.104.22.168 would be maintained:
A student-athlete’s request for written permission to contact another four-year collegiate institution regarding a possible transfer does not constitute a voluntary withdrawal.
An institution could also be required, in the event permission to contact another school is denied, to notify the student-athlete that by quitting the team and giving up his or her scholarship, permission will no longer be necessary. All the current appeals that student-athletes have when permission to contact is denied or a student-athlete’s scholarship is cancelled would remain as well.
Fixing Transfer Residence
1. Replace the One-Time Exception with “Eligible Everywhere”
The first step would be to change Bylaw 22.214.171.124.10 from the current one-time exception that requires permission and does not apply to football, basketball, baseball or hockey to something like this.
A student-athlete who transfers is not required to serve an academic year in residence if, based on his or her academic record from the first institution, the student-athlete meets all progress-toward-degree requirements at both institutions.
This is a relatively high bar that might put the brakes on more transfers than permission to contact or the one-time exception does now. To meet this requirement, a student-athlete would need to preserve enough credits in the transfer that they do not fall ineligible, even momentarily. Because progress-towards-degree legislation demands a five-year graduation track, this would encourage student-athletes to avoid ever playing catch-up, including for just a summer.
2. Midyear Transfer Restrictions
In addition to the sports that are excluded from the one-time transfer exception, there are two rules about midyear transfer: one general and one specifically for tennis. Both embody the idea that a student-athlete can only play for one team during a season. First the general rule, Bylaw 126.96.36.199:
A transfer student from a four-year institution, who has received a waiver of or qualifies for an exception to the transfer residence requirement, is not eligible to compete at the certifying institution during the segment that concludes with the NCAA championship if the student-athlete has competed during that segment of the same academic year in that sport at the previous four-year institution.
Student-athletes can still play during the same academic year if they only competed during the non-championship or exhibition season. Because qualifying for the tennis championship is a little more complex (and because tennis had a very high rate of midyear transfers), Bylaw 188.8.131.52.1 is a bit different:
In tennis, a transfer student from a four-year institution who enrolls at the certifying institution as a full-time student after the conclusion of the first term of the academic year and qualifies for an exception to the one-year residence requirement shall not be eligible for competition until the following academic year if he or she has competed during the same academic year or received athletically related financial aid during the same academic year from the previous four-year institution.
Maintaining or even broadening those two rules puts a brake on the rashest of decisions and minimizes the impact of the NLI on the transfer process (which is beyond the scope of this post) by encouraging transfers between academic years rather than during one.
Fixing the APR
Since the 2007–2008 data was collected, the Academic Progress Rate has given institutions relief when a student-athlete who is exceeding academic expectations transfers. To qualify for the exception, a student-athlete must:
- Attend the institution for one academic year;
- Be academically eligible when her or she leaves the institution;
- Enroll in a four-year college for the following regular term; and
- Leave the institution with at least a 2.6 cumulative GPA.
To account for what will undoubtedly be increased transfer activity, the exception would be changed to require that the student-athlete qualify for the basic transfer exception above. If a student leaves the institution in such good academic shape that they never fall behind on the track to graduate, the institution should not be punished. It gives the APR a targeted tool to promote graduation rather than the blunt instrument of the 2.6 GPA.
What Will Transfers Look Like
Any change to a regulatory scheme as complex as the NCAA Manual is likely to produce some unintended consequences. The goal is to move transfers to the summer, provide some degree of predictability, but also to allow more freedom of movement on the student-athlete’s part, without excessive damage to graduation rates. But we can expect the following consequences to happen:
- Fewer student-athletes will redshirt – There’s no specific graduation rule, because if a student-athlete graduates, they would be eligible at both their school and any school they enroll in, fulfilling the above exception. But with more graduate transfers and possibly more transfers in general, coaches will be less likely to redshirt an athlete who is more likely to leave.
- More clustering – If the difference between sitting out and playing right away is the choice of a student-athlete’s major, more student-athletes will end up in majors that are more forgiving with transfer credit. Right now, a student-athlete forced to sit out for a year can play catch-up in his or her major of choice, but the promise of immediate eligibility might push him or her to change.
- Fewer schools will grant permission to contact – If a student-athlete does not need any permission to transfer and can avoid the requirement by giving up his or her scholarship, expect some schools to rarely or never grant permission to contact. Divorces will be easier, but they might also get messier.