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DI transfer group requests feedback on rule concepts

Academic success of transfers, challenges of coaching changes among considerations

The Division I Transfer Working Group will spend the next several months seeking feedback on refined exceptions to the rule requiring all student-athletes to sit out a year of competition after transferring. The working group met Feb 12-13 in Indianapolis.

Some exceptions now under consideration include:

  • Allow students who meet specific, high-achieving academic benchmarks to play immediately after the first time they transfer during their college experience.
  • Allow prospective student-athletes who have signed a National Letter of Intent to transfer and play immediately if a head coach leaves the school of the student’s choice, as well as under other exceptions already in the rulebook. Because the Collegiate Commissioners Association manages the NLI, this idea would be referred to the CCA for consideration.

The working group is not considering — and never entertained — a model that would allow all student-athletes to transfer and compete immediately. Member schools noted that such a rule change would not lead to more student-athletes achieving academic success and graduating.

Research shows transfer students with average or below-average academic performance are less likely to graduate and, if they do, take longer to graduate than nontransfers who had similar academic success at their initial school. Student-athletes who transfer schools and have above-average academic performance (in other words, they earn A’s and B’s) graduate at levels similar to nontransfer students.

Additionally, the working group is not considering preserving the current rule or requiring all student-athletes to sit out a year without exception.

The working group hopes to have a final recommendation for the Division I Council to consider as legislation this year.

“Membership input is vital in this process as we try to develop the best recommendation possible,” said working group chair Justin Sell, athletics director at South Dakota State. “We will refine the concepts based on the feedback we receive, and we will ultimately make our decisions based on our values and goals as an organization and the guideposts set for us last year by the Division I Board of Directors.”

Division I member schools will be encouraged to examine all the potential exceptions and provide feedback on each. Individual sport communities, such as coaches associations or committees overseeing a particular sport, also will be asked to provide input, including data-based rationale for support or opposition to specific elements.

Nick Clark, the student-athlete representative on the working group and a former football player who earned a communications degree from Coastal Carolina, said student-athletes support a model with academic standards for competition immediately after transfer.

“I do believe there should be an academic model with a high but reasonable standard,” Clark said. “Academics is an NCAA pillar, so we don’t need to get away from that.”


The working group is aiming for a Division I Council vote on its final proposal in June, so it could be considered as a package with the notification-of-transfer legislation already in the Division I legislative cycle.

Introduced in fall 2017, that proposal would eliminate the ability of coaches and schools to restrict aid to student-athletes after transferring. Currently, Division I college athletes who wish to transfer must first receive permission from their current school to discuss transfer opportunities with other schools. If the school denies permission, the student-athlete can’t receive athletics aid for the first year after transferring.

Under the proposal, a student would notify a school in writing that he or she will transfer, and the school would have five days to enter the student’s name into a national transfer database. The student could then pursue transfer opportunities and accept scholarships at other schools. Conferences continue to be free to set their own policies.

Working group members endorsed an early version of the database during the meeting.

Effective dates also will be considered for both the notification proposal and any competition-after-transfer model.

Academic exception considerations

The working group will seek feedback on a high academic benchmark for student-athletes who wish to transfer and compete immediately. The exception would be available once during a student-athlete’s college experience. Student-athletes would not be able to compete at two schools the same academic year. Additionally, if a student transfers to a school that later is found to have recruited that student in violation of NCAA rules, that student would not be eligible to compete immediately at that school.

The standard for immediate competition would include a minimum grade-point average, possibly a 3.0 or above, and the student would have to be on track to graduate within five years at the new school. The Transfer Working Group asked the Division I Committee on Academics to study the grade-point average benchmarks, with a request that the group consider choosing a GPA that would bring the graduation rates of student-athletes who transfer in line with the graduation rates of those who don’t transfer.

To be eligible for immediate competition, a student must enroll in the second college or university without interruption, and current exceptions in the rulebook would still apply (educational exchange programs, discontinued/nonsponsored sport, two-year no/minimal participation).

Committee members noted the exception would create uniformity for all sports, provide opportunities for a new group of student-athletes to transfer and compete immediately, and support academic success and graduation. Conversely, it could impact student-athletes who participate in sports who now can transfer and compete immediately if unable to meet the academic standard, and it might create additional budget pressures when schools allocate financial aid for transfer students.

Coaching change/other exceptions considerations

Originally floated by faculty athletics representatives from the Big 12 Conference, other exceptions the working group is interested in hearing broader comments on would allow immediate competition after transfer only in limited circumstances:

  • Student-athletes who have earned a degree.
  • Head-coaching change (the working group is interested in an exception that would allow prospects who have signed a National Letter of Intent to transfer and compete immediately).
  • Walk-ons.
  • Already legislated exceptions (educational exchange programs, discontinued/nonsponsored sport, two-year nonparticipation or minimal participation).

Student-athletes who wouldn’t be eligible to compete immediately after transfer would have six years to complete four years of eligibility instead of the current rule, which allows five years to complete four years of eligibility.

The working group members provided some feedback to the Big 12 Conference, including proposing that the National Letter of Intent regulations be changed to allow prospective student-athletes who had signed the NLI the ability to transfer and compete immediately if a coaching change occurs.

These exceptions would be attentive to student-athletes’ specific circumstances, members noted, but could have a significant impact on programs that experience a coaching change both competitively and through the Academic Progress Rate, particularly if multiple student-athletes transfer.