You know that famous line from Shawshank — “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies”? There’s an exception to that rule.
It’s when hope is the cornerstone of an NCAA policy.
There was plenty of negative reaction to yesterday’s announcement that the NCAA offered new guidelines meant to adjust the considerations that go into granting a waiver request for a student-athlete transfer. The bulk of the criticism centered around two particular changes.
The first concerned players who are being shown the door by their current programs.
When a school requests a waiver because it asserts a student-athlete no longer has the opportunity to participate at his or her previous school, the new school must provide proof that the student-athlete is in good academic standing and meeting progress-toward-degree requirements at the new school and a statement from the previous school’s athletics director indicating whether the student could return to the team; whether the student was dismissed from the team and the date of dismissal; whether the student was in good academic standing at the time of departure; and the reasons the student gave the previous school for the transfer.
Can anyone really imagine Greg McGarity sitting down to write a letter of explanation about how Kirby Smart no longer wanted one of his players who was otherwise in good standing affiliated with the program? I can’t, at least not voluntarily.
But — and here’s a big one — I can certainly see McGarity wilting under media pressure when that same kid (and maybe that kid’s momma) takes his problem publicly. It’ll be a rerun of what we saw a few years ago when coaches would routinely, often to an absurd degree, block a kid’s transfer plans. And just like those exercises of raw control led to NCAA changes in transfer policy, a few rounds of this will do exactly the same thing. Generally speaking, athletic directors don’t have the stomach to front for their head coaches like this.
The second objection deals with health-related transfer waiver requests.
In cases where a student-athlete transfers because of the recent injury or illness of an immediate family member, the new school must provide contemporaneous medical documentation from the treating physician showing how the family member is debilitated; an explanation of the student-athlete’s role in providing care; confirmation from both the athletics director and faculty athletics representative that the student-athlete will be allowed to depart the team to provide care; a statement from the previous school’s athletics director explaining why the student-athlete said he or she was transferring; and proof that the student-athlete is in good academic standing and meeting progress-toward degree at the new school. The transfer must occur within or immediately after the academic year after learning of the injury or illness, and the guideline requires the new school be within 100 miles of the immediate family member.
So, you’ve got all this incredibly detailed and invasive information needed in order to consider the request, ladled on top of an arbitrary 100-mile requirement. Sounds very workable.
I can’t get as worked up as many commentators have over this — Stewart Mandel ($$) simply throws his hands up and argues that the NCAA should do away with all restrictions on transfers — because I think even the NCAA itself knows this is little more than window dressing that isn’t likely to fix the problem. (In its own words, “The changes were acknowledged as minor adjustments to the waiver process intended to clarify the requirements…”)
That’s because the problem isn’t with the specific guidelines. It’s with the subjective nature of the waiver process itself. As we’ve seen over the past few months, the schools and the NCAA aren’t equipped to split hairs in a way that is perceived as equitable. These adjustments aren’t destined to work any better than the current arrangement; they’re simply offered in the hope that people will get off the organization’s back because it’s trying to do the right thing.
Good luck with that.
The real fix is simple. Replace the subjectivity with an objective, one free bite at the transfer apple.
The solution here is so obvious, and so easy, that it almost defies logic schools haven’t already pushed for it. It’s time to give college football and basketball players a one-time pass during their career to transfer free and clear — no waivers, no extenuating circumstances, no questions.
While a consensus of athletics directors and coaches isn’t yet mentally ready to embrace that step, you can sense in conversations across college sports that it’s coming. This year? Probably not. Within five? Absolutely.
While the NCAA attempted to bring clarity to the waiver process Wednesday with what it characterized as small tweaks — the truth there lies deep in the weeds of NCAA policy wonkism — it’s still as transparent as mud. And the fundamental problem of two seemingly similar cases being adjudicated differently won’t go away, leading to more mistrust and frustration of the system both inside and outside the industry. And it’s going to create mountains of unnecessary work for compliance departments and NCAA staffers whose time could be much better spent on stuff that actually matters.
It’s a reaction to a reaction, which means there will be another reaction. So why not just get to the point here and let everyone play by the same rules?
Well, we know why.
Because the people in charge of big time college athletics are either dumbasses or control freaks. Or both.
UPDATE: Oops, I almost forgot. John Infante does bring up a good point with the one, free transfer policy.
APR would have to be tweaked, I suppose, since it’s a standard that schools love to cling to as proof of their commitment to academics (I know, I know). It’s an issue to be addressed, but it’s not an insurmountable one.