Getting on the transfer train

Soooo… this dropped out of the blue yesterday.

Division I student-athletes in all sports could transfer and compete immediately if a concept under consideration by the Transfer Waiver Working Group is adopted by the Division I Council.

“The current system is unsustainable. Working group members believe it’s time to bring our transfer rules more in line with today’s college landscape,” said working group chair Jon Steinbrecher, commissioner of the Mid-American Conference. “This concept provides a uniform approach that is understandable, predictable and objective. Most importantly, it benefits students.”

The working group concept would change waiver criteria to allow approvals for first-time four-year transfers in all sports to compete immediately if they:

  • Receive a transfer release from their previous school.
  • Leave their previous school academically eligible.
  • Maintain their academic progress at the new school.
  • Leave under no disciplinary suspension.

The waiver criteria are the same as the legislated exception already allowed for student-athletes who compete in any sport other than baseball, basketball, football or men’s ice hockey.

There is a lot to unpack there, but let’s start with some background first.

I know that many of you yesterday focused on how a one-time player transfer is little more than the dreaded “free agency”, destined to ruin good football programs across America.  Well, guess what?  Good football coaches across America agree with you.

… However, the vast majority of D-I coaches do not agree, says Todd Berry, the executive director of the American Football Coaches Association.

In fact, coaches have shown “unanimous” opposition to the idea at AFCA conventions for the last three years. And there are three main reasons why, Berry outlines: (1) the freedom to transfer and play immediately could lead to quick, rash decisions players eventually regret; (2) transfers, according to NCAA data, are less likely to graduate than non-transfers; (3) and as Richt points out in his tweet, this proposal pushes college football closer to a free agency, with coaches poaching from one another’s rosters even more than they already do.

“The (rule was originally) put in to keep universities from recruiting off other campuses,” Berry says in an interview with Sports Illustrated on Tuesday. “That would be a reality if all the sudden you said a one-time transfer.”

You know what I love about coaches?  Even though it’s coaches doing the poaching, they like the rules focused on player penalties.  I mean, it’s really not that hard to come up with a worthy punishment designed to discourage that sort of behavior — ban a program from accepting any transfers for some specified period of time, if caught violating a poaching ban, for one — at least, not if this is really about preventing poaching.

But it’s not.  It’s what it’s always been about, control.

If you don’t think poaching’s already going on, I got news for you.  The portal makes it less necessary, but coaches gonna coach and poachers gonna poach.

The problem with control is that others have to pay a price for it that seems steep.  Like Luke Ford, who, coincidentally, tweeted this yesterday.

It’s just another example in a long series of unfortunate consequences from college athletics’ transfer policies that leaves schools and the NCAA with a black eye.  In Ford’s specific instance, it’s the result of coming up with a rule in the abstract that’s purportedly designed to keep kids from using the excuse of a sick relative as a get out of jail free card.  In reality, the results seem arbitrary and unnecessarily cruel.

It’s probably fair to say that the schools and the NCAA are getting a little tired of the bad publicity.  It’s also probably fair to say the NCAA is growing more weary of having to enforce a set of rules that have grown ever more cumbersome to regulate for a number of reasons ($$).

Mars’ success also had another major side effect: Covering the desks of the legislative relief staff with more waiver cases than ever. In 2019, the number of cases those case managers at the NCAA were dealing with exploded by 300 to 500 percent, “depending on which case manager you were talking to,” Mars said.

“The majority of those waiver requests had no merit,” Mars said. “People were stretching left and right and coming up with all kinds of creative reasons they were trying to fit into the mitigating circumstances rule.”

Even the NCAA can reach a point when it realizes it doesn’t have time for this shit, especially in this case where it’s carved out a special exception for just a few sports.  Or, as the working group chair put it in the announcement,

“More than a third of all college students transfer at least once, and the Division I rule prohibiting immediate competition for students who play five sports hasn’t discouraged them from transferring,” Steinbrecher said. “This dynamic has strained the waiver process, which was designed to handle extenuating and extraordinary circumstances.”

Translation:  the control freak stuff can’t be justified anymore, coaches.

By labeling this a concept included in the working group’s waiver process work, they’ve managed to bypass the regular legislative process and set this up for passage in time for the 2020-21 academic year.  If you’re a little skeptical about the conversion (the timing is suspiciously fast, admittedly), here’s one possible reason why the landscape is changing.

A former member of the NCAA Council, who did not wish to be identified, speculated to Dodd that the NCAA could be staging a legislative public relations gala at its next convention — January 2021 in Washington, D.C. In the nation’s seat of power, in front of the country’s legislators — some of whom seek to regulate the association — the NCAA could trot out liberalized transfer rules and name, image and likeness legislation.

My, how convenient.

If there is one gray area worth poking, it’s the requirement that a kid obtain a transfer release from his/her previous school.  Now, given that’s apparently an existing requirement in most sports and doesn’t seem to generate much controversy, perhaps it’s an innocent step.

But it sounds to me like something that gives the prior school some leverage in the release process, maybe as a hedge to prevent another school from poaching (although, again, there are more direct ways to police that), maybe as a way to prevent in-conference transfers, maybe more.  It’s hard to speculate much more about it at such an early point in time, but as I said before, coaches gonna coach.

In any event, it does appear that the momentum to give football and basketball players more freedom to transfer without restriction continues to gain steam.  We’ll have to wait and see where things go from here.  I’m just sorry they couldn’t move things fast enough to suit Luke Ford’s grandfather.


Filed under The NCAA, Transfers Are For Coaches.

25 responses to “Getting on the transfer train

  1. J-Dawg

    It’s time for the NCAA to levy the death penalty on itself. There must be some way to shut them down using the anti-trust regs. Senator, what say you to this? Is it possible?


  2. ASEF

    Honest question: if Georgia had blessed Luke’s transfer, does the NCAA staff even review it? My understanding: no. If both schools give a thumbs up, the NCAA green lights it, no questions asked. I have never read a case where both schools approved the transfer and the NCAA overruled them.

    The NCAA in this area exists to take heat Smart and McGarity don’t want to deal with. And the NCAA is about ready to say no mas.

    That’s my read of the situation.


    • That’s incorrect. Family hardship rule is based on fixed distance limits. School cooperation is irrelevant.


      • ASEF

        I think that’s incorrect. Tate Martell got a transfer approval because Ohio State was happy to see him go and Miami wanted him. Both were ok with it, so the NCAA shrugged and approved it. In retrospect, the commentariat completely whiffed on that one and what it meant.

        Show me where Kirby and Co said Luke’s transfer was ok by them. Mars pointedly said Georgia ok’ed Fields. Nothing on that front relative to Ford.

        As a practical matter, the NCAA criteria appears to exist to overrule objectors, not a transfer involving two institutions giving a thumbs up.

        If you’re telling me Georgia was ok with Ford playing immediately and the NCAA denied anyway, that would be news to me. Again, I have never seen the NCAA do that. But I don’t follow the cases that closely.


        • Martell didn’t transfer because of a family health emergency. Different protocol than what Ford faced.


          • ASEF

            But the same basic procedural realities.

            Again, if Georgia gave Ford a green light and the NCAA denied anyway, that would be news to me. Every instance of immediate transfer has emphasized that the institution being left – Ole Miss, Georgia, Ohio State being the three most prominent – signed off on it. Patterson’s transfer stories explicitly state that the NCAA shut down its procedural review and blessed the transfer once Ole Miss agreed to let it go forward.

            I literally cannot find one instance where the schools both approved and the NCAA said, “Nope. Doesn’t fit our criteria.” Anywhere.

            Which leads me to believe Georgia signed off on Fields but withheld that on Ford.


              • ASEF

                Coastal Carolina refused to sign off on it. Allegedly alleged tampering. So the strict criteria formulas came into play.

                You’re circling around the fact that Luke plays this season at his new school if Kirby had agreed to let him do so. I get why he didn’t. But he could have. It’s not like the NCAA tied his hands.


                • I’m not circling around anything. I simply don’t know a better way to explain the difference to you in a way you find convincing.

                  For example, compare this

                  Family hardship waivers are some of the most common and most controversial waivers decided by the NCAA. The reason it is so controversial is many student-athletes in football and basketball request these waivers, and whether one is granted or denied can seem inconsistent.

                  The key thing to remember is that a student-athlete is arguing that the best thing for the athlete and his or her family is to allow the athlete to play immediately and that the athlete needs to transfer to assist with an ill or injured family member. The NCAA measures this in three areas.

                  Nature of the injury or illness: The injury or illness should be life-threatening and involve an immediate family member (parent, legal guardian, or sibling). Waivers that are denied typically involve an extended family member (aunt, uncle, grandparent, etc.) unless that family member raised the student-athlete.
                  Student-athlete’s responsibilities related to the care of the family member: The more involved the student-athlete is in the day-to-day care for the family member, the more likely the waiver is to be granted.
                  Chronology of events: Waivers are more likely to be granted if something changed that prompted the student-athlete’s transfer like a diagnosis, the actual injury, or a worsening condition. Waivers are less likely to be granted if a family member has been ill or injured for a while, and nothing changed that require the student-athlete to transfer.

                  When requesting the waiver, the school must submit at least three sets of information, much of which will come from the student-athlete or his or her family:

                  Documentation from the doctor who diagnosed the family member;
                  Documentation from the doctor who is currently treating the family member; and
                  A letter from the student-athlete explaining the need for a waiver.

                  … to this.

                  Fields sought immediate eligibility citing the NCAA’s egregious behavior bylaw, the same rule Patterson used to play in 2018 at Michigan. It states a waiver will be granted “in cases where the student-athlete was a victim of objective, documented egregious behavior by a staff member or student at the previous institution and the previous institution supports the waiver.”

                  See the difference?


  3. Bigshot

    This is fine. Just wave 25 rule.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Allowing one time transfers is fine. Just relax the scholarship limits as well.


  5. DawgPhan

    This is great for players and it is great for the game. College football is better when more teams are in the mix. Last season was obviously the best example you could have. Everyone except for Clemson was benefiting from a QB transfer that turned their whole season around.

    Allowing for the free moment of players will make the game stronger. It will provide the disinfectant for removing bad actors. Allowing more young people to make informed decisions about their own futures is nothing but a net win for the sport. Decisions like this secure the future of the sport.


  6. Go Dawgs!

    The Luke Ford case juxtaposed with the Justin Fields case and the Jacob Eason case juxtaposed with the Tate Martell case should be enough to completely blow up the current transfer rules and usher through this reform.

    It’s ridiculous on its face that a rule exists setting a geographic boundary for a hardship transfer for family illness to prevent the abuse of the system while simultaneously allowing a nakedly obvious transfer for playing time like Fields’ to stand on whatever flimsy and bogus justification Thomas Mars cooked up. If they’re enforcing the letter of the law on the stupid family hardship rule to make sure that players don’t “abuse” the system to get immediate playing time, why are they turning right around and rubber stamping players who are more or less waving a big flag that says “I’m abusing this system to get immediate playing time”?

    It’s ridiculous on its face that Jacob Eason had to sit out a year in Seattle when he left Athens because he lost his job while Tate Martell was able to transfer to Miami and play right away after he lost his chance to start at OSU. The NCAA needs to just pack it in on this entire issue.


  7. One concern I would have if I were an AD for a non-traditionally powerful program is – my up and coming hot young coach gets some momentum, maybe even a good recruiting class or two, but then Texas comes calling and 25 of our best players all want to follow him. I suppose that is what the part about the school having to grant a release is for, but I’m sure the school would get heat given the new landscape and thought process about student rights.

    I’m sure this rule change will benefit UGA more than most programs, given Kirby’s strengths bringing in grad transfers. I just feel this rule change is a bailout, and not in line with the reality of life in the real world. Everyone likes to point to the coaches jumping ship as a counterpoint to restricting transfers, which is fair. But in most cases, they do have to pay a buyout (Or more realistically, their new school does but calculates it as part of their contract negotiations). Not exactly restrictive at the amount of money they are considering though.


  8. Morris Day

    Everyone keeps talking about one player transfer here, one player transfer there… but, like Joe Dash said, when 25-30 players are all applying to transfer out of 1 program, it’s going to get real interesting. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…


  9. Tony Barnfart

    So if we have open transfers and open NIL rights simultaneously, are we just OK with Yellawood outbidding Georgia Crown for a left tackle that is actively on our roster ? (I’m not, but YMMV) How do you possibly craft legislation that shows how a school or the NCAA would prove “improper poaching ?” There are a million backdoor channels that could never be policed and you’re always going to have a million problems of proof.

    I’d rather have open NIL rights but maintain the 1 year competition ineligibility as a completely reasonable non-compete agreement. Just because they need a more reasonable waiver process, the travesty of Luke Ford not getting a waiver hardly proves the whole thing should be open. I’d actually be OK with them going behind the curtain and saying that being buried on the depth chart as a QB is a legit reason for waiver. So, yeah Justin Fields could get a waiver in that scenario. He was in a no-mans-land in Athens. Cade Mays ? Eff that. He shouldn’t get a waiver, no way, no how. Sorry, but nobody has come close to convincing me that sitting out 1 year of competition (which usually doesn’t even burn a year of eligibility), but still practicing, is the end of the world.


    • MinnesotaDawg

      Agree. You’d think the required one-year sit out is tantamount to the death penalty based on the tears shed for these poor, put-upon players….who are actually still enjoying the perks of being a scholarship athlete, practicing, and are unaffected in terms of their time eligibility for professional draft.

      Another poor consequence of the NCAA being a capricious and ineffective steward of college sports.


  10. MinnesotaDawg

    Yep….just what the sport and these players need: 3 to 4 more years of recruiting. Extended process of current recruiting cycles and related drama just isn’t enough.

    On the practical side, player gets mandatory suspension under certain school’s particularly strict substance abuse policies…so he simply transfers out to a rival school to avoid penalty and enjoy a little spite. And we’re good with that? Or position coach takes new job and (as part of the deal) happens to take all his players with him to new school. Seems like a good idea?

    There are countless reasons why this is a bad, short-sided idea….but god-forbid any professional commentator is seen as being anti-player.


    • On the practical side, player gets mandatory suspension under certain school’s particularly strict substance abuse policies…so he simply transfers out to a rival school to avoid penalty and enjoy a little spite. And we’re good with that?

      It might help if you read:

      The working group concept would change waiver criteria to allow approvals for first-time four-year transfers in all sports to compete immediately if they:

      Receive a transfer release from their previous school.
      Leave their previous school academically eligible.
      Maintain their academic progress at the new school.
      Leave under no disciplinary suspension.


      • MinnesotaDawg

        Thanks for additional info. Glad to see that the working group concept still leave room for lawyers and administrators to be involved in working around the general limitations.


        • Tony Barnfart

          This is the moment Auburn suddenly becomes sticklers for the way shoes are tied and puts all their valuable players on double secret probation torpedoing their transfer.


  11. Personally I think this is fine after they complete their sophomore season. Not before except for family medical / or hardship circumstances.

    Liked by 1 person