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.