The NCAA is inching closer to a drastic change in college sports’ transfer rules. However, according to a recent statement, the governing body has reportedly recommended that the vote be delayed until January 2021 due to the “uncertainty” of COVID-19. Despite the recommendation, the NCAA has not officially ruled out a vote on the proposal, which is supposed to take place on May 20. Either way, student-athletes around the country will be eagerly awaiting a decision on when the vote will be held, as it could have major ramifications on college sports as soon as this fall.
In February 2020, the NCAA announced that they were gathering feedback on a proposal that would do away with the current transfer policy, which requires an athlete to sit out a season when transferring, for a more player-friendly rule. Under the proposal, Division I athletes in all sports would be granted a one-time transfer waiver and be able to compete immediately if they meet a few simple criteria: (1) receive a transfer release from their previous school, (2) leave their previous school academically eligible, (3) maintain their academic progress at their new school, and (4) leave their previous school under no disciplinary suspension.
The Transfer Waiver Working Group was initially confident that the policy would be passed and implemented for the beginning of the 2020-2021 season. With the release of this non-committal statement last week, the NCAA may be sending out a trial balloon to gauge public perception and gather administrative opinions from universities on whether to proceed with the vote or punt until next January.
Transfer policies have become a topic of much debate in recent years. According to the NCAA, more than a third of college students transfer at least once. Graduate transfers have exploded as more and more players seek to improve their situations but aren’t willing to sit out of season. Similarly, the NCAA’s immediate eligibility waiver has caused more confusion than clarity. While some like Tate Martell and Justin Fields easily were granted immediate eligibility, others like Luke Ford and Brock Hoffman were famously denied the waiver. The inconsistency of granting the immediate eligibility waiver caused a boiling undercurrent of demand for more player-friendly transfer policies. The NCAA finally listened and seemed willing to change.
This policy would certainly be a major victory for players’ rights. Just like coaches and regular students, players would now be granted flexibility for a one-time transfer to pursue a better situational opportunity. Given the NCAA’s stubbornness on updating the college sports model, any change that tips the scales in favor of players is welcomed with open arms by student-athletes and many fans.
On the other hand, many coaches and administrators have largely condemned the proposal. By making it easier for players to transfer, some programs may be left scrambling to fill a scholarship spot after a surprise departure from the program. This would result in further recruiting stresses and player management demands for coaches. Coaches also fear worrying so much about college transfers could negatively impact the high school evaluation process by potentially taking away time on the recruiting trail. Similarly, some coaches fear this will lead to “super teams,” claiming some players may choose to team up with their friends at a new program at the first sign of adversity at their current school. Likewise, the transfer changes could also lead to tampering, as coaches and players may be backdoor recruiting mid-season forcing players to look ahead instead of focusing on their present slate of games.
Purdue basketball coach Matt Painter is among the most vocal critics of the proposal. Painter wrote in a letter to the Transfer Waiver Working Group that he has yet to meet a coach who is actually in favor of the proposal. He claims this would usher in a “free agency” to college basketball that would severely impact a coach’s “ability to effectively teach and lead” a program, make college choices more difficult for high school prospects, create uncertainty for transfers, and potentially leave remaining student-athletes in a “untenable situation” in the event of a “mass-exodus” of teammates in a single off-season.
Painter also proclaimed that graduate transfers are a “cautionary tale” and are not “helping our game or our student-athletes,” noting low graduation rates for these transfers and claiming those who have transferred to high-majors have been “largely unsuccessful.” According to Painter, this new transfer rule would even more drastically undermine college basketball.
Whether, like Painter, you believe this proposal change could lead to a doomsday for college basketball or you feel it’s a positive step toward player rights, this proposal could have a major impact on the future of college sports.
Thus, the NCAA’s decision on when to vote on the proposal will be closely watched. Not to mention, if the vote is postponed, it could potentially change the outcome. Currently, most believe momentum is on the side of passing the proposal. But, if the vote is delayed until next January, it is conceivable that time and further condemnation from coaches could lower favorability of the proposal and potentially affect the vote.
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