New changes have been approved to the NCAA’s transfer policies. These alterations appear to make it more difficult for a player to transfer and receive immediate eligibility through a waiver.
While a typical player who transfers has to sit out a season, some players apply for a waiver so that they can play immediately and gain instant eligibility. This most typically occurs when a player wants to move back to a school near his home to be close to an ailing relative. But, the waiver also applies to a pregnancy, in cases where the player was mistreated by a school or run out of the school, and in a few other select scenarios. It is in regards to this waiver that these new policy changes apply.
Many speculate these changes are coming on the heels of the NCAA reportedly receiving a significantly increased amount of transfer waiver requests this summer. While the exact numbers from the summer are not yet known, reporting has indicated a recent uptick in waiver request numbers in the last few years. According to the Associated Press, there were, combining all sports, over 250 waiver requests in 2018-2019. Just a year earlier in 2017-2018, the numbers only totaled a little more than 150 requests. For football, the AP reported that 68% of waivers were granted in 2018-2019, which was actually a 2% decrease from previous years.
As transfers have become a more common trend, the NCAA has attempted to regulate player mobility to prevent what they call frivolous claims. However, because of privacy laws, the general public never gets to peak behind the curtain to see why certain claims are approved while others are denied. For example, QB Jack Tuttle was granted a waiver to become immediately eligible at IU after leaving Utah but TE Luke Ford’s transfer request from Georgia to Illinois was denied. Why? We will never know because of these privacy issues.
At a macro level, these new changes are clearly meant to make a player justify why he/she is requesting a transfer waiver by forcing that player to meet certain burdens of proof and documentation. While the NCAA characterizes these changes as minor, there is no question that they narrow transfer opportunities and increase the burden (whether that be through documentation or reasoning) on the player who files a waiver.
It’s important to note that these changes are not “rules” per se, but rather are guidelines that NCAA staff is meant to follow during the transfer waiver decision process. Still, they have been officially approved by the NCAA Division I council.
So, what are these changes and when do they apply?
“Extenuating” and “Extraordinary” Circumstances
The first major change occurs in the explanation of why a player can use a waiver. Previously, the standard was relatively broad, simply requiring a demonstration of “documented mitigating circumstances outside of the student-athlete’s control and directly impacts the health, safety, or well-being of the student-athlete.”
Now, it reads: “documented extenuating, extraordinary, and mitigating circumstances…”
It’s a small addition but sets the table by emphasizing a stricter, more narrow focus that will be further illustrated in the rest of the changes. The NCAA is sending a clear message with this language that they believe waivers should only occur under extreme circumstances.
Situations of Being “Run-off” by a Coach
During instances where a player was run-off by a coach or has his/her scholarship pulled for non-disciplinary reasons, the previous standard was whether the school opposed the transfer. If not, the player would be allowed to move on and the waiver would be granted.
Under the new changes, the NCAA requires the player to provide documentation from the Athletic Director laying out why the scholarship was pulled and that the school approves of the player’s transfer. If this documentation is not provided, these guidelines require the denial of that player’s waiver.
Transferring because of Family Illness
When an athlete transfers within 100 miles of their home due to a pregnancy or an injury/illness to an immediate family member, the new guidelines require more paperwork from both schools. Furthermore, this must also include “a treatment plan detailing the student-athlete’s caregiving responsibilities.”
Narrowing of the “Egregious Behavior” Clause
Previously, the guidelines permitted waivers to be granted for “egregious behavior by a staff member or student at the previous institution.” In addition, the school must not have opposed the waiver. This language was relatively broad, giving the deciding committee the opportunity to evaluate each specific circumstance in each specific case.
With the new changes, the updated guidelines layout what constitutes egregious behavior, stating waivers can be granted under circumstances where the athlete was a victim of “physical assault or abuse, sexually inappropriate behavior, racial abuse, religious discrimination, questioning of sexuality by staff or student at the previous institution” though the guidelines do leave the door open for other reasons.
Overall, these changes show the NCAA’s increased focus on the waiver process. While some may argue more specificity in the guidelines provides the athlete with a better understanding of the likelihood that their waiver will be granted, others argue the NCAA is posturing itself to limit player mobility and decrease the number of immediately eligible transfers. Either way, these changes could have a significant impact on the transfer process moving forward.