NCAA transfer rules don’t work, and the NCAA has yet to properly fix them.
The NCAA has worked to significantly alter the transfer system to give student-athletes more autonomy by introducing the transfer portal in 2018. But instead putting the power in students’ hands, it has further muddied the waters for many of the same athletes that earned the NCAA over $1 billion in revenue in the 2017 fiscal year.
Because of the transfer portal, students can now tell their respective university to enter their name into the transfer portal – the university cannot refuse nor block its athletes from transferring as was allowed in the past. The portal also allows any coach in the NCAA to contact a player, unless the player explicitly chooses otherwise.
However, the new freedom of the transfer portal is peanuts compared to the restrictions of other NCAA transfer rules.
Athletes are hamstrung by the NCAA – they’re often forced to sit out a year when transferring, which forces the athlete to risk losing valuable playing time due to an unforeseen injury or an incoming recruit. However, student-athletes that don’t participate in baseball, football, basketball and men’s ice hockey don’t have to sit out a year as long as they are in good academic standing and the college they’re transferring from gives them a written release saying they can play elsewhere, according to NCAA rules.
But instead of those rules, it is the transfer portal that has been under fire from coaches recently.
When Arizona State football coach Herm Edwards and USC football coach Clay Helton spoke with CBS Sports earlier this year, they voiced their opposition to the portal. Both Edwards and Helton said it can unfairly targets students who aren’t given professional guidance.
“I’m hoping kids get educated on it,” Helton said in an interview with CBS Sports. “With it being new this year, I think it went over the top. I’ve got to figure there will be a lot of people without homes.”
However, other college coaches recognize the efforts of the NCAA to help athletes. At Pac-12 Football Media Day, UCLA football coach Chip Kelly said he thought the new transfer portal could give athletes better opportunities as long as they know the risks of the new option.
“If kids go somewhere and they’re not happy there, then they should be allowed to go where they’re going to be happy,” Kelly said. “I mean, coaches move. I don’t know why players can’t move. … I think the transfer portal is good, and I think the players – they just need to know all the facts.”
While the transfer portal is a nice gesture, the NCAA needs to change its rules for athletes to truly know what they are getting into when they decide to transfer and enter the portal.
Baseball, football, basketball and men’s ice hockey athletes often transfer seeking to play at their new school immediately but are too often unable. The most common exception to the rule is the graduate transfer exception – which Alabama’s former quarterback Jalen Hurts used to transfer and be eligible immediately for Oklahoma.
There are other exceptions as well. For example, if a Division I athlete transfers to a Division II school, they are able to play instantly. In addition to those two exceptions, the NCAA has a waiver system to grant athlete’s immediate eligibility instead of sitting for a year.
Unfortunately, this system is being abused.
The NCAA gave former Mississippi quarterback Shea Patterson immediate eligibility to play at Michigan after his attorney claimed Mississippi misrepresented information about Mississippi’s NCAA violations. Before Patterson transferred, he was expected to be in a battle to retain his starting role.
Justin Fields – college football’s No. 1 recruit in 2018 according to ESPN – was recently given a waiver to transfer from Georgia and play right away at Ohio State after he lost the starting quarterback battle to then-sophomore Jake Fromm.
The reason his attorney gave for his need to transfer was related to an alleged racist comment by a Georgia baseball player from the stands during a football game.
The NCAA looked to clarify these rules recently but failed miserably. Instead of clarifying specific circumstances, putting in place oversight for their waiver decision infrastructure or simply opening the transfer market completely, it instead chose to narrow the rules by adding vague terms like “extenuating” and “extraordinary” to its definition of circumstances that warrant a transfer.
This doesn’t help college athletes and their families understand the NCAA’s exact criteria for evaluation, but instead allows for a lot more arguing and debate on the definition of those words, similar to the way the NFL introduced “indisputable” into the lexicons of hundreds trying to explain the replay process.
At all sports at all different levels, athletes are pushing for greater autonomy over their athletic careers.
Several high school athletes – including LeBron James’ son Bronny James and Dwayne Wade’s son Zaire Wade – have transferred to create a superteam at Sierra Canyon High School. Top-tier NFL running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Melvin Gordon have both decided to hold out from training camp for bigger contracts, with Gordon even demanding a trade from the Los Angeles Chargers.
The NCAA must get its act together and settle on simpler and clearer transfer rules for collegiate athletics. College athletes deserve an opportunity to understand and control their futures.