The NCAA's 1-time transfer rule has a legitimate hiccup, but here's how you fix it
A couple of months ago, it appeared that we were heading in a positive direction. Then COVID-19 happened and ruined everything.
Those words could be said about a ton of things these days. Your job? Your weight loss plan? Sports? For today, we’ll stick with the third thing listed, specifically college football. Even more specifically, the NCAA’s transfer rules.
A couple of months ago, it appeared that the NCAA was set to begin a new policy in the 2020-21 school year. The change would be simple. All undergraduate transfers would be allowed to transfer once without sitting a year. (Currently, most non-rev sports athletes can do that, but football, basketball and baseball players must sit out a year unless they receive a waiver.) The move, which appeared to have momentum after the Big Ten and ACC released statements motioning for the rule change in February, might be on hold.
That’s because on April 30, the NCAA’s Board of Directors recommended against the rule passing when the issue is voted on this month by the Division I Council.
There’s debate as to whether certain schools will play college football in 2020. It could vary by state or by conference.
If the NCAA opened up this new transfer policy right now, schools without a football season could easily lose a significant amount of players. If you’re a starter at USC and you find out that the Pac-12 isn’t having football in 2020 but the SEC is, what’s stopping you from leaving for LSU under the new rules? Nothing.
It actually makes sense that the NCAA would be against this right now. If this is a state-by-state deal with returning to football, programs like USC or Oregon don’t deserve to have their rosters gutted by something that’s totally out of their control. This isn’t a coaching change or some intra-program scandal. It’s a pandemic.
For once, I’m going to agree with the NCAA on that. But there’s another issue that needs tweaking.
If this new policy indeed delayed as expected, what does that mean for the kids who are already in the transfer portal? The NCAA admitted in its initial release announcing its upcoming vote on the 1-time transfer exemption that it was overloaded with waiver requests (it was their fault for not realizing that every kid in America would try to find a way to play immediately).
In case you haven’t noticed, the NCAA has some pretty big fish to fry right now. Like, you know, trying to make sure its entire model doesn’t blow up as a result of COVID-19. I hate to say it, but their concern isn’t on whether J.T. Daniels plays in 2020. Inevitably, a whole bunch of kids are about to be left in limbo for far too long. Perhaps even the high-profile transfers like Cade Mays and Joey Gatewood could be waiting months down the road.
Need not worry, NCAA/transfers/coaches/college football fans. I’ve got the solution.
Go back to March 13. That was the day that we found out that the NCAA Tournament was canceled. Make that the official cutoff date for allowing immediate eligibility in 2020. Any undergraduate who entered the transfer portal after that has to sit for the 2020 season. That means anyone who entered the transfer portal from Aug. 24, 2019 to March 13, 2020 should have immediate eligibility for the 2020 season.
Is that a bummer for guys like Daniels or Taulia Tagovailoa? Sure. But does it do right by guys like Gatewood and Mays, who obviously left their respective schools well before COVID-19 took over the sports world? Absolutely.
My fear even before COVID-19 shook up this progress was that the NCAA was going to only allow transfers during the 2020-21 school year to gain immediate eligibility and that those who transferred during the 2019-20 school year like Gatewood and Mays would be a coin flip to play, and entirely dependent on the lagging waiver process.
A few weeks ago, I asked Mark Stoops about whether my concern for Gatewood was justified.
“I think it’d be very unfair for Joey not to be able to play this year, but we’ll see,” Stoops told SDS in April. “We’re waiting to hear back on that. I think there’s quite a few issues going on in the NCAA, but that’s not a good reason to put a guy like Joey Gatewood on hold. His future, his career is very important and we do think he should be eligible to play this year but we’ll see.”
Preacher, meet choir.
The issue is simple. The NCAA isn’t going to take a public relations hit if it delays the 1-time transfer exemption because of the aforementioned progress and reasoning used. What feels inevitable, though, is the lack of flexibility where it’s needed. It took me 5 minutes of thinking about that specific March 13 date. The players who entered the transfer portal during that timeframe shouldn’t need to hire a high-priced lawyer to decide their eligibility.
The NCAA can make life infinitely easier on itself if it just sends out a release with that cutoff date. If the organization is indeed overloaded with waivers that it can’t process, well, don’t make it a case-by-case basis. Not now. Take the subjectivity out of it. Nobody can argue with that. The NCAA can’t be accused of only granting waiver requests to high-profile quarterbacks if there’s a cutoff date.
This is not a priority for the NCAA right now. I get that. But if there was legitimate momentum to move forward with the new 1-time transfer exemption rule, it wouldn’t take an all-hands-on-deck effort to figure this out in a way that’s fair to the parties involved. It would just take 1 logical cutoff date.
You’re welcome, NCAA.