For years the NCAA and the conferences had a broken transfer system that favored schools way too much. A change needed to happen, but what we’ve seen in the year-plus since the one-time transfer exception was made has created an even worse system.
This, coupled with NIL now being used as an enticement to get players to transfer, has created a level of free agency that is creating far more problems than the rule change meant to address.
There is a much better system out there that actually benefits players and also protects programs.
PREVIOUS RULE WAS BAD
The reality is transferring needs to be a tool for players for a number of reasons. I transferred following my first year of college despite being a starter as a freshman. Transferring is a very important tool for players, if it’s done correctly.
Prior to the recent rule changes a scholarship student-athlete had to sit out a year if he transferred between schools of the same division (Division I to Division I, for example). That part of the rule I support and want to see return, but not in the previous form.
A school could reject a player’s decision to transfer to the degree it could often dictate what schools he could look at. There were rules about transferring within a conference that narrowed down a student-athlete’s possible destinations even further. The more spiteful coaches – and we know they exist – could really make a young man’s decision very, very difficult.
It was a rigged game that was clearly geared towards favoring the institutions. Student-athletes can’t control a coach leaving for another job, but coaches could control where players could transfer. That was always a silly reality.
SITTING OUT IS GOOD FOR PLAYERS
I do believe that creating a deterrence for transferring is a good thing. As someone who made an emotional decision to transfer, and was wrong for doing so, I know how beneficial a better system would have benefitted me. Remember, at the Division III level there are no rules about having to sit out a year.
Having to sit out a year, in most transfer instances, severely lessons the odds that a player makes a rash, emotional decision. If your response is that student-athletes have the right to make bad decision I would agree completely, but as the adults in the room, as the people who have gone through these experiences, it doesn’t mean we can’t make the process one that does as much as we possibly can to limit the short-sighted emotional decisions.
Sitting out also allows student-athletes time to get acclimated to their new schools from an academic standpoint. I mean, the NCAA still at least pretends to care about the academic well-being of athletes, right?
BASIC CHANGES THAT MUST HAPPEN
Graduating from college should still be rewarded, so I am all for players who have earned their degrees getting freedom to transfer wherever they choose. There are some basic changes that need to happen with the portal for undergrads.
1. Undergrads Must Sit Out On Year – The first change needs to be reinstating the one-year transfer rule. It is a deterrence for the reasons I stated above, but it also will limit the tampering we are seeing going on right now. Teams focus more on the now, and having to force a player to sit out a season will limit who they go after. It also will result in top players choosing to stay at the current programs. For example, the latest insanity with Jordan Addison from Pittsburgh doesn’t happen if the one-time exception is gone. Addison would simply stay at Pittsburgh, play his final season with the Panthers and then go to the NFL. There would be no benefit to USC trying to get him to transfer right now and no reason for him to consider leaving.
Schools can have zero say on whether or not a player can transfer if he is willing to sit out a season, and schools can have zero say on what schools he can consider.
2. Give The Year Back – One of the worst aspects of having to sit out a year is that a player loses a season of eligibility. If he has never taken a redshirt for any reason this isn’t problematic, but for players who redshirted or had a medical redshirt this becomes a major problem. A rule that must go along with reinstating the sit-out rule is to give student-athletes an option of getting the year back. If a student-athlete graduates within four years he can get that lost season back. That way the five to play four is still in play, and players can still take a normal redshirt or a medical redshirt but still have four seasons of eligibility even if they transfer.
3. Create A Legitimate Set Of “Exceptions” – This is one of the more challenging aspects, but creating a list of legitimate reasons for a one-time transfer needs to happen. It would create an appeal process where a student-athlete could show cause to allow him to leave. It isn’t a challenge to show that a parent has a legitimate health issue. So allow for that kind of exception, but create a sphere of schools he can consider. If a prospect wants to transfer to be closer to a sick family member he can only transfer to schools within a certain distance from his home. If there isn’t a school within that zone he can appeal for a school outside the zone that is closest.
Other exceptions should include a legitimate major change. Yes, students and schools will use this in a way that is outside the spirit of the rule, but that will always happen no matter how many rules you put in place. This at least gives an academic avenue. I would want to nuance this a bit more in order to make it as certain as possible to identify this being a legitimate reason, but there does need to be an academic exception.
One way to limit players providing false information in order to gain a transfer is to create a series of consequences if a player is proven to have provided false information.
4. Create Shorter Windows – The portal should be open for shorter periods of time. It should be open for two weeks following the end of the regular season and players must have made a decision and enrolled in the new school by the time the second semester starts. It should open against on May 1 and be open for two weeks. Outside of that you cannot enter the portal without getting an exemption.
5. Expand National Letter Of Intent Language – College coaches make promises to recruits all the time in order to entice them to pick their school. Sometimes they keep those promises, sometimes they don’t. One immediate change needs to be an addendum to the national letters of intent that includes in writing every single promise a school makes to a prospect. Whether it’s jersey number, playing time, position he’ll play and for how long, what dorm he’ll stay in, etc, etc.
If a program does not honor the terms of their agreement, which includes the promises that were made, a player should get an automatic waiver. This forces coaches to put their money where their mouth is, so to speak. If you can’t honor a promise then don’t promise it or risk losing the player.
6. Allow Schools And Players To Agree To A One-Time Wavier – The reality is there are times when a player is buried on a depth chart with little hope of that changing. One of the aspects I think is important is giving the school and player the opportunity to get on the same page. If a school is willing to sign a waiver to allow a one-time transfer then he can be granted one. If we’re being honest there are times when a school wants a player to transfer because it opens up another scholarship, often for a high school recruit. But this exception would also provide players some protections if they are no longer part of a team’s plans.
If a school is unwilling to grant the waiver the player would need to provide a different exemption. For coaches who genuinely care about the well-being of their student-athletes, it would also allow them to release a player who has a legitimate reason for wanting to leave. For example, instead of a player having to go through a more tedious process of showing cause, if a player is willing to agree to the school he wants to transfer to in this sort of waiver, the school can be the one that grants the one-time exception.
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If the school isn’t into looking out for their players then previous exemptions would still exist. A prospect would still have the freedom to transfer, but it would come with him having to sit out a year if he does not get his one-time waiver granted. Giving prospects a season of eligibility back on the end of it also takes the sting out of having to sit out a year if a player is set on leaving and the school is not willing to work with him and he doesn’t qualify for one of the exemptions.
7. Create Windows When Coaches Leave – I am not a supporter of assistants and coordinators leaving as being reason to leave without having to sit out. Again, in this system players have 100% freedom of movement, they just have to sit out a year. So if they want to play for an assistant coach somewhere else, or if he gets a head coaching job somewhere else they can follow that coach, they just have to sit out a season.
But if a school loses its head coach, either by him being fired or him leaving on his own, there is an opportunity for players to leave. I would like to work through a window in which the school is allowed to convince players to stay, but once that window passes all players on that team are able to transfer without sitting out.
I believe this could be a deterrent for colleges in an era where coaches are seemingly more and more fireable (is that a word?). Sure, you can fire your coach, but just understand you run the risk of having your program set back even more, so you better be certain this is the path you want to go down. I believe this could also force schools to create even bigger buyouts into coaching contracts, which makes it a bit harder for schools to poach head coaches.
I would create a rule that if a coach leaves on his own he cannot take any of the players from his previous school as part of the one-time exception. A coach who chooses to walk away from his team shouldn’t be allowed to just take his current players with him without consequences. They can follow him, absolutely, but under no circumstance can they be granted immediate eligibility. This is the deterrent to a coach who leaves on his own from poaching players.
8. Create Harsher Penalties For Tampering AND ENFORCE THEM – The era of NIL makes this an even bigger issue, as we are seeing. I believe bringing back the sit-out-a-year rule will limit this to a degree (see the Addison example). It doesn’t eliminate the risk of using NIL as an enticement and it doesn’t eliminate tampering. Teams will still look to poach young, talented freshman and sophomores with the hopes of them coming in for a season once their sit-out ends, or if they can manipulate the waiver process.
The NCAA needs to get together with the institutions and create a harsher penalty system for programs that tamper, and I’d make the bar for proving tampering much lower.
NCAA rules prohibit any coach or employee of an institution from contacting anyone associated with a student-athlete at another school. That rule also includes third parties, which should also include boosters, collectives and anyone else reaching out to a player about a specific school.
Penalties for tampering should be significant financial fines, a loss of 5 scholarships and the player in question is permanently ineligible to play at that program.
I would also somewhat adopt a penalty Major League Baseball has for teams that cheat on the international free agent market. If you or anyone associated with your program is caught tampering you lose the right to add a transfer for three years.
The key, however, is actually enforcing this. The NCAA needs to absolutely start enforcing the rules it has in place.
If the NCAA and the leadership of college football was willing to do this we would have freedom of movement for players, we would have a system that actually looks out for players instead of the top programs (which is what the current system is built around) and it creates a system of accountability.
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