Got You Covered: The NCAA’s Blanket Waiver
By: Nathan Coffing
Amidst the uncertainty resulting from the pandemic, the NCAA Division I Council voted December 16th in favor of granting a blanket waiver to allow all Division I transfers to play immediately this year. While the NCAA has been more lenient than usual this year in granting immediate eligibility, the blanket waiver will give all transfers the opportunity to play right away, including those that saw their waiver request denied earlier in the year. The NCAA felt that allowing this extra flexibility for players and teams was appropriate given the extra obstacles teams have faced this season.
In the past, student-athletes who transferred schools during their collegiate career were forced to sit out one full year before they were eligible to compete again. Student-athletes were able to submit a waiver request, but they were scarcely granted due to the strict guidelines that the NCAA had in place.
In June 2019, the NCAA revised the guidelines that addressed four main waiver requests: athletes who no longer had the opportunity to play at their original school; athletes who were victims of egregious behavior that impacts their health and well-being; athletes who wanted to transfer because of a recent illness or injury to an immediate family member; and athletes wanting to be closer to home because of their own injury or illness, including mental health related issues. The adjustments put in place by the NCAA required written statements from the athletic director of the athletes original school, explaining the reason behind the athlete transferring. Attorney Tom Mars, who helped in the successful waiver request of Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, said in response to the 2019 revisions, “[t]he only thing that’s been clarified in my mind is that it will now be more difficult for student-athletes to get a waiver. That’s painfully clear.” 
While the NCAA has moved away from these guidelines for the time being, there is also general support for a one-time transfer exception rule that would allow all student-athletes to transfer schools once during their career without having to sit out a year before playing. The vote is expected to take place during the NCAA’s January meeting and could be implemented as soon as the 2021-22 academic year.
The blanket waiver will apply to student-athletes in every sport, however the most immediate impacts will be felt in men’s and women’s basketball as transfers were able to suit up just hours after the NCAA voted in favor of the waiver . A few of the now-eligible players were even on the court for a significant amount of time that Wednesday night. Among these were Notre Dame’s Trey Wertz, Pittsburgh’s Nike Sibande, and Miami’s Elijiah Olaniyi, who cracked the starting rotation for the Hurricanes and was on the floor for 37 out of 40 minutes.
Caroline Lee, vice chair of the Division I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), issued a statement on Twitter shortly after the NCAA’s decision on Wednesday stating she felt the blanket waiver was in the best interest of the athletes’ mental health and well-being. Ms. Lee went on to say that the waiver was in line with the goals of the SAAC, and that it will help ensure that all Division I athletes will have “the best opportunity to thrive both academically and athletically.” 
The Chair of the NCAA Division I Council, Dr. M. Grace Calhoun, felt that this decision allowed maximum flexibility for students during the challenging times of the pandemic. Dr. Calhoun went on to say that this decision may even allow games to be played that otherwise would not have been, due to the additional players that will now be available to coaches. As teams and conferences alike have struggled with the unprecedented challenge of competing during a pandemic, the NCAA’s blanket waiver has given everyone a much-needed boost.
 Borzello, J. (Dec. 16, 2020). Division I transfers for all sports get blanket waiver from NCAA, can play immediately. Retrieved from https://www.espn.com/mens-college-basketball/story/_/id/30534080/division-transfers-all-sports-get-blanket-waiver-ncaa-play-immediately
 Boone, K. (Dec. 16, 2020). NCAA Council approves eligibility waiver for college basketball transfers in 2020-21 season. Retrieved from https://www.cbssports.com/college-basketball/news/ncaa-council-approves-eligibility-waiver-for-college-basketball-transfers-in-2020-21-season/
 Rittenberg, A. (Jun. 26, 2019). NCAA makes eligibility waivers tougher to get. Retrieved from https://www.espn.com/college-sports/story/_/id/27060592/ncaa-makes-eligibility-waivers-tougher-get
 Borzello, supra.
 Statistics retrieved from https://www.espn.com/mens-college-basketball/boxscore?gameId=401260178
 Retrieved from https://twitter.com/InsidetheNCAA/status/1339336750276243458
 Retrieved from https://twitter.com/InsidetheNCAA/status/1339352669102739456