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Transfer Reform in College Football

By: Grant Farmer


Recently, the NCAA’s Transfer Waiver Working Group submitted a proposal to the NCAA’s Division I Council that would alter the current transfer regulations for Division I student-athletes. The proposal is targeted specifically toward student-athletes who participate in baseball, basketball, football, or hockey. It is intended to provide more clarity and consistency for collegiate administrators, coaches, and players. [1] Under the proposal, first-time transfer student-athletes attending four-year institutions would be immediately eligible to participate at the transferring school. However, the student-athletes must meet the following, four conditions: 1- receive a transfer release from the previous school, 2- leave the previous school academically eligible, 3- maintain academic progress at the new school, and 4- leave the previous school without disciplinary suspension. [2]


This proposal from the NCAA’s Transfer Waiver Working Group comes shortly after the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and the Big Ten Conference (B1G) made public statements in efforts to alter the transfer process for college football players. Over the past few years, transfers in college football have been of paramount importance for teams in national championship contention. This year, three of the four teams in the College Football Playoff were led by transfer quarterbacks in Joe Burrow (transferred from Ohio State to LSU), Justin Fields (transferred from Georgia to Ohio State), and Jalen Hurts (transferred from Alabama to Oklahoma). Of those three quarterbacks, Justin Fields, was the only one who was immediately eligible to play at the transferring school.


Currently, the NCAA has waivers that student-athletes can fill out for immediate eligibility at the transferring school. However, those waivers lack consistency and uniformity regarding immediate eligibility. Therefore, I believe that the one-time, transfer proposal is definitely a step in the right direction for college football.


The current waiver system has led to a proliferation of college athletes seeking the advice of attorneys when attempting to transfer. In late 2017, following NCAA sanctions placed on the school, six Ole Miss football players sought the legal advice of attorney Tom Mars for help with the waiver process. [3] Through Mars, those six players, Deontay Anderson (Houston), Jack DeFoor (Georgia Tech), Breon Dixon (Nebraska), Van Jefferson (Florida), Shea Patterson (Michigan), and Jarrion Street (UAB), were all deemed immediately eligible to play at their respective, transferring schools. [4] The players’ immediate transfers were granted due to the deceptive behavior of the Ole Miss administration regarding the severity of the incoming NCAA sanctions. [5] Moreover, Mars was also successful in gaining Justin Fields’ immediate eligibility to play at Ohio State following his transfer from Georgia. [6]


With the current transfer proposal, I could see the process benefitting Power Five conference schools (those schools in the ACC, B1G, Big 12, Pac-12, and the SEC) to the detriment of Group of Five conference schools (those schools in the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, Mid-American Conference, Mountain West Conference, and Sun Belt Conference). For example, if a freshman wide receiver at Rice were to have a 1,000 receiving yards, and Alabama, Ohio State, or Notre Dame were to offer him a scholarship, then he would most likely leave Rice for the better opportunity. I think it is reasonable to infer that teams in the Power Five conference would be able to cherry-pick the best players from the Group of Five conference teams every year. This proposed transfer regulation would definitely add a new layer to the competitive arms race in major college football, as it would create an additional recruitment period.


I believe that this proposed transfer rule should only be able to be used after the end of the college football season, so that players would not be able to transfer and play for another school during the season. Moreover, the transfer proposal might lead college football teams to offer less than the maximum number of signees per year (25), in an effort to keep a few scholarships available for players seeking to transfer. Although this proposed transfer opportunity might bring an element of free agency like in professional sports, it is necessary to remember that college football players are college students as well; and no other college student has to sit out a year when transferring schools.



References:

[1] Nicole Auerbach, ‘Hard to reconcile’: The ACC joins the Big Ten in support for transfer reform, The Athletic, (Feb. 17, 2020), https://theathletic.com/1615398/2020/02/17/ncaa-transfer-rules-acc-waiver-support/

[2] Michelle Brutlag Hosick, DI Transfer Waiver Working Group to seek feedback on waiver expansion, NCAA, (Feb. 18, 2020), http://www.ncaa.org/about/resources/media-center/news/di-transfer-waiver-working-group-seek-feedback-waiver-expansion

[3] Alex Kirshner, The NCAA is letting at least 6 Ole Miss underclass transfers play right away at new schools, SBNation, (May 11, 2018), https://www.sbnation.com/college-football/2018/5/11/17344280/ole-miss-transfers-ncaa-rules

[4] Kirshner, supra

[5] Id.

[6] Chip Towers, How Justin Fields helped put Tom Mars on the frontlines of NCAA transfer reform, DawgNation, (May 5, 2019), https://www.dawgnation.com/football/how-justin-fields-helped-put-tom-mars-on-the-frontlines-of-ncaa-transfer-reform

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