The NCAA Division I council approved a measure this week that would allow for each player to transfer one time without penalty in all sports, bringing football, basketball and men’s ice hockey into line with the way other sports have operated for years.
The plan will go up for a vote of the full body in January, and is expected to pass in a measure that would end a contentious string of news cycles for the NCAA about the lack of transparency in the current waiver system that has seen some players have to sit out a year after transfer and others not.
The move will likely come as a PR win for the NCAA, but that doesn’t mean that the sport’s head coaches see it as a wholly good thing.
“I think there’s a couple different viewpoints,” West Virginia coach Neal Brown said this week. “We’re more player-friendly than we’ve ever been, which it just is what it is, it’s the world we live in.”
Brown cited the potential situation of a team having many players transfer out and being unable to fill its scholarship limit the following year, because of the 25-player maximum incoming class as one issue he’d like to see resolved.
“I think the 25 hard cap is something that needs to be really examined and I think there’s got to be a form of relief under that,” he said. “I don’t have an exact answer.”
He also noted that even more transfers will even further muddle the way the NCAA calculates APR scores. As it stands, players that transfer away and do not graduate still count against the initial school. That’s a situation that’s been somewhat inequitable for a long time, but the low overall number of transfers has prevented it from being a bigger deal. A large wave of transfers that don’t graduate, though, could wreck a school’s APR, bringing on postseason ineligibility though little fault of its coaches or administrators.
Then there’s a more philosophical argument to be made that while being able to transfer without penalty is the best thing for some players, it’s also not the best thing for all players, and while some will be helped by being able to fit more easily into a clearly better situation, others may be lured down a path of least resistance to a place that’s not necessarily better.
“I’m not really high on it, because I think a lot of kids, their freshman or sophomore year could say, ‘Hey, I’m gonna go somewhere and get more playing time,’” said Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi. “I just think it’s sometimes easy way out. … I think that’s the natural thing for young guys to feel. But I don’t think the NCAA does these kids any favors by just saying, hey, this is easy way out, because I don’t want to call it quitting, but just moving on is just not the right answer. I mean, you develop.”
Narduzzi pointed out that since the NCAA introduced the transfer portal in 2018, more players have gone into it from major-conference rosters than have come out of it. Players can’t communicate with other schools to judge the potential interest for their services until they go into the portal, and once they do, their previous school is no longer under any obligation to take them back.
Some coaches, like Penn State’s James Franklin, have allowed players to return after putting their toe in the portal’s water, notably doing so with safety Lamont Wade in 2019. Other coaches, like Narduzzi, have publicly stated that they will not.
That means that a player with an inflated idea of his own value could go into the portal seeking a better destination and end up worse off than before.
“You can look at just guys we’ve had here that have gone to the portal and they’re not playing at Alabama,” Narduzzi said. “I don’t think the kids get all the stats on who goes in and what really comes out. They look at the Justin Fields and say, Okay, I’m going to be the next Justin Fields, or some of those really, really successful stories that there have been out there, but there’s a heck of a lot more really poor stories that are disappointing.”
Franklin has not been asked yet this week about the latest news of the transfer rule going up for vote soon. But he did have some thoughts on it when the question came up in May on a Zoom call.
“One of the big reasons why it was pushed back is there’s no system of relief for the universities right now, if you did it without that other component,” Franklin said. “I’m talking an extreme situation here, but what if you had University ‘X’ and 30 players decided to transfer out right before the season, and you had no way to recover those? That would be challenging.
“The other thing that’s interesting is you push this back, now you’re going to have two major legislative changes in the same cycle,” Franklin added. “You’re going to have the (Name Image Likeness), as well as the one-time transfer, all hitting the books at the same time,” Franklin said. “That’s going to be interesting. That’s the biggest reason. I think at this point, everybody understands that these things are probably happening, but it’s hard to put something in place without looking at it holistically and having some answers to maybe some of the challenges that come with it.”
The biggest advantage to the new system will be the consistency that it affords. No longer will the NCAA be able to the bad guy when it comes to keeping players from where they want to play. But it wasn’t always that way.
Just after the NCAA last modified its transfer rules, adding the ability of graduate transfers to have a penalty-free transfer process, it was initially nearly impossible for a non-graduate player to get a waiver. That’s changed over time, with all but a handful of Division I basketball transfer waiver requests this summer being approved. The lack of transparency in the waiver process has added to the sentiment that it needs to be changed.
“What’s frustrating is there’s very little consistency by the NCAA in the waiver process,” Toledo basketball coach Tod Kowalczyk said this week after the Rockets had a waiver request denied for a former Division II player that was added to their team.
The benefit to the governing body of no longer being in the crosshairs of the transfer news cycle, along with growing public sentiment that players should be permitted to transfer, seems to be driving the decision to make the change than anything else.
With other contentious debates such as permitting players to benefit from their names, images and likenesses that could have even more profound impacts on college athletics as a whole also on the table, it seems that the NCAA will be willing to take the easy PR win on this issue, regardless of its popularity among coaches and potential for unintended consequences.
“I think,” Brown said. “It’s a sign of the times.”
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