(AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)
It feels like a long time coming, but change is finally coming to the NCAA’s transfer rules.
Several months after the Big Ten quietly proposed a universal one-time exception for all student-athletes to transfer without penalty, the ACC announced on Monday that it “unanimously concluded that as a matter of principle” it also supported the same proposal.
The next day, the NCAA’s transfer working group announced it would explore a concept allowing all athletes in all sports to transfer and play immediately one time during the course of their college careers. In fact, it could become a reality as soon as the 2020-21 academic year. Nicole Auerbach of The Athletic did a fantastic job answering many of the basic questions about the policy here.
I want to say right off the bat that this is ultimately a great thing for college athletes. There are literally thousands athletes entering the transfer portal every year now, and there is no way the NCAA can realistically review each one on a case-by-case basis. The NCAA’s biggest problem in the past was how inconsistently the rules were applied whenever someone requested immediate eligibility. This was on full display last year, when high-profile quarterbacks like Tate Martell and Justin Fields immediately eligible at Miami and Ohio State, respectively, after leaving their former schools for what was widely speculated as playing time concerns…while Brock Hoffman and Luke Ford were denied eligibility at Virginia Tech and Illinois despite medical hardships in their families motivating them to move closer to home.
Allowing for a one-time, catch-all, exception to the existing policy will help eradicate much of that problem. There are a litany of reasons why players transfer. If I had to guess, it’s most often because they aren’t playing as much as they want. That’s absolutely true. But it’s also for many other reasons, such as medical concerns in the family, academics, coaching changes, personal hardships, as well as being a victim of domestic abuse.
It’s important to remember that when you hear people criticize the idea of allowing more freedom of movement as simply a convenient escape from a bad situation.
Leaving a school because you aren’t on the field enough may or may not be the most noble thing to do…BUT…
a) it’s far from the only reason kids decide to transfer, and
b) just because you would “tough it out” if things got tough, doesn’t mean everyone should be required to.
I hear that argument constantly and it cracks me up. If you think it’s important to stick it out when things get tough, guess what? You can! You can absolutely do that! No one is holding you hostage telling you to stay! This simply allows other players who may not have the same exact moral code as you to do whatever it is they please. If they don’t learn the benefit of perseverance and patience, that’s on them. It’s not your problem.
In a perfect world, the NCAA could review every transfer on a case-by-case basis. The original intent behind the “wait-a-year” policy, for lack of a better phrase, is to ensure that athletes aren’t simply transferring for purely athletic purposes, but that academics are kept in mind. But in 2020, we are more aware than ever of the hypocrisy between coaches, who make millions of dollars off the backs of the athletes who are merely on scholarship, having no penalty for leaving their school for another opportunity whenever they want — while those same athletes aren’t afforded the same freedom. There’s just no way to fairly defend that discrepancy anymore. It’s not fair.
So, to be clear one more time, I think this rule change is a good thing for the athletes.
I don’t know that it’s a good thing for most everybody else.
We are getting closer and closer to professionalizing college sports. In a vacuum, there’s nothing wrong with that. College athletes who help generate revenue for their school should be compensated their fair market value, period. That belief, however, could radically alter, if not destroy college sports as we know it.
There is now nothing stopping star athletes at mid to low-major programs from jumping ship before they’ve graduated to go be a mercenary at a big-time program. Take D’Eriq King and Quincy Roche for example. King wins AAC Offensive Player of the Year in 2018 at Houston, while Roche was AAC Defensive Player of the Year in 2019 at Temple. They now both play for Miami. They both graduated, so they’re eligible immediately. Under the new guidelines, graduation is no longer required. So the star players at lower-tier programs who may have been underecruited out of high school, or were late-bloomers once they arrived in college, can now abandon their current team to become the final missing puzzle piece for a much better, well-resourced program.
The financial gap between the Power Five and the Group of Five schools is getting increasingly wider (specifically the SEC and the Big Ten). As the television revenue continues to separate the biggest brand name schools in Division I, it will become increasingly harder for the Group of Five teams to even have a chance to compete. Now, you could argue that those schools are already struggling to hang with the big boys, but that isn’t fair to schools like Memphis, Cincinnati, UCF, Appalachian State, and several others who have done a great job at staying relevant and building Top 25-caliber teams despite such disadvantages.
ACC Commissioner John Swofford told Packer & Durham on the ACC Network Tuesday that he hopes Congress will pass a federal bill that will allow NCAA athletes to profit off their Name, Image and Likeness by the end of the 2020 calendar year. Whether or not it happens that soon, the reality is that change is also coming. The schools with the most money (aka the richest boosters) and the most marketing power are going to enjoy even more of an advantage in the next decade than they did in the past. We’re already suffering from a severe lack of parity in college football. In six years, 11 schools have filled the 24 possible CFB Playoff spots.
Between the combination of the new transfer process, the NIL Bill passing, and the continued television revenue explosion, I don’t just see a gap between the powers of college football and everybody else; I see a canyon.
It’s long been postured that the Power Five conferences (or some faction of high-major programs) could eventually separate from the NCAA and form their own entity. I’m not ready to say it’s a foregone conclusion, but it’s never felt more plausible than it does today.
One possible silver lining that MIGHT happen through all of this? Maybe AD’s will stop handing out unfathomable coaching contracts with untenable buyouts just because they can. There are countless teams in both football and basketball who let the agents of coaches hang their feet to the fire in contract negotiations until they secure a hefty buyout, which then crushes those programs if three years in it’s not working out.
Even with all the money flowing into so many of these premier athletic departments, at some point it’s tough to justify paying tens of millions of dollars to guys NOT to coach their team anymore. Under the new transfer policy, it could be VERY dangerous to fire a head coach unless you are absolutely, positively sure he isn’t the right fit for your program.
When coaches get fired, it could (in some cases at least) lead to a mass exodus of players who were recruited by said coach and have nothing tying them back to the school if he’s let go. Maybe this new policy could make AD’s think twice before pulling the trigger on a coach for one or two bad seasons in a world where expectations are outrageously and unrealistically high.
There is no way to know for sure how all of these changes are going to affect college sports as we know it. There will be plenty of unforeseen consequences that may help or hurt the sanctity and popularity of them all. There’s zero doubt, however, that we are inching closer to uncharted territory that will upend the status quo for the NCAA, for better or worse.