Column: Proposal Could Create Wild West In The Transfer Market
Officials from a number of NCAA conferences have recently stated their support for a proposal to grant a one-time exemption for student-athletes to transfer from one Division I school to another without having to sit out a year.
Currently D-I student-athletes in five sports – football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, baseball and men’s ice hockey – are required to sit out what the NCAA calls a “year in residency” if they wish to transfer unless they are graduate transfers or receive a waiver from the NCAA. Student-athletes in all other varsity sports are not required to sit a year if they transfer.
“I’m supportive of (the one-time exemption),” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told ESPN. “I think it was almost unanimous (among the Big Ten A.D.s). At the end of the day, we need to provide those kids in those five sports the same opportunities as those in the other sports have. At the end of the day, everybody else has choice. Why can’t they have a choice?”
Of course, that’s assuming that the choice in the other sports like track, swimming, volleyball, softball, etc., is right in the first place.
Admittedly freedom of choice is an American right, but many in the general population are bound by contracts that don’t provide for unfettered movement.
Allowing all Division I student-athletes an opportunity for one transfer without having to sit out would seem likely to create a free agency system within college athletics, and is that really best for any involved, the student-athlete or the sport?
Already more than 14.3% of Division I basketball players are transferring each year, according to the NCAA’s own database, and 4.1% of FBS football players do the same. Opening up opportunities to transfer without having to sit a year will obviously only increase those rates.
Certainly not all transfers are wrong. WVU men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins (Ohio University to West Virginia) and football coach Neal Brown (Kentucky to Massachusetts) transferred during their playing days, and each thrived with their move.
It’s not the ability to transfer that is the issue but allowing all to have a one-time exemption to immediate eligibility is the problem. It will likely create a Wild, Wild West when it comes D-I athletics.
West Virginia director of athletics Shane Lyons put forth another idea when it comes to transfer eligibility. His thought is that, other than grad transfers, nearly all transfers should have to sit out a year in residency, thus limiting the waivers for immediate eligibility. But his proposal would also allow the student-athlete the opportunity to recoup that lost year of eligibility on the back end. So the year of residency becomes in essence a redshirt, even if they student-athlete had previously used one. Thus they could be a fifth-year senior or even a sixth-year senior at the end of their careers, but most will have to sit out a year directly after their transfer.
That seems like a good compromise in which a student-athlete has freedom to transfer, but it also doesn’t necessarily open up the Pandora’s Box of college free agency.
“What we’re trying to do is force the issue so we can get all of Division I, the Power 5, to go on record and say: Where are you at on this thing?” an unnamed Big Ten A.D. told ESPN. “Can we do it in a way that allows us to maintain the values we have in college athletics, and not have it turn into total free agency? We have to come together on it.”
Discussion is good and some changes to the current transfer rules are necessary, but the one-time exemption seems like an idea filled with harmful consequences. The NCAA seems to be quickly barreling down that path, though.