NCAA Adds Common Sense and Inconsistency to Transfer Waivers

Michigan’s statement that QB Shea Patterson would be eligible this year following his transfer from Mississippi included a pretty vague tidbit about how it happened:

The NCAA Division I Council recently approved an amendment to transfer waiver guidelines for student-athletes seeking immediate eligibility following a transfer. This amendment was effective April 18, for transferring student-athletes who are seeking immediate eligibility for the 2018-19 academic year.

To track down that change, I went to the NCAA’s website and looked for the most recent report from the meetings of the Division I Council. Lo and behold, there it was (Key Item #5):

Specifically, immediate eligibility may be provided to a transfer
student-athlete, provided: (Fairness/Well-Being/Operational)

  1. The transfer is due to documented mitigating circumstances that are outside the student-athlete’s control and directly impact the health, safety and well-being of the student-athlete;
  2. At the time of transfer to the certifying institution, the student-athlete would have been athletically and academically eligible and in good standing on the team had he or she remained at the previous institution;
  3. The certifying institution must certify that the student-athlete meets percentage-of degree requirements; and
  4. The previous institution’s athletics administration does not oppose the transfer.

That matches with the rest of Michigan’s statement, which said it dropped the existing waiver application in favor of this “cooperative approach”; note that the waiver guidelines include that the previous institution must not object to the transfer.

But the highlighted part of the guidelines is the meat of the change. It’s almost a throwback to the old days of transfer waivers in sports like football or men’s basketball where any athlete that was moving any closer to an ailing relative, however distant in relation or actual distance, would ask for a waiver to play immediately. That lead to claims of inconsistent decisions and unfair treatment, so the NCAA introduced stricter guidelines, eventually requiring the family member to basically be an immediate family member and the student-athlete demonstrate they would be heavily involved in their care.

The reason for this change seems obvious against the background of the work being done by the Transfer Working Group. It’s probable that within a year or two, all or at least many football and basketball players will be able to transfer and play immediately. In the meantime, situations will arise that will look extra unfair when the athlete would have been able to transfer just a year or two later. So the NCAA has created a waiver that can sweep up just about any case that would result in negative media attention. “Health” and “safety” would have been fairly limiting, but “well-being” opens up the possibilities of how this waiver could be used drastically.

For those who constantly suggest the NCAA appoint a “VP of Common Sense” to fix things like obviously unfair situations created by the transfer rules, this waiver is right along those lines. But what it also does it create more apparent inconsistency in who gets a waiver to play right away and who doesn’t. That circumstances must be outside the student-athlete’s control and that the circumstances be documented will trip up some waiver applications. We can also expect that since the guidelines are new and may not have even been noticed by coaches and compliance professionals until now, there may be a glut of waiver applications coming for any transfer athlete this summer who can put together even a remotely plausible case for a waiver.

If this situation exists for a summer or two before new transfer legislation makes this waiver obsolete, it won’t be a huge problem. But if changes to the transfer residency requirement don’t come into effect before August 1, 2020 or the legislation goes in the direction of removing the one-time transfer exception from the sports that have it rather than extending it to the sports that don’t in some form, these guidelines will have to updated or the NCAA will be back in the position of having to defend or modify a process that the public can’t help but see as inconsistent, even arbitrary.