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NCAA Working Group Proposes Rule To Allow One-Time Transfer Exemption In All Sports



The NCAA’s Transfer Working Group – the committee tasked with streamlining the NCAA’s complex transfer rules – on Tuesday released a proposal that would allow all Division I players in all sports a one-time waiver to transfer and be immediately eligible.

The NCAA is aiming to move quickly with the change. The Working Group’s release said it hoped to be able to advance the proposal to the Division I Council for a vote in April. If approved at that stage, it would go into effect for next school year.

The rule change would have a significant impact on baseball, which is currently one of five sports (men’s and women’s basketball, football and men’s hockey) in which players are required to sit out a season when transferring. Baseball long operated like other sports with the one-time transfer exemption but in 2008, in a series of moves designed to improve the sport’s Academic Progress Rate and graduation rate, it was eliminated, and the sport was grouped with basketball, football and hockey. Within two years of the change, the percentage of players who had made a 4-4 transfer (a transfer from one four-year school to another) dropped from 8.4 to 3.5 and the percentage of players who had transferred at all (including those coming from junior college) fell from 26.2 to 22.4.

To be eligible for the one-time waiver, players must:

  • Receive a transfer release from their previous school
  • Leave their previous school academically eligible
  • Maintain their academic progress at the new school
  • Leave under no disciplinary suspension

There have been rumblings of transfer change for the last few years and in that time the NCAA did create the transfer portal, which allows players to transfer without a coach or school blocking the move. It also passed a rule that enabled players who are not (and had not previously been) on an athletic scholarship to transfer and be immediately eligible.

But broader reform had remained elusive and several high-profile transfer situations complicated the matter for the NCAA. Football players who aggressively pursued transfer waivers were more commonly being declared immediately eligible, like Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson and Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, leading to confusion about the waiver process.

Last summer marked the first with the transfer portal and freer movement of walk-ons and about 1,500 baseball players in Divisions I and II put their names in the portal, an average of about three players per team in the two divisions.

Some significant transfers followed. Righthander Tyler Thornton, a Freshman All-American at Saint Mary’s last year, moved to Arizona State. Shortstop Adam Oviedo went from Texas Christian to Oral Roberts. Righthander Austin Becker transferred from Vanderbilt to Texas Tech. All were immediately eligible.

Transfers haven’t yet become as big a part of baseball as they are in football and basketball. But one significant difference between those sports and baseball is that baseball is not a headcount sport, where every player is on a full scholarship. Instead, most players are paying some amount of money to go to school but were still bound by strict transfer rules. That’s never sat well with many coaches.

“That’s been the most frustrating thing for me,” Louisville coach Dan McDonnell said last summer. “We have the haves and the have nots. The have nots – the kids not on baseball scholarship – I never liked tying their hands. I think that’s ridiculous.”

But many coaches are not enthused by a more open market for transfers. When baseball players had the one-time transfer exemption before the 2008 rule change, it was not idyllic.

“What you’ve had in the past is coaches hanging out in a place like the Cape Cod League, keeping (scholarship) money back and waiting for a so-called mid-major player to pop up,” Mississippi State athletic director John Cohen told Baseball America in 2017. “Even though they couldn’t contact them directly, they decided to transfer and some of these schools had scholarship aid available. That was the wild, wild West back then.”

Opening up the transfer market adds another layer of complexity to roster construction. Coaches already must juggle caps on scholarships, roster size and the minimum percentage of scholarships, not to mention the draft. An increase in transfers may also lead to more over-recruiting, already a touchy subject, as coaches attempt to avoid being caught shorthanded by an unexpected move.

Ultimately, no matter what baseball’s misgivings are about transfer reform, it’s merely along for the ride. The NCAA wants uniformity and simplicity in its transfer rules. The Big Ten in November put forth a similar proposal to what the Working Group’s conclusion and the ACC publicly joined with the Big Ten on Monday. No longer can schools, conferences and athletic directors find a justification for one set rules governing one set of players – who primarily play in revenue sports – and another set of rules for the rest.

The broad strokes the Working Group laid out Tuesday will likely become rule within the next few months. The details remain to be seen – Will the rules be able to prevent recruiting in summer wood bat leagues? Will players have a deadline to declare their intentions? – but the reform is coming. Baseball will have to adjust.

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