NCAA Division 1 Transfer Rules: Necessary or Unfairly Restrictive?

By on July 11, 2013 2:55 pm
Institute of Sports Law and Ethics

Student-athletes at the NCAA Division 1 level do not necessarily have the opportunity to transfer without financial consequences to any institution they choose. Rather, permission to recruit must be granted from one institution to another.

Some find that unduly restrictive and unfair to young people and their families. Others believe it is necessary. I will ask for your thoughts at the end of this article.

Without the required permission, the second institution may not provide athletically‐related financial aid to the transferring student-athlete during his or her first academic year at the second institution. So, there are dramatic financial consequences to student‐athletes and their families should they wish to attend an institution that does not receive the necessary permission.

A student-athlete does have the right to appeal a school’s denial of permission to a hearing board with no athletics department members. Of course, an opportunity to appeal is no guarantee that the appeal will be granted. The reality is that an institution does have significant control over where student-athletes decide to continue their college experiences.

This rule comes to light most often in the big-money sports of football and men’s basketball. Recently, the case of Oklahoma State University quarterback Wes Lund received considerable attention. Please see this article for an example of the publicity this situation received.

Is it fair for schools to have this much control over the lives of the student-athletes and their families? After all, coaches can change schools at the drop of a hat when better situations become available; leaving behind the student‐athletes they recruited and promised to develop.

If the NCAA did away with this rule would there be chaos? Supporters of the rule say yes, and claim that without the rule, coaches would swoop in and attempt to poach players from other schools as needed to fill positions.

My experiences as an NCAA investigator from 1976 to 1984 make it difficult for me to argue against that point. Recruiting is an intense, competitive process and there is value in bringing that process to a close. Most coaches recruit ethically. Some do not. It is those without integrity that provide the impetus for the size and complexity of NCAA legislation.

Supporters of the rule further claim that even if we assume ethical recruitment by all, the fact is that without an end to the recruiting period, the student‐athletes will suffer.

But on the other hand, if those in college athletics (and in higher education) in fact are concerned primarily with the good of the young people who are at the heart of the enterprise, is there a less drastic way to approach the situation than to dictate to a young person and their family financial conditions that might block a young person from his or her desired destination?

For example, should we implement a brief period, an “open season,” following the completion of a season in which recruitment could occur with no financial consequences to the young men and women?

Should we implement a cap on the number of institutions that may be denied permission to recruit?

Should schools be allowed, as is now the case, to deny permission to a school simply because it is on their schedule?

Should we have rules for “big-time” football (perhaps defined as those 120 or so institutions that are members of the BCS) and Division 1 men’s basketball that are different from the rules for the rest of Division 1?

This is a difficult topic with no easy answers. I’m interested in your thoughts, and would welcome all comments and suggestions.

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