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Solutions for Flawed New NCAA Transfer Rules

by on June 14, 2018 5:00 AM


The NCAA is dramatically changing the transfer rules. As in life, each time you make changes you run into new problems, and this is no different. The changes, approved by the Division I Council on Wednesday, will allow student-athletes, rather than seeking a release, to simply inform the school of their intent to be placed on a national transfer list. This will create an annual free agency circus.

These proposals come in an era where the NCAA is giving student-athletes pretty much all they want this side of player unionization or paying them. Recently the NCAA has given athletes unlimited food and additional “cost of attendance” funds of upwards of $10,000 or more on top of room, board, books and tuition.

Consequence-free transferring is the next step. Sure, it seems that players should be free to transfer anytime they want just like any other student. But there are some differing factors here.

Student-athletes’ schools make a commitment of time and money in giving them an opportunity to play at their school and get an education. That should count for something.

Another proposed change, which was not part of Wednesday’s vote, includes a GPA requirement for players to be truly free to transfer without having to sit out a year. But there are some student-athletes (like many of their peers in college) that work very hard to get a 2.75 or a 2.9 so why should they not be given the same rights as other student-athletes?

This requirement would also disproportionately penalize student-athletes from lower socio-economic backgrounds who arrived at college less prepared than wealthier student-athletes with access to elite education in high school.

Having been around college athletics for a long time, and now serving as a trustee on the board of a major university, transfer legislation proposals have been discussed intensely. During my coaching career we dealt with a number of players who considered transferring. In each case there was discussion allowing them to voice their concerns and to hear the pros and cons in a reasoned manner.

Under new transfer rules those discussions probably disappear. Certainly some coaches may selfishly try to keep players from going. But some coaches also have the experience to see a path to success that the player and their parents may not see.

Just in my time at Penn State, a number of players who were asked to switch positions immediately wanted to transfer. Almost all of them stayed, many became starters, All-Americans or NFL players at their new positions.

There is also factor of cost-control. If a “free agency” market of transfers does develop, schools will add a whole division to scout and recruit players at other schools. That will add several full-time positions and potentially millions in new expenses. It also invites tampering with players at other schools. Coaches at one school can get a message to a great player at another school that the door would be open to a transfer.

But there is another factor that should come into play when we contemplate changing the transfer rules. The current rules give a player some help from overly-involved and impatient parents who believe that if their kid is not starting they must transfer to a school where they will start. In many cases, a parent may not know best when it comes to sports. But the powerful narcotic effect of potential pro contract riches makes for impatient parents who think their son should be the star.

In many transfer discussions the player wants to stay but their parents want them out. Because of the length of the current transfer process, many of those cases slow down and cooler heads prevail.

So here are balanced suggestions that should be attached to transfer legislation, recognizing the investment schools put into players, as well as players’ freedom to pursue their dreams.

1. Parents who want schools to guarantee their sons’ or daughters’ scholarships for four years should sign a four-year letter of intent binding them to that school unless the school grants a release as with the current rules.

2. Players wishing to have unlimited transfer rights would sign a one-year letter of intent. But there is a catch — the school has the ability to not renew that scholarship each year at the school’s discretion. This means both sides are under an annual evaluation.

3. Do not add a GPA requirement to transfer. Current GPA and progress towards graduation eligibility standards are sufficient.

4. If a coach is fired the student-athletes at that school would be able to transfer. This may slow coaching turnover and create more program stability for student-athletes.

There is a lesson that should be taught by the college sports experience, and gutting the transfer rule removes that lesson. Your word should be your bond and if you’re asking for a commitment from a school to invest in you that requires you to honor your commitment. We also should not make transferring so convenient that it is always an easy out from having to compete or fight through adversity. That is a life lesson that sports should teach.

Adjusting the rules and including some of the ideas above keeps the lessons of commitment in place, but also allows student-athletes who truly need to transfer for legitimate reasons to do so in a way that is reasoned and well-thought-out.



State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events and was the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at
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