Under current NCAA rules, most players have to sit out a year (and therefore lose a year of eligibility or redshirt) if they want to transfer to a different school on the same level. So if, hypothetically, a player smokes himself off of his Division I team, he'd have to transfer down to a Division II school such as North Alabama to play right away. A player transferring to another Division I school, even if it's a I-AA school, must sit out unless he gets a waiver.
The NCAA is now considering a rule change that would allow players in good academic standing to transfer and not sit out a year. Here are the major points:
- Athletes would still need to get permission to contact another school before transferring. But permission would be tied to practice and competition, not athletics aid. So even if permission was denied, the student-athlete would still be able to receive a scholarship.
- Athletes who qualify for the transfer exemption in the APR would be permitted to play immediately at the new school. That would make a 2.600 GPA the magic number to play immediately.
- Athletes who do not qualify to play immediately at the next school would still receive an extension of their five-year clock so they can use all their eligibility.
- Tampering with an athlete by another school would be considered a severe breach of conduct, a Level I violation, the highest in the NCAA’s new enforcement structure.
This proposal solves a couple of big problems with the transfer system. First, it removes the ability of a transferring player's current school to prevent him from receiving a scholarship at his new school for a year. It's totally unreasonable, but it actually happens. For instance, when Joe Flacco transferred from Pitt to I-AA Delaware, Delaware couldn't give him a scholarship during his sit-out year because Pitt wouldn't allow it. In no universe does that make sense.
Second, the somewhat arbitrary year of sitting out shouldn't count against the player's five-years-to-play-four clock. At least the first time, it shouldn't. After all, a guy could in theory just transfer every year and never lose all of his eligibility. This proposal is not final, and it could change to make it so players only get to transfer without sitting out once in the final form.
The rule requiring players to sit out exists for a reason, and even under this proposal, it's not going away entirely. The NCAA doesn't want to end up with a free agency system, which would give strong incentives for clandestine breaches of amateurism (i.e. payments) to get kids to transfer, and it won't have one here. Players would have to get a release from their current school in order to play right away, they'd have to sit out if they don't, and tampering is the highest form of violation.
The rule requiring players to sit out after transferring has relaxed in recent years with the ability of players who have their degree to move without sitting if they enroll in a graduate program that their old school doesn't have. That change allowed Jeremiah Masoli to go to Ole Miss and Russell Wilson to go to Wisconsin and play right away.
Here is something to watch. Conferences can override the NCAA rules with stricter ones if they wish. Less than a year after Masoli's move, the SEC added a restriction to the graduate transfer rule that a player must have two years of eligibility left to take advantage of it and come in to an SEC school. It's very rare that players finish their undergraduate degrees before exhausting three years of eligibility, so the conference might as well have just struck it entirely from the record. I hope conferences won't do that with these new rules, should they get passed, but we'll have to see.