Unlimited free agency may not come to college sports as quickly as some expected.
Multiple sources told The Athletic on Saturday that it is increasingly unlikely that the Division I Board of Directors will vote to eliminate the NCAA rule prohibiting multiple transfers by athletes at its Aug. 3 meeting. This would mean that the one-time transfer rule would remain in place. The creation of transfer windows may also be delayed.
Earlier this month, the Division I Council endorsed the elimination of the one-time transfer rule as part of a transfer reform package that included the implementation of transfer windows and the requirement that the school accepting a transfer would be required to provide financial aid to the incoming student-athlete through the completion of the student’s five-year period of eligibility or undergraduate graduation. The package originated with the Division I Transformation Committee, a group assembled to help modernize college athletics.
Presidents on both the Transformation Committee and Board have expressed concerns regarding the possibility of unlimited transfers, sources said. There has also been a great deal of public pushback from football and men’s basketball coaches who believe it will make it nearly impossible to manage rosters.
If the current one-time transfer rule were to be eliminated, athletes would be able to transfer multiple times during their collegiate careers and be immediately eligible to play elsewhere as long as they were academically eligible and as long as they announced their intention to transfer during at a certain time of the year. Right now, athletes at four-year institutions get one “free” transfer; they need to submit waiver requests for any additional moves if they seek to play right away at their new school.
But there remain concerns about the impact of transferring on academic success and athletes’ ability to graduate. And there is not yet a great deal of data on the topic one year into the NIL era, coupled with the one-time transfer.
Multiple sources told The Athletic that they expect the elimination of the one-time transfer rule to be sent back to the Transformation Committee and/or the Council by the Board at its meeting this week because it would be unlikely to pass if taken to vote. Two sources expect that the Board would send back the entire transfer package (including transfer windows and the financial aid piece) because, as one said, “it doesn’t really work piecemeal.” Another pointed out that if the Board only adds restrictions to athletes’ ability to transfer without opening up any opportunities, it potentially sets the NCAA up for more lawsuits.
One source said it’s possible that the Board could send back the one-time transfer rule but still vote on transfer windows and/or the financial aid component — “it’s all very fluid,” the person said — because the Board has signaled a willingness to do something in this space. It is also a hot-button issue purposely included in the first wave of recommendations from the Transformation Committee to show that the group is prepared to both address potential antitrust issues and also empower athletes in a changing landscape.
“It’s probably best as a whole package, but it would at least be a half-step,” one source said.
—Chris Vannini contributed to this story
(Photo: Kirby Lee / USA Today)