Exactly one week ago, former Notre Dame starting quarterback Everett Golson announced that he would be transferring to another school after graduation day in South Bend, opting to take graduate courses and spend his remaining year of college football eligibility presumably walking into a starting role on a campus located someplace other than northern Indiana. Almost immediately thereafter, FOX Sports’ Bruce Feldman and multiple news outlets reported that Notre Dame intended to limit Golson’s transfer options by restricting the schools that he would be allowed to attend (allegedly, all of the opponents on Notre Dame’s 2015 schedule, plus a few Big Ten institutions, for good measure). Notre Dame, however, quickly fired back, with Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick calling these reports “just not true,” and stating that the university had “not denied a single school that Everett Golson identified as one he has an interest in going to.”
As a Notre Dame fan and alum, I both commend Everett Golson’s decision a year ago to return to South Bend to get his degree – when far, far less arduous routes were assuredly available to him after his suspension – and respect his decision in the present to seek a better (at least subjectively) situation in his final college football season. He leaves eligible to play his final season immediately, presumably increasing his prospects for success in next year’s NFL draft, and with a degree in hand. This represents an unequivocal success on the part of the individual student-athlete, the educational institution, and the NCAA rulebook.
So the truth of the matter asserted in either Feldman’s initial report or Swarbrick’s response really isn’t the most interesting part of this story, in my opinion. Rather, I think the deeper question at issue is why the NCAA requires that a transfer student receive “permission” from his former school.
According to the NCAA’s website, a “[s]tudent-athlete who wants to transfer must receive written permission from his or her athletic director before contacting another school.” Their stated rationale for this is that NCAAs transfer process “safeguard the process and help student-athletes make rational decisions about the best place to pursue an education and compete in their sport. This is important, as student-athletes who transfer are less likely to earn a degree than those who remain at their original school.” So, then, permission from the school is necessary so that we can help kids graduate. That’s a laudable enough rationale, at first glance.
Wouldn’t the current mandate that a student-athlete sit out a year upon a transfer address those concerns more adequately than requiring a permission slip from the AD? Facing a year away from in-game competition would seemingly demand some degree of contemplation before making any rash transfer decisions. And having a year to focus on the adjustments inherent with new surroundings – as well as providing a full, additional academic year in which to make up any class credits that may have been lost in translation – would seem to mitigate the increased risk of not graduating that comes with the a transfer.
How, then, does requiring a student-athlete to receive permission further the likelihood that a degree will ultimately be obtained?
Herein lies the disconnect between the stated purpose of this rule and how it can be capriciously applied. The most cursory of Google searches on this topic will quickly reveal that numerous successful coaches across multiple college sports openly lament the state of the transfer market in college sports, and explicitly do not want a former player “taking the playbook” with them when they leave. It’s a position that seems intuitive enough, I suppose. But I fail to comprehend how supporters of this position reconcile the amount of coaches that leave schools – without any restrictions other than the contractual ones the universities customarily work out — every single off-season for similar positions on rival staffs.
Until someone can convince me that Everett Golson playing quarterback for a Notre Dame opponent next year is more of a schematic advantage than John Chavis coaching Texas A&M’s defense against the division rival he spent the prior five years with (LSU), I find this line of reasoning less-than-persuasive. Is there any larger concern about someone “taking the playbook” than taking the guy who literally wrote the playbook?
As a coach or athletic administrator, I can only imagine how difficult – and often times emotional – it must be to be faced with the prospect of losing someone whose development you invested countless hours in. As a fan, I can imagine that watching a situation in which, say, Everett Golson leads Texas on a last-minute, game-winning touchdown drive in South Bend this coming Labor Day weekend would be particularly gut-wrenching. But when balancing the equities at play here, I can’t help but come back to the fact that perhaps the authority to dictate the immediate future plans of a 22-year-old amateur athlete shouldn’t be completely vested in those most detrimentally affected by that student-athlete’s decision.
In that regard, the “permission” plank of the NCAA’s rules governing transfers seems particularly unnecessary, and rife with opportunities for abuse.
Feature image via WBRC
Jeff Troxclair is an executive, lawyer, and life-long college sports fan. He is a graduate of both NC State University and the University of Notre Dame, and is a hopelessly optimistic Wolfpack and Irish fan. Jeff is originally from New Orleans, LA, but has lived for extended periods of time in both Raleigh, NC, and Chicago, IL. He currently resides in Oakland, CA, with his wife and daughter. Having seen the New Orleans Saints actually win a Super Bowl, he is now convinced that we live in a world where no sports-related achievement is impossible.