The Student-Athlete Transfer Process Part 1: An Enigma, Wrapped In a Riddle

June 8th, 2015 | by Joe Billiot
The Student-Athlete Transfer Process Part 1: An Enigma, Wrapped In a Riddle
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Student-Athlete Transfer Process

This article is part one in a two-part series investigating the current NCAA student-athlete transfer process, and was prompted by an actual transfer case which will be presented in the next installment. Thousands of student-athletes make successful transfers every year, due in no small part to the efforts of their previous school’s compliance department. As you’ll see, that job is not always an easy one. – Editor

Going from point A to point B should be simple right? In fact, scientists have boiled down this seemingly simple act into one unified term. You may have heard of it; a line. What if I told you that the NCAA has managed to break all we know about geometry, by turning what should be a simple line, into the Lie Group E8 (AKA the world’s most complex structure).

The people left to understand the hot mess that is the NCAA transfers rules are the Student-Athletes themselves (or more commonly their parents) and schools’ athletic compliance offices. As we will see more plainly in Part II of this series, the resources and interest of those two parties do not always add up. Consequently, the door is left wide open for student athletes to be taken advantage of, which may not occur often, but certainly does occur.



Say “pretty please” or you can’t have your scholarship.

Without going into too much detail (believe me I could write a thesis on just the rules alone) here is how, as I understand it, the transfer rules are suppose to operate: Player decides that he/she wants to transfer schools, then gives his/her current school some fair notice.  There is no real set term for who “school” entails. It appears, however, that players generally provide notice to their coach, who is then charged with informing the School’s Academic compliance office or the student just informs the compliance office.

If the player wants the ability to remain on scholarship at his/her new institution however, said player has to get “permission” from his/her current educational institution. If the current educational institution does not provide “permission” for the NCAA student-athlete to transfer, the athlete is still “allowed” to transfer, with one significant caveat:  “If permission is not granted, the second institution (dumb speak for the transferee school) shall not encourage the transfer and the institution shall not provide athletically related financial assistance to the student-athlete until the student-athlete has attended the second institution for one academic year.” (NCAA Bylaw 13.1.1.3)

What is woefully left out of the NCAA Bylaws? They left out anything describing accurately, and with binding force, any restrictions on the schools during the transfer process. i.e. A student-athlete’s current educational institution can deny “permission” for whatever reason it feels just. Even if that reason is, “we don’t want to lose our star player” and even if not allowing that student to transfer with his/her scholarship totally screws them and their families.

Got all of that? Good, because things are about to get much, much wackier. In the subsequent bylaw, Bylaw 14, the one dealing with eligibility of student-athletes, the NCAA decided to wash in all the rules about what it takes to be academically eligible to transfer. Basically, what is required to transfer is relative to where you are (A 2 year institution vs. a 4 year institution) and where you want to go (2 or 4 year institution).

Talking to people who work in NCAA compliance for a living, it appears that most schools use the “progress towards degree” test, to figure out if a student is both academically eligible to play and/or transfer schools. Here is the issue with that; the “progress towards degree” test is basically meaningless. Progress towards a degree is “interpreted at each member institution by the academic officials who determine the meaning and application of such phrases for all students . . .” (NCAA Bylaw 14.02.6). AKA, it means whatever the school says it means, which is not very helpful when you are trying to get answers about exactly what GPA you need to transfer. The NCAA does impose some requirements on the “hours” required in order for a student to be generally academically eligible to transfer in NCAA Bylaw 14.4.3.1.2 (lol), but I couldn’t find anything outside of the general eligibility rules with respect to a minimum required GPA.

Mercifully, the NCAA does say something about the appeals process in their bylaws. According to NCAA Bylaw 13.1.1.3.1, if the school denies a student-athlete’s request or delays a response, then the student athlete “upon request, shall be provided a hearing conducted by an institutional entity or committee outside of the athletics department.” The NCAA also took the quite generous act of going a step further by actually putting a mandate on schools to establish “reasonable procedures for promptly hearing such a request.”

The darkness consumed me; then I was alone, just me and the NCAA Bylaws.

After spending some hours consuming NCAA bylaws, which by the way I highly suggest you never do, I thought I had this whole transfer thing somewhat figured out. Then, I read the “2013-14 Transfer Guide.” For those of you who don’t know, the “Transfer Guide” is an annual 30 plus page document released by the NCAA in order to explain transferring requirements to student-athletes.

First off, if it takes 30 plus pages for you to explain the process of switching schools, you might be the NCAA. Second, there is information in this “guide” that seemingly comes from nowhere. For instance, on the bottom of page 20 of the “guide”, referencing the one-time transfer exception, it states, “Further, in Division I, if your request for a written release is not provided within seven business days of the previous institution receiving the request, the release shall be granted by default and the previous institution shall provide a written release to you.” The One Time Transfer Exception, however, does not mention any set time or date requirements. Instead, that rule is contained in the more general provisions listed in 13.1.1.3, which in turn refers you to rule 13.02.1.

All right, that’s it! Dishonor! Dishonor on the Bylaws, dishonor on Mark Emmert, dishonor on the whole NCAA!

These transfer rules are incredibly too complicated. I have two graduate diplomas in legal studies and I had serious trouble understanding the NCAA transfer process, and I do this for a living. I could not imagine a situation where a student-athlete could understand exactly what is required all on his or her own. Consequently, student-athletes must, and generally do, lean on the institution, which they are about to abandon.

A vast majority of the time, compliance offices act with the appropriate amount of good faith during the transfer process, and should be applauded for doing so. Sometimes, however, the incentives for these athletic compliance offices, the schools, and the coaches, can be perverse to those of the student athlete; when that occurs, there is little that a student-athlete can do to fight against their current institution, besides pray for justice from the mysterious NCAA demigods. What happens when the NCAA demigods don’t answer your prayers? Things just get sad . . . but more on that next time.

Edit: The original version of this article stated that the NCAA misstated their own rule, which was an error pointed out to me by a reader and promptly corrected. It appears a recent change to the rules has added a 7 day requirement to respond, though I am still in the process of verifying the rule change, the article will be updated accordingly as I get more information. 

About Joe Billiot
Gypsy from South Louisiana. 3L. If you know what that means, its too late.

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