GPA-Tied Transfer Rules Make Little Sense

January 16th, 2018 | by Francis Giknis
GPA-Tied Transfer Rules Make Little Sense


NCAA transfer eligibility is consistently a hot topic of conversation among college athletic departments. The current rule that requires a “year in residence” for a student-athlete transferring to a new school is theoretically intended to deter program-debilitating wholesale roster changes. Interestingly, there is discussion that might eliminate the year in residence if a student-athlete has a particular GPA (some outlets are reporting it to be in the 2.7-2.8 range). The image invoked by advocates of the status quo is a world where student-athletes would leave schools at the slightest provocation, making accountability and playing time even more contentious than at present. Low and mid-majors would lose players at an alarming rate, crippling program continuity, and stymying competitive parity.

But is this image of GPA-contingent eligibility accurate, or simply the hyperventilating of coaches terrified to lose their most valuable assets? If, in fact, student-athletes are simply students with greater extracurricular obligations, then they should be able to transfer as any student can, that is, at any point and without penalty. Jay Bilas makes an intriguing argument for changing the transfer eligibility rules, based partially in the current double-standard that student-athletes are both just regular students (and thus should be unpaid) and different than regular students (and thus can’t transfer without penalty).

Bilas’ point is well-made, and in conjunction with the fact that “year in residence” rules are not consistent for all NCAA sports, the NCAA seems to be aware that its position is tenuous. Enter conversations that make grade point averages relevant to transfer eligibility. This is an interesting first step in changing the status quo, but the correlation between GPA and transfer eligibility seems dubious at best. Why should a student-athlete be forced to sit out a year if she has a 2.6 GPA while one with 2.7 can play? It is not terribly clear why those two things should be linked.

Perhaps the NCAA looks at this proposed GPA minimum as a carrot to keep students academically engaged, but “keep your grades up so that you can transfer and play immediately!” seems like a very strange tactic to drive scholastic motivation. Furthermore, a policy like this could potentially harm the very students most needing a transfer. If the academic environment at a school is not meshing with a student-athlete, his GPA could well drop below a 2.7, especially for freshmen and sophomores who have fewer credits to mitigate the impact of a couple of poor grades. Leaving that school to seek a better-suited institution then becomes a non-starter due to the “year in residence” that is meant to deter his transfer in the first place.

Those that believe the “year in residence” is unjust might say that a GPA-related transfer regulation is a step in the right direction; more students than before would be able to transfer and not suffer a penalty. Where this type of policy is problematic, though, is that it ties-in an arbitrary measurement that might actually hurt the very student-athletes that might benefit from a transfer. The NCAA’s transfer procedures are already convoluted and inconsistent; how does adding another layer of complication fix them?

About Francis Giknis
Francis Giknis joins College AD as a contributor after seven years of teaching and coaching throughout the east coast. Prior to writing for College AD, Francis earned an English degree from the College of William and Mary and his masters at Columbia University. Raised in a cable television-free household, he remembers binge-watching ESPN while on vacations away from home, much to the chagrin of his parents.

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