In the first year that the NCAA allowed name, image, and likeness deals (NIL) and enacted the one-time transfer exception (which enabled student-athletes to transfer without penalty), college athletics was frequently described as the “Wild West,” as it seemed more athletes than ever before were transferring. Given that, it was widely assumed the NCAA would tweak its regulations this summer to help reign in the chaos and provide some level of stability.
The NCAA’s Division I Council did provide a mostly toothless update to its NIL regulations. However, for the transfer portal, the NCAA Transformation Committee proposed essentially opening the floodgates and allowing student-athletes to transfer multiple times. That means, in theory, an NCAA Division I student-athlete could play for as many as four schools before graduating or exhausting his or her eligibility!
What Else Has Changed?
Until the summer of 2021, the NCAA’s transfer policies seemed designed to discourage student-athletes from transferring. Transferring to another program required the athlete to sit out a year once he or she arrived at their new school and cost them a year of eligibility. And that was only if that athlete was given a release from their previous school.
Things began to change when the NCAA set up the Transfer Portal to streamline the transfer process for both athletes and schools. But athletes were truly granted unfettered transfer ability in 2021 when the NCAA installed the one-time transfer exception rule, which allowed student-athletes to transfer once with no penalty whatsoever. And now that multiple transfers are allowed, any NCAA athlete in good academic standing can be considered a free agent at the end of each season.
As unregulated or unhinged as a multiple transfer rule may sound, the NCAA did apply some hurdles for schools and athletes to clear before a transfer is allowed. Student-athletes will have to be academically eligible and will have to declare their intention to transfer within a defined window based on their sport. For fall sports, the NCAA narrowed down the transfer window to 45 days following the championship selection at the end of the season, with another 15-day transfer window offered in early May. Spring sport athletes will have a 60-day window to declare their intention to transfer, beginning with the championship selection for their sport.
A school that accepts a transfer will be required to provide a scholarship to the incoming transfer athlete. However, rather than a one-year scholarship renewal as is currently customary, schools would be required to provide that financial aid until the student-athlete has graduated or exhausted their eligibility. In other words, schools that accept incoming transfers will need a scholarship available for that transfer, they’ll be required to stay at scholarship limits for that sport, and they’ll be required to honor that scholarship for the duration of that student-athletes time at that school. Whether this acts as a deterrent to schools taking deep dives into the transfer portal at the end of every season remains to be seen.
What Does It All Mean?
The NCAA recently released data on the use of its transfer portal and, in some cases, the number of athletes that transferred, and the percentage that didn’t find a new school was staggering. And this data only covered the two academic years before the one-time transfer exception was enacted and NILs were allowed. Most observers believe more athletes transferred once the one-time transfer exception was put in place. But, even with the narrowed windows and scholarship requirements, a new rule allowing multiple transfers could lead to even more transfers as players seek better NIL opportunities, more playing time, or simply the proverbial greener pastures.
We’ll get our first glimpse of what promises to be a wild transfer season at the end of college football’s regular season in December. For existing college athletes who are unhappy in their current situation, there could now be an opportunity to transfer at will to other schools and programs. The outlook may not be as rosy for high school recruits who aren’t considered 4- or 5-star, as some coaches prioritize the transfer portal rather than rolling the dice on an unproven high school athlete. The only thing that’s certain for fans is that buying your favorite player’s jersey at your alma mater is a risky proposition, as this season’s hero could be next season’s archrival.
On Wednesday, August 3rd, the NCAA’s D-I Board of Directors kicked the proposed transfer rule changes back to the Transformation Committee to address a variety of concerns that were raised by both schools, coaches, and athletes. While it was no surprise that coaches had issues with the multiple transfer ruling, the Student Athlete Advisory Committee also expressed reservations with what it considered restrictions on athlete’s freedom of movement imposed by the proposed transfer windows. The Transformation Committee is expected to meet again on August 31st.