The toothpaste, as they say, will not go back into the tube no matter how hard the NCAA tries to force it.
To the delight of Mike Gundy (I’m sure) and football coaches around the country, the NCAA has ratcheted up its transfer rules to try and keep athletes from moving from one school to the next and being immediately eligible. This will, I am told, prevent full-on free agency in college sports (OK), but in the process it has muddied the water to the point that I’m not even sure what I’m looking at anymore.
Here’s a good overview of what the NCAA has changed for athletes looking to transfer and become immediately eligible at their new school.
The new guidelines are not rules but essentially a set of directions for the NCAA staff that makes initial waiver decisions, which can then be appealed to the Committee on Legislative Relief. They are thought to be in response to a significant increase in the number of waiver requests being submitted to the NCAA this summer and growing frustration among some schools and fans about decisions that appear to be inconsistent in cases that seem to be similar.
In 2018, the NCAA adopted a new standard that would allow waivers to be granted on a case-by-case basis by the committee if the athlete could demonstrate “documented mitigating circumstances outside of the student-athlete’s control and directly impacts the health, safety or well-being of the student-athlete.”
The updated language of that same guideline is less broad, requiring “documented extenuating, extraordinary and mitigating circumstances outside of the student-athlete’s control that directly impacts the health, safety or well-being of the student-athlete.”
The addition of those two words — extenuating and extraordinary — as well as other language throughout the proposal, appears to send the message that the NCAA wants to tighten up on the requirements for waivers. [USA Today]
This creates circumstances in which — no matter which side of the aisle you ultimately fall — are objectively insane. Consider the following …
The previous guidelines allowed waivers to be granted for “egregious behavior by a staff member or student at the previous institution” as long as the previous school did not oppose the waiver, giving the committee a fairly broad window to view those claims. The updated version says waivers should be granted for documented cases where the athlete was a victim of “physical assault or abuse, sexually inappropriate behavior, racial abuse, religious discrimination, questioning of sexuality by a staff member or student at the previous institution” though the definition isn’t limited to those areas. [USA Today]
Neither situation is ideal!
In cases where athletes transfer within 100-mile radius of their to home due to injury or illness to an immediate family member or because of a pregnancy, the NCAA’s proposal requires more paperwork from both schools, including “a treatment plan detailing the student-athlete’s caregiving responsibilities.” [USA Today]
What?! Is somebody from the NCAA out there walking off 100 miles? What if it’s 101 miles or 102 miles? Where are we at in society?
Jenni Carlson wrote this week about how the NCAA should do a better job of empowering players over schools, humans over institutions. And while I don’t disagree, I also think that the looser the rules are the easier it is to manipulate them. The problem is that the flip side all of a sudden requires sonogram photos and laser pointers to try and figure out how many feet your new campus is from your hometown. Try to step outside of Saturday afternoons in the fall and the NCAA Tournament and think about how crazy this is!
It actually sort of reminds me of the Rules of Golf, which is a 284-page (approximately) book that tries to legislate for every potential scenario ever encountered. This is impossible of course, and even worse for the NCAA is that because you’re using very broad and ambiguous language, you’ve opened yourself to essentially play judge and jury in every situation.
Tom Mars, who has served as an attorney in some transfer situations, made a good point to ESPN this week.
“The long-term solution to this problem is blindingly obvious,” said Mars, who assisted Ford on his appeal of the waiver denial and briefly worked on Hoffman’s case. “The legislative council should scrap the incomprehensible waiver guidelines and replace them with a rule allowing every student-athlete to transfer one time without penalty.”[ESPN]
I like that. It’s clean and straightforward. You get one transfer. After that, you sit. No questions asked. Stewart Mandel of The Athletic went a step further and suggested what amounts to free agency every year (which my content-making self obviously loves).
Look — whenever someone has suggested that any athlete should be allowed to transfer at any time without being penalized, I’ve had trouble jumping on board. It seemed well-intentioned in theory, but in practice, could result in utter chaos.
But you know what? Chaos sounds a lot more appealing than these arbitrary, constantly changing set of rules we’re dealing with today. So I’ve changed my mind. Just let them play. [The Athletic]
Regardless, the answer to all of this is not more verbiage and more rules. This is what you do when you’re fearful of the future, though. You create situations where you have more control over what happens. That feels good and right, and if we’re being honest the NCAA probably thinks its just nailing this for both student-athletes and their schools.
The problem is that as college sports has evolved, it becomes difficult to retrofit your organization around them in the right way. The NCAA is trying its best, but somebody needs to step in and tell them, Yo, maybe do something different, dawg. Maybe blow the whole thing up and simplify the rules. Because the rules, as they stand, are more than a little bit insane.