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SEC Eases Admissions Rules for Grad Transfers, Matching New NCAA Legislation

The Southeastern Conference has relaxed admission rules governing graduate transfers.

During the final day of their virtual spring meetings Thursday, SEC presidents and chancellors approved a proposal to ease a restriction that required graduate transfers to enroll in graduate school at his or her new school. The new legislation, an amendment to a bylaw, allows grad transfers to pursue a second undergraduate degree, according to the proposal obtained by Sports Illustrated. The SEC’s decision aligns its policy with that of the NCAA, which made the change to its graduate transfer legislation in April.

The previous policy steered an athlete’s education down a path that they may not have preferred. With greater enrollment options now, athletes are free to pursue a second major in the same way he or she could have done at the previous school. Admission standards at graduate programs can be stringent and often complicated. The new legislation will “reduce tensions created between athletics and academic departments” in locating graduate programs for athletes who may not “lack necessary practical experience to be admitted,” the proposal reads.

Administrators at Arkansas, South Carolina and Missouri made the proposal. It is effective for those graduate transfers enrolling Aug. 1 or later.

For coaches, this offers another avenue to land graduate transfers, a sweeping trend in college football over the last several years. Graduate transfers can play immediately and some even enter their new schools with two years of eligibility. Joe Burrow, the former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at LSU, is one of the most recent high-profile examples of a transfer who graduated from his previous school, Ohio State, with two years of eligibility. He was a redshirt junior when he enrolled at LSU in May 2018.

The graduate transfer rule was intended to assist academically high-achieving students in pursuing a degree that may not be offered at their undergraduate college. But it has become a tool for players to find more playing time and for coaches to plug holes on their rosters. From 2013 to 2018, the NCAA says the number of grad transfers had more than doubled. Graduate transfers are most prevalent in men’s basketball (2.6% of current players are graduate transfers), women’s basketball, football, and men’s and women’s track and field, according to data published by the NCAA in 2019. Less than 1% of football players were graduate transfers in 2018, but that number had nearly tripled since 2013.

The legislation adjusted a rule not often used as it was intended. Graduate programs can be two and three-year endeavors that few athletes complete. The two-year degree completion rate for graduate transfers in football was 31%, according to figures from the NCAA.