What the NCAA Transfer Legislation Means for the Academic Progress Rate

Presuming a spike in transfers given the more open policy, various college administrators told Sports Illustrated they believe the formula needs an adjustment to avoid significant dips in scores.
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In light of impending changes to the transfer policy, the NCAA will explore adjustments to the Academic Progress Rate and expects conferences to align their own transfer policies with the governing body’s new legislation.

Earlier this week, the Division I Council agreed to move forward with legislation that will grant athletes the freedom to transfer and play immediately at least once in their college careers, eschewing the penalty requiring athletes of five sports (football and basketball included) to sit out a year.

Grace Calhoun, the Penn athletic director and chair of the Division I Council, believes a change to the APR is “reasonable,” and she expects the Division I Committee on Academics to examine the APR’s penalty structure. Implemented in 2003, the APR is a four-year rolling average score designed to hold schools accountable for academics, even penalizing them for poor performance.

Presuming a spike in transfers given the more open policy, various college administrators told Sports Illustrated they believe the formula needs an adjustment to avoid significant dips in scores. Under the current APR formula, each player earns one point for staying in school and one point for being academically eligible. Transferring players would cost a school the retention point.

In an interview in the spring, Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin suggested the APR either begin accounting for transfers as it might for players turning pro or APR benchmarks be adjusted to reflect the transfer rule change.

“We had a great conversation around that today,” Calhoun said Wednesday in a call with SI. “The APR was implemented 18 years ago. The landscape is markedly different. A lot of what we were trying to fix in APR, has been fixed.”

Though conferences have their own transfer policy—including some preventing intra-conference movement among players—Calhoun believes leagues around the country will begin to evaluate and potentially grant players more freedom as the NCAA’s ruling does.

“I think you’ll continue to see changes in conference rules for the same reason we’re getting to this uniform standard nationally,” she says.

Not everyone agrees with the new transfer policy. In fact, coaches have shown “unanimous” opposition to the idea at American Football Coaches Association conventions for the last three years, AFCA executive director Todd Berry says. Not all coaches are necessarily against it, though. In fact, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh pitched the proposal through Twitter last summer. “My belief is that a one-time transfer should be allowed for all student-athletes,” Harbaugh wrote on in a July tweet.

Those against it predict an unhealthy uptick in the recruiting of active college players on other teams, something that persists now despite the NCAA banning the practice. Because of the expected increase in transfers, coaches are also arguing for an expansion of the annual 25-man cap on new players.

Council members discussed that topic at length, Calhoun says, but decided against increasing that number. While football teams are allowed to sign a maximum of 25 news players a year (100 over four years), they can have only 85 at one time on scholarship. The 15-spot difference is a buffer to account for attrition.

Attrition may exponentially rise with both players transferring into programs and out of programs. For instance, given the 25-man limit, a school might not have the ability to replace transfers with new players, themselves transfers. Teams that sign full, 25-man classes in February would have no room, for example, to replace waves of players that may leave during the offseason. Those school may find it difficult to field a full, 85-man club.

Those programs consistently losing a great number of players to transfer should look to themselves, Calhoun says.

“It is now up to all of us as administrators to manage it on our campus,” she says. “If we are seeing a lot of students transferring out, we have to look internally to see why that’s happening instead of the easy escape (of increasing the 25-man limit).”

In order to be eligible immediately, fall and winter sport athletes must notify their schools of transfer by May 1 or July 1 if their scholarship is discontinued or their sports endures a head coaching change. Spring sport athletes must give notice by July 1. The NCAA will be flexible on that date if a spring sport athlete endures a head coaching change or loses scholarship aid, Calhoun says.

The one-time transfer policy coupled with the name, image and likeness proposal represent a pair of sweeping piece of NCAA legislation that will have wide-ranging impacts on the future of college sports.

“I summarize it as saying we have been on this multi-year path to continue to give student athletes more rights and freedoms and control over their own destiny,” Calhoun says. “We’re looking at two big packages with NIL and transfer that do just that, that empower the athletes to monetize their NIL and decide the right institution for them.”