A One-Time Transfer Waiver Is Not The Answer For College Football
The transfer system in college football and basketball is broken and needs to be fixed, but the NCAA’s plan to grant an automatic one-time waiver with no consequences or conditions makes a bad situation even worse.
I will give college coaches and the NCAA credit, they sure are doing a tremendous job of spinning their reasons for this move, and many are eating it up. It’s being spun as a win for the players, who now get free rein to transfer, no matter the reason.
There are a lot of problems with the old system, and it was way beyond time that it was adjusted and corrected, but this is not the way, not if we truly care about what’s best for players.
PROBLEMS WITH OLD SYSTEM
The issue with the old system, as I see it, is it was too restrictive. A player had to sit out a year, and the only way to fix that was to go through an appeal process. That appeal process was turned into an absolute joke, with big-name players (especially quarterbacks) getting waivers while players with real justifications (remember Alohi Gilman) were told, “Sorry, you’re out of luck.”
The current process required players to make a case for immediate eligibility, and the easiest way to do that was to hire a lawyer, throw dirt and in some cases, outright lie in an attempt to get a pass.
PROBLEM WITH ONE-TIME TRANSFER RULE
There are a number of problems with the one-time transfer rule. It’s being pushed as a player rights or player freedom ruling, but let’s be honest, if it was, there would be no way in the world coaches and big-time programs would be pushing for it. Think logically for a second, the system that you think has been taking advantage of players is just going to on its own make a rule change that is in the benefit of the players? Come on.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is one advocate for this new rule. If he was such a staunch advocate for player freedoms, why did he fight so hard to prevent former players from gaining immediately eligibility when they left his program?
Let’s be honest about what this rule is about, and let’s be honest about the “unintended consequences” that will come from it.
Is it a shock that as grad transfers and other transfer quarterbacks started winning titles that coaches started pushing for this rule? It shouldn’t surprise you. This push from colleges and coaches is all about creating a new recruiting base for the major conferences, and this time it will be more ready-made players compared to prep players.
Look, Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Notre Dame aren’t going to lose starters to one-time transfers. The younger players they lose can be replaced by other transfers or high school recruits. Those programs will, however, start making a killing when it comes to poaching starters from programs like Kentucky, NC State, Indiana and Iowa State.
Does anyone really think that a player like Benny Snell goes to Kentucky, rushes for 1,091 yards and 12 scores as a freshman, and then 1,333 yards and 19 touchdowns as a sophomore, and he stays at Kentucky? Or has history taught us that a player like that would jump at a chance to go play for an Ohio State, or an Alabama?
Does anyone believe that a player like Sean Bunting stays at Central Michigan for three years, or does he transfer to a Big Ten school after a year or two?
Maybe, but if we’re being honest you know programs like Ohio State, Alabama, Clemson and Oklahoma are going to do whatever they can to convince players like this to transfer.
And before you respond with, “Well, he’d have to go into the portal before they can reach out,” please, we’re all adults here. We all know phone calls are made to coaches, friends, girlfriends, etc. in an attempt to open up these avenues. This is how the game is played, how it’s always been played and it will only heat up when this rule goes into effect.
The rich will get richer, and middle of the road Power 5 programs and Group of 6 teams will put in the work to recruit and develop a player, only to see a blue blood program poach him. The lack of parity that already exists will get far, far worse. I mean, Alabama would gladly trade its third-string running back to Kentucky for their All-SEC back, if they wanted that player, and that’s basically what we’d be talking about here.
One of the responses I get is, “Well, that’s good for that player.” Maybe. If ethics and morality aren’t your thing, I get you not caring about the impact of this kind of thing. In an era where coaches move around freely, regardless of any commitments they’ve made to players, it’s hard to justify limiting movement of players.
Another counter to that argument would also be, just like we see with high school recruits, who says the new school would live up to their commitment? Perhaps the school wants that player to A) protect themselves as another player comes back from injury or a young player develops, and B) hurts an up-and-coming conference opponent.
But the impact goes beyond how it impacts that one player. What does it do for the teammates he is leaving behind? What does it do for the players at the position group of the school that went and poached him? They put in the work, commit to the program and bam, they don’t get their shot. It likely hurts far more people than it helps.
There’s something even more important for me, and it’s the long-lasting impact this has on players.
Anyone that’s been around this game long enough knows that the disincentive of sitting out a year forces players to work though a number of struggles. It’s been my experience that most freshmen and sophomores think about transferring for a host of reasons, even young players that are getting time on Saturdays. It could be missing home, missing a girlfriend, being away from home for the first time, or it could be frustration over a lack of playing time.
I could write five stories a day for the next year about players who stuck it out and learned tremendous life lessons from it. Had this rule existed many likely would have emotionally transferred, and who knows how things would have turned out.
When the consequence of transferring is sitting out a season it requires a more thorough, thoughtful and guided decision. When this new rule goes into effect, that disincentive is gone, and you’ll see players make far, far more emotional decisions. Decisions man will later look back with great regret, decisions made rashly and without as much thought.
This is NOT good for young people, who are being given incentive to make a commitment, and then back out at the first sign of adversity. Part of being a leader, part of making good decisions as an adult in a position of influence, is to help young people grow as men, not just as football players.
A rule like this makes that much, much harder to do.
The consequences would also domino. If Alabama poaches a player from Kentucky, then Kentucky will poach a player from Troy, and then Troy will poach a kid from Jacksonville State ..... and the process goes on and on.
A TRANSFER PROGRAM THAT WORKS
The previous rule was terrible and the new rule is even worse, so what should we do? I have some ideas that come from experience as a former college player who did in fact transfer, a coach and now in this job. I’ve been around college football for over 20 years in all types of areas, and there are things the NCAA can and should do that can give players more rights and freedoms, while also not opening up the floodgates for poaching players.
The reality is players do need to have the opportunity to transfer without penalty, but every situation is different. The reality is, transferring simply because of playing time is not justification for being able to leave right away and play.
Any player at any school can transfer whenever he wants for whatever reason, all these rules do is make sure that they are making thoughtful decisions, and not every decision comes without consequences. Consequences shouldn’t be viewed as negatives.
1. Coaches Need To Put Their Money Where Their Mouth Is — Stop me if you’ve heard this one before … a coach makes a promise to a player about playing time, or his position, or jersey number, or whatever else a coach says to get a player to sign with his school. Then that player shows up and those promises aren’t kept, for whatever. That was the reason I transferred as a player, and that’s one of the biggest complaints I’ve heard from parents and players over the years.
Step one to fixing the recruiting and transfer process is to expand the National Letter of intent to include individual language for each prospect. Sort of a “promises” section. This would be where the coaches put to paper the promises they’ve made a prospect, and like the current NLI both parties must sign it. If they aren’t willing to put those promises into a contract, knowing the consequences of not living up to their end of the bargain, then players will know before they sign.
This should also include language about a player's desired major. One of the stories that bothers me to the most is when I hear about a player not being allowed to major in something he wants to major in.
If the school doesn’t live up to its side of the contract, that player gets a one-time opportunity to transfer to a school of his choice, and the school cannot limit where he looks.
2. There Needs To Be Freedoms Following Coaching Changes — I know that many like to use the whole, “You don’t commit to a coach” mantra, but the fact is who you play for is very, very important. There is NO ONE at a college that will spend more time with a player than his coaches. A student-athlete should absolutely take seriously who he is committing to play for in college. The manner in which assistants and coordinators move around is problematic, but there’s also not a whole lot that can be done about it.
I would like to see two rules put in place to give players protections when coaches leave.
A) Position Coach Leaves — When a position coach leaves, whether it be his choice or he is fired, there needs to be a 30-day window where the school has time to fill that vacancy and/or convince players at that position to stay the course. Following that 30 days, players should then have their own 30-day window where they can enter their name into the portal. If they make a decision within that second 30-day window they can be granted automatic eligibility.
Essentially, if the running backs coach leaves, for whatever reason, this rule applies to every running back on the roster.
B) Head Coach Leaves — The rule should be a bit different when a head coach leaves. Again, whether it’s his choice or the school’s, when a new coach is hired he needs to be granted 30 days to meet with each individual player. The coach can 1) tell the player he is not in his plans, or 2) convince the player to stay and stick with the program.
If the new coach tells a player he is not in their plans, that player can be given an automatic waiver to transfer to the school of his choice. At the conclusion of the 30-day window, there should then be a 30-day window where a player can enter his name into the portal. If he finds a school within that 30-day window then he will be granted a one-time waiver.
When we are talking about a head coach this should apply to every player on the roster.
Perhaps this type of rule will result in schools thinking a bit longer and harder about firing a coach, and perhaps it will convince schools to put language in assistant coach contracts that make it a bit more difficult to jump from school to school without getting a genuine promotion. If there are real consequences to coaching turnover, schools and conferences will be forced to make rules to slow that tide, or accept the consequences.
3. Give Players The Year Back — I do believe there needs to be a disincentive for transferring for more “normal” reasons, but I also believe the loss of eligibility is too harsh. I’m all for a player having to sit out a season, that’s a good incentive to limit the free agency that will hit with the new rule. I would, however, like to see the year that a player sits out not be counted as a season of eligibility.
That means a player who transfers would still have four years to play five, but the sit-out year would not count towards that clock. So if a player redshirts as a freshman, then transfers, then sits out his sophomore season, he would still be a sophomore when he regains his eligibility and would still have four seasons remaining.
4. Allow Juniors To Transfer Without A Penalty — I really do love the grad transfer rule. It’s a reward to getting your degree, and I’m all for that. I would actually like to see that expanded a bit to allow any rising senior (academically speaking) to have a one-time transfer waiver. By the time a player has been through the program for three years he’s in much better position to make a more mature, thoughtful and reasonable decision about leaving. He also has a much better idea of what the program and the school is all about.
This would allow players that are buried in the two-deep to leave for a school they have a better shot to play, and give younger players opportunities to see more early playing time as part of the two-deep.
5. Create A More Open, Fair Appeal Process — Be specific about what grounds cause a waiver to be granted. A sick relative, legitimate academic concerns, etc. If a player can provide documentation then he gets a waiver. But it needs to be clear, there need to be legitimate justifications and a process by which players can be granted true hardship.
There also need to be consequences for false allegations or false pretenses for players.
Part of this appeals process should be the school and player agreeing that it's best to part ways. If a school wants to free up a scholarship and move on from a player they no longer have in their plans, fine, but give that player an opportunity to move on without any conditions.
6. Create Harsh Penalties For Tampering — Whether it be in regard to the new one-time transfer rule, or if my preferences were adopted, there needs to be very, very harsh rules put in place for tampering. If a player’s name is not in the portal there can be zero contact with anyone associated with that player, about that player. Not with a high school coach, a parent, a friend, etc. That also means no one associated with a program can be in contact, and that goes well beyond coaches. If a school is recruiting a player at a high school they cannot talk about players that might be at other programs, only about current prospects.
If this is about the players, then schools should not be allowed to interfere with him at all until he decides to put his name in the portal. Those penalties need to be financial and a loss of scholarships, and they need to be harsh penalties that will have some serious bite should schools break them.
If a player wants to transfer then he can open himself up to being contacted, but there can be zero push from outside influences without consequences.
If this is truly about the players, then they need to protect the players from those negative influences until he decides he wants to put himself in that situation by entering his name into the portal.
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