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Press Box: NCAA needs to pick a plan for 'transfer portal' and stick with it

Press Box: NCAA needs to pick a plan for 'transfer portal' and stick with it

June 30th, 2019 by Colin O'Brien in College Sports

Photo by Associated Press /News Tribune.

Colin O'Brien

Colin O'Brien

It was barely more than a year ago the NCAA approved Division I players looking to transfer the right to do so without permission from their head coach, athletic director or athletic department.

In doing so, the slow and often wrongheaded NCAA did away with the "permission-to-contact" process, creating a "transfer portal" wherein athletes who expressed interest in transferring could have their name posted for interested coaches to see.

Now, it looks like the NCAA is regretting that decision, and this new era of relative player freedom has been called college free agency by some, an example of millennial discontent and lack of determination or staying true to one's word.

Last Wednesday, the NCAA released updates to its eligibility waiver process to clarify the often-confusing process by which some transfers are granted immediate eligibility and others denied it (the Committee on Legislative Relief reviews waiver requests on a case-by-case basis). Ralph Russo of the Associated Press found the Committee on Legislative Relief granted waiver requests across all sports 68 percent of the time in 2018-19, a decline from 70 percent in the previous four seasons combined, and 66 percent of football waivers, down from 73 percent across the four previous years.

Apparently the NCAA wants those numbers to drop further. The update made it more difficult to obtain said waivers, requiring documentary evidence to fulfill a request for, say, an individual transferring closer to home to be nearer to a sick loved one. Now, to be approved, those waiver requests require "an explanation of the student-athlete's role in providing care."

Famous for its hoop-jumping and loopholes, the NCAA decided to make more hoops for student-athletes to jump through, and hope it cuts down on the number of loopholes and transfers.

Some college coaches, including Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald, have publicly said offering every D-I athlete one free transfer makes more sense and is more fair than the "ambiguous waiver system," though he said this before the NCAA Division I council met and made the adjustments.

It's hard to find a fault with that idea, at least in revenue sports. If a program has done a good job of recruiting players, developing players and playing well, it should have no reason to fear such a system.

Missouri can be seen as an example. After sanctioning football, baseball and softball for players receiving improper benefits from a tutor, the NCAA gave an assurance any senior wanting to transfer to avoid the potential postseason ban — athletic director Jim Sterk said earlier this month he expects Missouri's appeal to wrap up in July — could do so without losing their final season of eligibility.

No one, in any of the three sports, elected to do so. Softball or baseball players may elect to do so next year if the postseason bans are upheld, but the seniors on the football team elected to stay, even as Barry Odom publicly voiced his frustrations at other Southeastern Conference head coaches for trying to lure his players away.

In trying to split the difference between whether it wants players to be able to transfer freely or not and find an impossible middle ground, the NCAA seems destined to vacillate forever between a set of rules that is either too punitive towards the majority of those it is supposed to represent, the student-athletes, and giving them a level of power that makes coaches and other moneyed stake-holders uncomfortable.

My personal belief is anything that gives the players more power is a good thing. But truth be told, the NCAA just needs to make up its mind one way or the other, and be content with that decision. At least for longer than a year.