(Editor’s Note: The following is shared by the Drake Group, an advocacy group for reform of the NCAA)
Last week the NCAA Division I Council approved new, more stringent criteria to determine whether athletes in five sports (football, men’s and women’s basketball, ice hockey and baseball) can transfer with eligibility waivers to compete immediately upon arriving at their new schools. To be clear, The Drake Group (TDG) has long advocated for relaxing transfer restrictions and giving college athletes essentially the same rights as the general student body possesses. The Drake Group has supported recent changes such as prohibiting coaches and administrators from restricting athletes from transferring and/or going to certain institutions. Until last week, transfers in the aforementioned five sports had reasonable waiver opportunities to obtain immediate eligibility.
While the earlier decision to loosen transfer restrictions was a somewhat positive development, it has now been gutted by new language where a waiver request must now have, “documented extenuating, extraordinary and mitigating circumstances outside of the athlete’s control that directly impacts the health, safety or well-being of the student-athlete” to be approved. What has been added is the terms “extenuating” and “extraordinary”. In essence, this is a tacit way to restrict transfer freedom, most especially in the revenue generating sports of football and men’s basketball. The Drake Group first called for a one-time transfer exemption for all college athletes in 2014, and more recently called for elimination of all restrictions on transfers whatsoever . This is the only fair solution.
The NCAA D1 Council approved this new reactionary measure as a way to pacify powerful coaches who have loudly complained about a perception of too many of these waivers being approved, reflecting their fear of losing control of rosters leading to the dreaded so-called imbalance of competitive equity. The larger question is why do some sports have an existing one-time transfer exemption and others like football and basketball do not? It is simply about control of the athlete. In other words, the NCAA wants to limit freedoms for football and men’s basketball players because it can hurt their business models.
This is patently unfair and treats the college athlete as an employee and a commodity, not a student who has control over his or her own body and education. Changing transfer procedures in all sports to mirror treatment of non-athlete students is the best thing that the NCAA can do lest it find itself again in legal and legislative trouble by failing to properly designate college athletes as students and not employees, which current transfer restrictions does. TDG rejects any misplaced concern about multiple transfers and/or roster management. If college athletes are indeed students, they should be allowed same rights. Multiple transfers are typically checked by academic eligibility and any claims of a “wild west” of player movement is simply fear mongering and hyperbole.
National governance associations, institutions of higher education and athletic departments routinely impose restrictions on college athletes that are not imposed on non-athlete students. These restrictions are not limited to transfer rules. These restrictions (along with an absence of protective rules) serve the interest of the institution and its athletic program rather than the interest and protection of the college athlete. The Drake Group believes that the NCAA must promulgate a clear, educationally sound statement of the rights of college athletes including greater freedom of movement .
 See D. Lopiano, G. Gurney, M. Willingham, B. Porto, D. B. Ridpath, A. Sack, A. & Zimbalist, A.. The Drake Group Position Statement: Rights of College Athletes. (revised August 14, 2018). Retrieve at: https://drakegroupblog.files.wordpress.com/2018/08/tdg-athletes-rights-final-august142018.pdf