NCAA transfer rules too inconsistent

July, 13, 2012
7/13/12
4:30
PM ET

There should be an introductory class offered to every football and basketball player at every university, called NCAA 101. It should be three credits and also fulfill a foreign language requirement. The first semester alone could be dedicated to the NCAA’s transfer rules.

I would gladly teach it to you -- if I understood it.

Instead, I am sitting here staring at Bylaw 14.4.3.3.1.1 and can’t seem to get past the 3.1.1. It is dull, mind-numbing, boring text. Let me simplify it for you, NCAA:

Rule No. 1: If you don’t like the school you’re at, leave. (Feel free to follow your coach when he does it.)

[+] EnlargeDanny O'Brien & Randy Edsall
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyWhen Maryland's Danny O'Brien, left, decided to transfer, coach Randy Edsall made it difficult. O'Brien has since enrolled at Wisconsin.
Rule No. 2: Should you decide to leave and play somewhere else, you must sit out one year.

Rule No. 3: If you have graduated with a year of eligibility remaining, throw yourself a party. Then, feel free to transfer to another school, play immediately and start working on another degree.

We’re talking about transfers here, not first-time home buying. Yet the paperwork is equally as baffling for many of the athletes trying to make a move. It’s impossible to figure out why some athletes are granted waivers and some are not. Why some are blocked by their coaches from going to certain schools and others are not. Why conference rules differ from NCAA rules. It’s sort of like … oh, I don’t know … the NCAA’s arbitrary way of handing out sanctions?

Of course there should be exceptions if a player wants to transfer to be closer to home because of a family emergency or illness. The NCAA got that right. And it makes sense to require athletes to sit out a year to prevent college athletes from becoming free agents. But the current system is flawed.

Just ask Todd O’Brien.

The 7-foot center graduated from Saint Joseph’s and wanted to play for UAB, but his attempt was blocked by coach Phil Martelli, and the NCAA denied his appeal multiple times.

“I hope they fix some of the transfer rules,” O’Brien said, “and prevent any student from being held hostage like I was.”

Not everyone has been held captive.

If former Alabama quarterback Phillip Sims wants to be closer to his home in Virginia, the NCAA shouldn’t stop him (it didn’t). If former NC State quarterback Russell Wilson wants to pursue another degree and play at Wisconsin, where he has the chance to win the Big Ten and play in the Rose Bowl, by all means go for it (he did). And if former Maryland quarterback Danny O’Brien wants to copy that idea, let him (roger that).

Maryland coach Randy Edsall, though, initially tried to limit O’Brien’s options. Sure, Edsall said, you can be released from your scholarship after our 2-10 season. But not to any other ACC schools. Not to any of Maryland’s future nonconference opponents. And not to Vanderbilt, where former Maryland offensive coordinator James Franklin is now head coach. Maryland alleged there had been improper contact between Franklin and O’Brien before O’Brien had been officially released from his scholarship.

It’s a moot point now, as Edsall was lambasted by the media for his handling of the situation and eventually released O’Brien without any restrictions -- what he should have done in the first place.

(Rule No. 4: No coach who has ever left one program for another can prevent an athlete from doing the same thing. See: Edsall, Randy; Graham, Todd.)

Speaking of the Big East, that imploding conference doesn’t even allow its players to transfer from one school in the conference to another. Quarterback Tom Savage, who transferred from Rutgers to Arizona to Pitt, is an interesting case. He has to sit out all of 2012 at Pitt per NCAA transfer rules. If Pitt is somehow stuck in the Big East for 2013 instead of joining the ACC, he wouldn’t be eligible to play again because of the league’s intraconference transfer rule.

Huh?! Exactly.

The Big Ten recently wised up and is now cutting its intraconference transfers a break: They can now get financial aid! The SEC follows suit with the NCAA, forcing transfers within the league to sit a year. Football and basketball players in the ACC and Big 12 also lose a year of eligibility when they transfer within the league. The Pac-12 is harsh: It penalizes transfers within the conference a year of eligibility and denies them financial aid for one season.

The rules need to be simplified. The graduate transfer rule should be celebrated. The coaches need to lighten up on their restrictions. At the bare minimum, the one thing lacking here is consistency -- in the way the NCAA hands out waivers, and in the way the individual conferences handle transfers.

Call it Consistency 101 -- a little something the NCAA could use a lesson in.

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