College sports' version of free agency is here.
The NCAA's Division I Council officially announced Thursday that it has approved the expansion of the one-time transfer exception to all sports, including football and basketball, which means all NCAA athletes will now be permitted to transfer once without sitting out a year.
Assuming the new legislation is ratified by the Division I Board of Directors on April 28, the new rule will be in effect for the 2021-22 academic year, allowing athletes to transfer this offseason and play immediately this year.
Previously, transferring athletes in football, baseball, men's and women's basketball and men's hockey (not including graduate transfers) were required to apply for a waiver to receive immediate eligibility or sit out one year. Now, athletes in those sports – as was already the case in other NCAA sports – will be able to compete immediately without having to worry about the waiver process, provided that they are transferring for the first time.
“Allowing student-athletes a one-time opportunity to transfer and compete immediately provides a uniform, equitable and understandable approach that benefits all student-athletes,” MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher, the chairman of the NCAA's transfer working group, said in a statement. “The decision is consistent with Division I’s goal of modernizing its rules to prioritize student-athlete opportunity and choice.”
Athletes transferring for a second time will still have to apply for a waiver in order to receive immediate eligibility, and “the waiver criteria is expected to be more stringent,” according to Sports Illustrated's Ross Dellenger.
The Division I Council also set notification deadlines of May 1 for fall and winter sports athletes and July 1 for spring sports athletes to declare their intention to transfer and be eligible to play immediately in the upcoming season. For this year only, however, a waiver has been approved setting a notification deadline of July 1 for all athletes.
Wednesday's move to expand the one-time transfer exception to all sports has been years in the making, with the NCAA declaring more than a year ago that it would formally consider the rule change. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told Eleven Warriors in 2019 that he believed a one-time transfer exception for all sports was “inevitable,” and both Smith and Ohio State football coach Ryan Day have expressed their support for a one-time transfer rule.
“There’s two ways to look at it, and I’ve been very supportive of guys who have left our program,” Day said last week. “I have supported them in their waivers, and I think all of the guys who have left the program in the last two years have gotten waivers to play immediately because I’ve supported them in that area. They’ve all left in good standing. I think if they have the opportunity to go play somewhere else, they should.
“I think we have to be careful about letting them do that multiple times, though. It’s tricky. It is a slippery slope, but I’ve decided to support these guys on where they wanna play.”
While the transfer rule change will likely lead to more outgoing transfers for teams like Ohio State football, as players sick of their waiting for turn for playing time will now have the freedom to go elsewhere and play immediately, it could also lead to more opportunities for the Buckeyes to add transfers who can make an immediate impact – as they did in recent years with Justin Fields (who received a waiver for immediate eligibility) and Trey Sermon and Jonah Jackson (who were both graduate transfers).
What is for certain is that college football, basketball, baseball and hockey players will now have the freedom to change teams in a way they have not had before, and college sports teams will have to adjust accordingly.