Constructive Suggestions for College Football's Controversial Transfer Policies

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Constructive Suggestions for College Football's Controversial Transfer Policies
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
QB Wes Lunt is trying to transfer out of Oklahoma State.

With the sudden wave of college QBs transferring from one program to another, it’s a good time to review the transfer policies that dictate player movement between schools and then suggest much-needed improvements.

Though we all may have a basic knowledge of the guidelines that student athletes must follow to transfer, when we pull back that first layer of rules, it becomes almost frighteningly clear that the system is unnecessarily complicated and inherently unfair.

Really, the best way to illustrate what’s wrong with the transfer system—especially in terms of Division I/FBS football, which has its own unique set of rules separate from other institutional sports—is to start out with an actual real-life example and go from there.

Yes, let’s throw out a transfer prospect from today’s headlines, tell his story, and then based on his experience, suggest three constructive suggestions on how transfer policies in college football could be improved.

For our illustration, we’ll go with Oklahoma State QB Wes Lunt who started five games as a freshman in 2012 for the Cowboys.

After several nagging injuries and a fierce QB battle this spring, Lunt lost enough traction at the starting role to make him feel as if it was time to pack it in and transfer to another school, sit out 2013 and then make another run as a starter elsewhere.

Though the OSU athletic administration approved Lunt’s transfer request (as required by NCAA transfer guidelines), Cowboy head coach Mike Gundy has made waves by making a number of restrictions on where Lunt can transfer.

Out are any Big 12, Pac-12 or SEC schools as are Southern Miss (where former Cowboy OC Todd Monken is now the new head coach) and any potential Oklahoma State future opponent (in other words, any school that is already on the Cowboys’ schedule within Lunt’s remaining three years of eligibility).

Though this case raises quite a few interesting questions regarding Lunt specifically it also opens up a can of worms regarding the transfer process as a whole.

Using Lunt as the generalized foundation of what’s wrong with the transfer policies in college football, following are three very basic suggestions for improving the system.

 

Simplify the Rule Book

Though this seems almost too easy, this is really the first step to fixing most of the glaring problems hindering the NCAA.

Frankly, a healthy dose of simplification is likely the cure for what ails a wide swath of the heaving bureaucracies that have overstayed their welcomes in our wider society.

In the case of the NCAA and transfers, the first piece of evidence is the 35-page document known as the NCAA Transfer Guide 2012-13 or Transfer 101.

In this lengthy treatise filled with sumptuous legalese, student-athletes are treated to page after page of scenarios, exceptions and terminology.

Surely this document was meant to help guide the young adult through the process, but instead, unfortunately, it may make the road to a transfer seem as daunting as the eligibility process itself.

Without exhaustively rehashing the entire contents of Transfer 101, it’s safe to say that streamlining is the answer to making it a tool rather than a nightmare with a pretty green cover.

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

What’s most alarming is the number of scenarios for athletes transferring between the three divisions and/or schools with two- or four-year academic programs.

Overall, you have to believe that this booklet could be cut in half simply by making some of the more specific rules apply to more than one transfer situation.

For example, why wouldn’t the rules be the same if you were a “4-2-4 transfer” (an athlete who started at a four-year institution, transferred to a two-year school and now want to go back to a four-year institution) wanting to go to a Division I school or a Division II school?

Presently the difference between the two options takes two-and-a-half mesmerizing pages to explain and another two if the transfer is to a D-III school.

Transcending the overwhelming nature of the document itself is the fact that the NCAA’s rules don’t actually cover everything that can and will affect a student-athlete desiring a transfer.

Yes, the buck doesn’t stop with this booklet.

This leads us to our next constructive suggestion which is all about the control that conferences and programs have over transfers, an unlimited power that the NCAA has no veto over.

This basically means that Oklahoma State’s Wes Lunt could have read the entirety of Transfer 101, all 35 pages, and still wouldn’t have had the whole picture of what he could or couldn’t do as a transfer.

 

Make the Conference Rules Mirror the NCAA Guidelines

Perhaps the biggest issue with the transfer policy in collegiate athletics is the fact that NCAA guidelines don’t match those at the conference level.

Though this might not set off alarm bells on the surface, this sets up the perfect scenario for institutions to exercise an undue amount of control over student-athletes wishing to transfer.

First, let’s refer directly to page six of the NCAA’s Transfer 101 booklet.

In some cases, conference rules can be more restrictive than NCAA rules, so you need to have a clear picture before you make a move.  For instance, conferences may differ on how long you must attend the new school before you can play. So it’s important to know all the rules that apply to the new school you want to attend.

The translation here is fairly clear: the NCAA rules are here in this book, but they don’t mean anything if the conference you are going to or the conference you are leaving says something differently.

Really?

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

So, what is the NCAA, and what precisely is its jurisdiction?

Does the 35-page treatise on transfers actually hold any water, and does it even matter that Lunt read it?

Speaking of Lunt, this leads to the blaring question of how Gundy could have restricted his transfer opportunities when this type of action is never brought up—at all—in the 35-page NCAA transfer “bible.”

Well, the answer comes from the NCAA.org website filed under a section from May 2012 entitled “Latest News.”  Scrolling down to a section with the heading “Can coaches dictate where a student-athlete can transfer?” we get our answer.

The NCAA does not have a rule specifically preventing schools from imposing conditions on which institutions a student-athlete may contact.

So, this goes back to what Transfer 101 stated, which was basically the conferences and institutions can and will have their own rules regarding transfers and the NCAA doesn’t regulate those.

It’s crystal clear that the NCAA—if is going to continue on as the body that governs collegiate athletics— needs to have a set of transfer policies that mirrors those at the conference level.

And these guidelines need to be established at both levels in such a way that both the institution and the individual athlete are protected.

On the one hand, a kid can’t transfer whenever he wants to, wherever he wants; unlimited transfers would no doubt spell disaster for intercollegiate athletics.

But, on the other hand coaches should be limited as to how much control they have over where a kid can transfer to; again, unlimited restriction on transfers isn’t good for sports.

Think about it this way, these are income-generating athletes—especially in the BCS level of football—who don’t get paid other than via their scholarships.

Therefore, no coach or institution has a right to limit their reasonable transfer between programs.

Brett Deering/Getty Images

It's especially true if transferring means they are going to be able to play ball as opposed to sit on the bench as a No. 3 guy—especially when playing versus sitting could mean the NFL draft instead of a job as a financial advisor at Wachovia.

To put a finer point on it, it’s an issue of personal rights.

The student-athlete is not property of the institution, and the scholarship is not an employment contract.

 

Amend the Written Permission to Contact Rules

The suggestion to have the NCAA’s transfer rules mirror those at the conference level lends naturally to our third proposition. 

This involves easing the current rules regarding what a student-athlete must do to actually initiate a transfer.

To once again use Oklahoma State’s Wes Lunt as our example, when Lunt realized he had bottomed out on the depth chart this spring, his initial move would have been to request permission to transfer.

While this may not seem like a huge deal on the surface, again, when you understand how the process really works, it becomes a bit more fraught.

In order to transfer, according to page nine and 10 of the NCAA’s Transfer 101 guide, the first thing you’ve got to do is write a letter to the AD of your current school and ask to transfer out.

Now if the AD lets you go, all is well, and you can contact the other school—or schools—that you are interested in attending, but, if the AD says no, your options are very limited.

First, you can appeal the AD’s decision, and the issue will be heard by a panel at your current institution, in which case, you can hope that the board will disagree with the athletic administration and overturn the decision.

The other option, if the approval is not received, is you can transfer without contacting the other AD and/or coach, but this also means you will totally lose your athletic scholarship for a full year.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Wes Lunt

Referring back to the Transfer 101 booklet.

If your current school does not give you written permission-to-contact, another school cannot contact you and encourage you to transfer.  This does not preclude you from transferring; however, if the new school is in Division I or II, you cannot receive an athletics scholarship until you have attended the new school for one academic year.

Again, the idea of preventing schools poaching players from other programs and a culture of unlimited transfers is understandable.

But, that said, treating players like property that can’t be moved without the approval of AD’s and coaches with lots of personal “skin in the game” seems very much like the other extreme.

What needs to happen in terms of permission-to-contact is that, if the AD does deny the transfer, the review panel needs to be from a different source.

Yes, if the transfer is denied by the AD—regardless of the reason—the board of review needs to consist of athletic personnel from outside the institution rather than people associated with the program.

Again, the player’s rights must be protected, especially when you’re threatening to take away his/her scholarship which is also the only means of “compensation” they are being offered in multi-million dollar sport where they are the income generator.

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