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One Dumb Year Was Enough: NCAA curbs the stupid transfer monster it created and condoned

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Amazing what a definition can do.

<p zoompage-fontsize="15" style="">Vanderbilt v Georgia

When Vandy is hitting you too hard, it’s time to run to the Big 10.

Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

The biggest news of the past 24 hours has arisen out of an NCAA attempt to curb the transfer monster that it created by rubber-stamping some baffling eligibility waivers from players too scared to compete, while at the same time seeming to punish hard luck cases who transferred to be closer to ailing family.

Before we talk about these changes, let’s look at how we got here.

Fittingly called “the Hugh Freeze Rule,” though not automatic, the NCAA was willing to consider immediate eligibility under a set of amazingly-nebulous circumstances, the two biggest of which were:

-The transfer is due to documented mitigating circumstances that are outside the student-athlete’s control and directly impact the health, safety and well-being of the student-athlete

-The previous institution’s athletics administration does not oppose the transfer.

It is the former provision that Arkansas Super Lawyer Tommy Ford used to great effect procuring waivers for the Ole Miss players suddenly saddled with the loss of bowl games, their coach, and any sort of respectability. And, this seems fair. While a good deal of those players may have contributed to the cheating that landed the school in hot water, Jake, the third-string walk-on tight end, ought not necessarily bear the entire sins of an institution.

So far, so good.

As to the the latter provision — the transferor school’s lack of objection — it is this bit of chicanery that blessed the eligibility of Tate Martell at Miami, and to a lesser extent Justin Fields at Ohio State: If the present coaching staff doesn’t care or doesn’t “fight to keep the player”, then why should the NCAA? (Let’s leave aside the myriad assault to our senses that this dubious piece of reasoning inflicts upon us, shall we?)

With a discretionary waiver policy that was drafted with that degree of intentionally vagueness, and which condoned some truly bizarre results, the Quitter Hole saw scores of prospective transfers, all banking on a finding of “circumstances outside of their control” — or, even better, hoping Coach at State U doesn’t pitch a fit; that everyone can move on quietly and that the NCAA will okay the move.

The inevitable happened, of course: A dramatic rise in the number of transfers and an even starker rise in the number of players seeking an eligibility waiver (and, this doesn’t even touch upon the grad transfer “free agency” diaspora that coaches everywhere are struggling to manage — the most obvious solution there is one no one likes: to adopt the Ivy model — No grad students can play.)

The transfer crisis isn’t new to college football, of course. It’s a longstanding concern that is spreading. Even high schools are feeling the effects of it. But, since this particular transfer debacle was a self-inflicted wound, one warned of before it even happened, it was very much in the NCAA’s ability to correct it.

And attempt to correct it, the NCAA did: Thus, one dumb year was enough.

As we covered two weeks ago in the JP, Bob Bowlsby speaking for the Competition Committee raised the red flags around promiscuous transfers and waiver uncertainty, suggesting that immediate changes were sought, and may be coming. We guessed at the time that it would not be, as Bowlsby advocated, a draconian “no exceptions” policy. And, when the NCAA issued new guidelines yesterday, that hunch was borne out to be correct.

Effective immediately, the existing transfer guidelines have a striking two-word amendment to it: “documented extenuating, extraordinary and mitigating circumstances outside of the student-athlete’s control that directly impacts the health, safety or well-being of the student-athlete.”

When it comes to those mitigating circumstances, the so-called “egregious behavior,” that directly impacts the “health, safety, or well-being” of player, the NCAA has tightened up the language a bit, suggesting that the category of behavior includes: “physical assault or abuse, sexually inappropriate behavior, racial abuse, religious discrimination, questioning of sexuality by a staff member or student at the previous institution,” and others.

Let’s call this one the Justin Fields Rule or N-Bomb Rule. Say a scholarship athlete at a totally hypothetical Peach State U drops a racial epithets on you, that is apt to make a guy feel uncomfortable, right? Want out? Now’s your chance.

Note the inclusion of religious provisions in here, as well: taxpayers and anonymous players that had complained about Dabo Swinney, Todd Berry, Bobby Bowden and others, now have an out for contemporaneously documented retaliation or disparate impacts that arise from their refusal to join in a Football Tent Revival. Gone too are the bad ole’ days of coaches calling players and groups of people “faggots,” as has happened at both Hawaii and Colorado State — though we’re fooling ourselves if we think these two well-publicized instances stand alone.

All in all, it this portion seems like a sound definitional shift. It’s not so much a change, as it is a more felicitous, even circumspect refinement of a policy interpretation that ought to have been more clearly drafted in the first place.

There is another striking provision in here too: let’s call it the Tate Martell Rule. If a player can document that he is persona non grata at his school, and “would not be welcomed back”, then he is immediately eligible. Period. It is almost an inverse outcome (and with similar logic) as to what happens in the recruiting context — “you shop, we shop.” Except this time it’s “school shops, player drops.” And, again, this seems fair: there is no point in an NLI hijacking a player who the staff who doesn’t want and doesn’t like, where the player won’t ever see the field, and then for whom the staff won’t approve a transfer.

In all, it seems very equitable in the main, and, dare we suggest it, reasonable?

Even Tommy Mars, who has made a bit of money and free advertising on this issue, can’t really complain: “Given the dramatic increase in the number of waivers being sought for the 2019-20 season, raising the bar strikes me as a sensible short-term reaction by the Legislative Council.”

If Mars can’t complain, then I’m certainly no better positioned to do so.

So, chime in below, and tell us what you think: Good? Ill? Overdue? Any definitional change or interpretative guidance you think would be better?

And, if you’d like a well-thought out initial reaction to this, our buddy Tom Stephenson (who is shockingly an attorney and runs Vandy’s Anchor of Gold site — what is it with this profession and amateur sportswriting?!) has an excellent thumbnail breakdown of the rule as well.