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With current transfer waiver rules ambiguous, NCAA should change its policy


Photo credit to Athens Banner-Herald.



Back in April, former five-star recruit J.T. Daniels announced he was leaving USC and entering the NCAA Transfer Portal.[1] Daniels started as a true freshman for USC in 2018, but he missed most of the 2019 season with a knee injury. Back-up-turned-starting-quarterback freshman Kedon Slovis prospered in his role as the replacement, and soon thereafter Daniels announced he was leaving USC and heading to Georgia.

On Monday, Daniels announced he received a waiver to play immediately for Georgia but did not discuss the reason for which the waiver was granted.[2] However, Daniels is not the only quarterback who has transferred to Georgia for the upcoming season. Jamie Newman, a graduate transfer from Wake Forest, will be joining him. Daniels and Newman are expected to compete for the starting role.

These are two examples of how the transfer rules can play out. On one hand, J.T. Daniels had to request an immediate eligibility waiver. This is because the one-time transfer exception, which allows immediate eligibility for a student-athlete transferring, is not available to football players. Jamie Newman, on the other hand, used the graduate transfer exception. The graduate transfer exception allows for immediate eligibility for student-athletes who graduate from a university and then want to continue their career elsewhere.

So, what’s the issue? Only five sports are not eligible for one-time transfers (with immediate eligibility), football being one of them. The others are baseball, basketball, men’s ice hockey, and women’s basketball. In these sports, unless a waiver is granted, student-athletes who transfer remain ineligible to play for one season.

So, why does this matter? The easiest way to transfer as an athlete of one of these sports is to graduate. However, the issue with it is that less than one percent of all student-athletes are graduate transfers. Mid-American Conference commissioner Jon Steinbrecher stated, “More than a third of all college students transfer at least once, and the Division I rule prohibiting immediate competition for students who play five sports hasn't discouraged them from transferring," and "this dynamic has strained the waiver process, which was designed to handle extenuating and extraordinary circumstances.”[3] In sum there just aren’t very many graduate transfers, and the current transfer rules result in some athletes gaining immediate eligibility, while others have to sit out a season. Due to this, speculation of uniformity and consistency of approval is inevitably a concern.

Waivers are judged on a case-by-case basis, which can involve subjectivity and lead to what appears as ambiguous results. In discussing the transfer process, Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald stated, “If you get lawyers, you're going to get it, but if you can't afford the lawyers, you're not.”[4] Attorney Tom Mars, who has represented high-profile transfer athletes like former Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson and now Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, stated, “Whatever real or apparent inconsistencies there are in these waiver decisions are driven, in large part, by the varying levels of effort, resources, and quality of the advocacy that go into the preparation.”[5]

In short: If you are a student-athlete who wants to transfer and you do not fit the criteria for gaining immediate eligibility automatically, you are at a significant advantage if you understand the transfer process. Certain arguments may hold more merit than others, and knowing what exactly to claim as a part of your immediate eligibility request may drastically alter your chances of success. As we’ve seen in the past, hiring an experienced attorney may bolster your chances, too.

The issue with this is that all student-athletes may not have the resources to hire an attorney or the wherewithal to understand the complex transfer process. Therefore, a potential solution is straightforward and simple. The NCAA can extend the one-time transfer exception to all sports. This can ensure fairness for all athletes, and not just the ones who are able to hire an experienced attorney or learn the complexities involved in the transfer process to formulate a compelling case.


This proposition is not implausible. In fact, in February Adam Rittenberg of ESPN reported that the NCAA Division I transfer waiver working group was considering this concept. Additionally, multiple conferences have already voiced support for this rule change.[6] With all the uncertainty and cancellation already surrounding the 2020-2021 sports seasons, my question is, what is the NCAA waiting for?

The time to change this rule is now. Not only do the current rules lead to apparently arbitrary and potentially unfair results, but student-athletes should not be burdened with the additional stress the transfer process can cause during and after a pandemic (while they are also supposed to be focusing on school). Do student-athletes a favor, NCAA, and change the rule now before this causes a major headache in the near future.



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Anthony is a third-year law student at Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.

[1] Adam Rittenberg, Ex-USC QB J.T. Daniels Has Waiver To Play At Georgia, ESPN (Jul. 13, 2020), https://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/29455671/ex-usc-qb-jt-daniels-waiver-play-georgia. [2] Creg Stephenson, J.T. Daniels Announces He’s Eligible To Play This Season At Georgia, AL.com (Jul. 13, 2020), https://www.al.com/sec/2020/07/jt-daniels-announces-hes-eligible-to-play-this-season-at-georgia.html. [3] Adam Rittenberg, NCAA Studies Idea Of One Transfer With No Penalty, ESPN (Feb. 18, 2020), https://www.espn.com/college-sports/story/_/id/28730763/ncaa-studies-idea-one-transfer-no-penalty. [4] Ralph D. Russo, Transfer, Play Right Away? Don’t Bank On It, NCAA Cases Show, Sentinel Tribune (May 29, 2020), https://www.sent-trib.com/sports/transfer-play-right-away-don-t-bank-on-it-ncaa/article_4225b6ae-8225-11e9-8d0e-cb738f4fc247.html. [5] Id.

[6] Adam Rittenberg, ACC: Student-Athletes Should Be Allowed One-Time Transfer Exemption, ESPN (Feb. 17, 2020), https://www.espn.com/college-sports/story/_/id/28724972/acc-student-athletes-allowed-one-transfer-exemption.

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