Vanderdoes Appeal Show Why NCAA Needs Control of NLI

If Eddie Vanderdoes had enrolled at Notre Dame and decided to transfer to UCLA because of a family member’s medical situation, there would be little doubt about the process he would have to go through. UCLA would file an appeal on Vanderdoes’ behalf for him to be immediately eligible. That appeal would need to document things like the injury or illness itself, that the athlete would be involved in the care of the family member, that something changed in the family member’s health that prompted the decision, and that the new institution is within 100 miles of the family member.

Many of those details are not public yet, so it is hard to say whether Vanderdoes would win a transfer appeal. But predicting the outcome of an NLI release appeal is even harder. While the NCAA Eligibility Center administers the NLI, it is governed by the Conference Commissioners Association, which sets terms and signing dates as well as deciding appeals through the NLI Committee and NLI Appeals Committee.

This creates a situation where, like the BCS, the NCAA is likely to be blamed for a decision it has little to no control over. The people likely to make the decision are the same type of collection of coaches, administrators, and conference staff that make up NCAA committees and cabinets. But they may not be bound by NCAA waiver standards, and the decision takes much longer than an typical NCAA waiver (6-8 weeks vs. 3-4 weeks).

All this is a good reason for the NCAA to be in charge of not just the paperwork, but also the meaning of that paperwork. Any number of NCAA governance groups could handle oversight of the NLI, including the Athletics Personnel and Recruiting Cabinet or the Leadership Council. The NCAA waiver staff is well equipped to handle initial appeals of NLI releases. And the same group that sets the NLI’s language and signing dates can handle the second appeal if necessary.

Throw in standards similar to the ones for transfer waivers and it would at the very least bring a level of consistency to a student-athlete’s experience. It could also be proof-of-concept for a number of needed NCAA changes, like giving more authority to the athletic directors in the Leadership Council and establishing another system where athletes deal directly with the NCAA instead of through a member institution.