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What the NCAA’s New Transfer Waiver Guidelines Mean

The Division I Subcommittee on Legislative Relief today updated the guidelines for the NCAA staff to use when approving transfer waivers based on a family member’s injury or illness. While these situations are supposed to be rare, applications for these waivers seem to have increased, and SLR felt the decisions from the staff were not consistent. Here are the changes:

  • The standard for an injury or illness that qualifies is one that is “debilitating and requires ongoing care”, rather than one which is life-threatening.
  • The student-athlete is no longer required to be the “primary, day-to-day caregiver. Rather, the student-athlete must be responsible for “regular, ongoing caregiver responsibilities.”
  • The student-athlete’s new school must be within 100 miles of the injured/ill family member’s home.
  • The student-athlete’s new school must submit a statement confirming the student-athlete will be released from team responsibilities and that the coaching staff supports such the departures.
  • If a family member has been given a specific amount of time to live, that trumps all other considerations.

Changes do not get made unless there was an issue, so while it would not seem like there was a dispute over which illnesses or injuries qualified or how much care a student-athlete would be involved in, there must have been. Those two changes probably mean some of the closer, more marginal cases that would have been denied in the past will now be granted.

The statement confirming support for allowing the student-athlete to leave the team also does not, on its face, seem to be a big change. What coach or team will say no to writing a letter? My guess is that NCAA research found that student-athletes who transferred and received these waivers felt overwhelmed. But a better response might have been to go beyond a general waiver of support and instead require an actual plan, with specifics like how many fewer hours of practice the athlete will attend.

The biggest changes are the 100-mile radius and the provision for cases where the family member has been given a specific amount of time to live. Establishing a radius will make cases easier to decide, but it will be challenged almost immediately. Wait for the first time an athlete transfers to the closest BCS football program but it is outside of the 100-mile radius. The specific time provision is a good way for the NCAA to rubber stamp the most dire situations.

The changes may not necessarily lead to more or fewer waivers. The decisions are likely to be most consistent because the guidelines are either easier to document and the 100-mile radius is set in stone. But it is very likely that it will be easier to explain why a waiver got denied.

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