As the college basketball season winds to a close, it means another season is about to start up: transfer season. Despite the best efforts of the NCAA, conferences, and schools, men’s basketball still has a high rate of transfers. Last year Jeff Goodman of CBSSports.com had his list hit almost 450, and transfer continued right through the start of the new season. But as the transfer carousel begins to turn, it means one of the most misleading statements in college sports reenters the lexicon:
[Insert player] was released from his scholarship.
Both parts of that statement, “was release” and “from his scholarship” are incorrect. For starters, the technical name for what is commonly called a release is “permission to contact”. Athletes in Division I and II must receive permission to contact other schools regarding a transfer. In nonrevenue sports, getting permission to contact is just the first things an athlete asks for in a transfer. Most athletes in those sports will also end up asking for permission to use the one-time transfer exception, another form of release.
This is incresingly the case in basketball as players transfer more frequently, more waivers are requested (that often need support of the previous school), and athletes make use of the graduate transfer exception. The graduate exception is an add-on to the one-time transfer exception, so permission is required just like athletes in other sports.
And finally, athletes do not need a release or permission to actually transfer. Permission to contact is tied to the scholarship. An athlete can transfer without the permission or even the knowledge of his or her current school, so long as they pay their own way the first year at the new school.
Permission to contact is also not tied to an athletic scholarship. Walk-ons must get permission to contact other schools. If it is denied, they are still not allowed to receive athletic aid at a new school. Athletes cut from the team after participating for more than two weeks still need permission to contact other schools.
In fact, many schools will ask normal students, who have never participated in college athletics, to get permission to contact if they transfer and then decide to tryout for a sport. NCAA rules state a student who has no contact with the athletic department is not a student-athlete, thus no permission is needed. But there is enough violation precedent that schools are wary.
On the other side, seeking a transfer does not mean a student-athlete has reliquished his or her scholarship. From Bylaw 126.96.36.199, which covers when a scholarship can be cancelled or reduced:
A student-athlete’s request for written permission to contact another four-year collegiate institution regarding a possible transfer does not constitute a voluntary withdrawal.
If an athlete asks for permission to contact other schools, his scholarship may not be cancelled on that basis. And if he decides to come back but his scholarship is not renewed, the athlete is still entitled to written notice and an opportunity to appeal that nonrenewal outside of the athletic department.
So unless a National Letter of Intent is involved, instead of saying an athlete “requested his release” or “was released from his scholarship,” please use the correct term: the athlete “requested permission to contact other schools” or “the athlete was granted permission to contact”. There’s even a handy little acronym (PTC) for Twitter. It’s not just symantics. It accurately reports what the athlete asked for, and what the school is both allowed and obligated to do with the athlete going forward.