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Removing Transfer Rule Would Be Empty Gesture

In the wake of the Rutgers scandal, Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated places a measure of blame at the feet of the NCAA, and asks the association, specifically NCAA president Mark Emmert, to do a bit of penance:

He would propose emergency legislation that immediately eliminates the rule that requires athletes receive a release from their current school before they can transfer to another school on scholarship. Then he’d get the Board of Directors to pass the rule and hold a press conference at the Final Four explaining how this strips some power from the schools and coaches and puts it in the hands of the athletes. Emmert would receive no resistance from athletic directors or school presidents, because while this might temporarily inconvenience them, the potential political hit they’d take for speaking out against student-athletes on a student-athlete welfare issue would be big enough to keep them quiet. Emmert would get his positive p.r. On the eve of the NCAA’s biggest money-making venture, it would seem the NCAA and its power-conference schools actually care about these athletes instead of seeing them as revenue engines.

That would be a wonderful gesture and acknowledgement of the NCAA’s role in creating an environment where poor treatment of athletes can fester and escalate. The problem is it would be just that, a gesture, because the rule would have no lasting impact. Despite Staples’ belief that presidents and athletic directors would have to let this one slide, history suggests that coaches will have the final say.

At the 2006 NCAA Convention, the Division I Management Council passed Proposal 2005–54, the graduate transfer exception which let any student-athlete who had graduated transfer without penalty or restriction to any other Division I school. It passed by an overwhelming margin, 45–6. But then it was defeated almost as soundly when it came up for an override vote after schools saw the effect, 196–83.

We have also already seen the membership reaction when Mark Emmert and the Division I Board of Director have moved unilaterally to take action that everyone would agree is in the best interest of student-athletes. The $2,000 stipend was rejected so forcefully that it has taken 18 months to even get a replacement proposal. Multi-year scholarship survived by only the barest of margins. Three schools voting the other way on that override vote would have swung the result.

If Emmert had in his back pocket a formal proposal from the Leadership Council based on their transfer model review, even that middle ground of reducing the impact of denying permission to contact and expanding the group of athletes who do not need to sit out after a transfer would receive significant pushback. So would some of the other ideas tossed around like Division I adopting Division III’s self-release form.

If Mark Emmert did what Staples suggested, it should be his ironic mic drop before exiting the stage. The proposal would go to override and would gather the 125 requests necessary to suspend the proposal almost immediately. During the “almost”, a period of a few days or a week or two, there would be a flurry of activity that the NCAA would have to sort out since no athlete would be able to complete a transfer in the time between the proposal being adopted and the proposal being suspended.

No one would blame Emmert if he then resigned his post as NCAA president, essentially saying “Look what I have to put up with around here.” The missteps of the NCAA leadership regarding how the rules are enforced need to be addressed. But few outside of college athletics would argue that their vision of what the rules should be is not better, even if it is not ideal. Looser transfer rules, more scholarship money, and scholarships that offer more security are all good things for athletes.

Mark Emmert and the Division I Board of Directors are not the source of these rules. They are not even the source of the opposition to changing these rules. But unless Emmert can get coaches on board with looser transfer rules (the same coaches that have pushed for ever greater restrictions in “transferring” to the NBA twice in the last few years), it would be nothing more than a PR stunt that ultimately would backfire on the NCAA and college athletics.

Are you ready for the NEXT STEP!