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Could One School Pay Another to Help an Athlete Transfer?

Purdue’s Sandi Marcius is in a bind. Marcius wants to transfer to play his redshirt senior season at a different school. Marcius is just short of graduating from Purdue and being able to play immediately next year as a graduate student. Marcius also needs the exception to play at all, since his five-year clock will run out after next year and he would not be a candidate for a clock extension or sixth-year waiver.

One option is for Purdue to pay for Marcius’ summer school. That would certainly be benevolent of the Boilermakers. Schools are under no obligation to pay for summer school for any athlete. While it might be the right thing to do and could help Purdue long-term (sends a pro student-athlete message in recruiting), donors would not be on board:

But those Purdue fans on message boards and Twitter on Monday, especially those who belong to the John Purdue Club and whose donations fund scholarships, are up in arms, saying that if Marcius isn’t going to be a Boilermaker next season, there is no way they want a single JPC penny paying for his summer school.

You can certainly see their argument. It does not appear that Marcius is being forced out. The report says head coach Matt Painter wants Marcius back, so the school is prepared to meet its obligation to him and get him a Purdue degree. Asking the school to pay for that degree specifically so he can play somewhere else next year would be going above and beyond.

The NCAA recently republished an old interpretation that said athletes did not need to graduate in order to use the graduate transfer exception. But since most schools require a bachelor’s degree to admit a graduate student, at best it would drastically restrict Marcius’ transfer options.

Marcius also cannot transfer for summer school and graduate from his new institution. The graduate transfer exception requires that the student-athlete be enrolled as a graduate student at a different school than the one from which he received his undergraduate degree. He also may not meet credit hour and residence requirements to graduate from a different institution in just one summer term.

There is one possibility though. NCAA Bylaw prohibits a school from providing financial aid to a student-athlete to attend a different institution. What it does not address is whether one university can provide the funds to another university for an athlete’s financial aid. There are also no interpretations or Education Columns on that bylaw.

In this scenario, Purdue would enroll Marcius in summer school and pay his financial aid. Marcius’ new school would make a donation ($7,000 is the figure cited as tuition and fees for the summer, figure maybe $10,000 total) to the John Purdue Club, essentially reimbursing Purdue for getting Marcius the credits he needs to be graduate and to play immediately.

There would need to be a significant element of trust between the parties. Donors cannot earmark a donation for a specific student-athlete, and to get the NCAA to sign off on this scheme the destination school would not want if they could. So either Purdue has to enroll Marcius trusting that the second school will reimburse them or the money has to be sent trusting Purdue will enroll Marcius in the classes. And Marcius has to trust both schools to work this out.

But this could be a massive Pandora’s box that the NCAA may not want to open. The graduate transfer exception is the most visible benefit a school could get from paying another college for an athlete’s summer school. But it could also be used to get an athlete eligible before a transfer so he can receive a scholarship at the new institution. And all sorts of mischief could be had at in the junior college ranks.

It is at least worth a call to the NCAA for a university that wants Marcius bad enough to fork out an additional $10,000. Hopefully this is a rare event. But the fact that it could become commonplace, even devolve into “transfer fees” paid by schools to each other for athletes, means the NCAA would be faced with a tough decision if Purdue or another school proposes this arrangement.

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