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The Graduate Transfer Exception vs. the Graduate Transfer Waiver

With many athletes both graduating and transferring as the school year winds down, there are many questions about which football and basketball players will be eligible immediately as graduate students. Because this area has changed so much in the last few years there is confusion about graduate transfers.

The current graduate transfer system started with Proposal 2005-54, which allowed any student enrolled in a graduate program not offered at their original school to be eligible immediately. After a summer of virtual free agency for graduating seniors, the membership overrode and defeated 2005-54. But then-NCAA President Myles Brand liked the rule so much that it survived as a waiver.

So many waiver requests were filed and were being rubber-stamped that in 2010, the NCAA membership passed Proposal 2010-52. This created a graduate transfer exception. The difference between an exception and a waiver is that schools must apply for a waiver with the NCAA or a conference, while they can apply exceptions on campus without first getting approval. Now we have both an exception and a waiver, which have slightly different requirements and uses.

Graduate Transfer Exception

The graduate transfer exception builds off of the one-time transfer exception, the rule most often used by athletes in non-revenue sports to be eligible immediately after transferring. The one-time transfer exception requires the following:

  • The athlete has never previously transferred;
  • At the time of the transfer, the athlete would have been academically eligible had he or she remained; and
  • The athlete’s previous institution says it does not object to allowing the athlete to use the one-time transfer exception.

The sports of football, basketball, men’s ice hockey and baseball cannot normally use the one-time transfer exception. But they can if they fulfill the additional requirements as graduate students, in addition to everything above:

  • The athlete is enrolled in a specific graduate program;
  • The previous school did not renew the athlete’s athletic scholarship.

Most of this is a formality. The athlete still needs permission from his previous school to transfer and play immediately. If that permission is granted, the school will also often cancel or non-renew the athlete’s grant-in-aid agreement to fulfill the graduate exception.

Graduate Transfer Waiver

Despite the creation of the graduate transfer exception, the waiver lives on. It is now primarily used by athletes who have already transferred once, and thus are not eligible for the one-time transfer exception. The waivers are reviewed by the NCAA staff. If they are denied by the staff, they are appealed to the Division I Subcommittee on Legislative Relief.

These are the requirements for a graduate transfer waiver:

  • The athlete’s former school does not object to the waiver;
  • The athlete is enrolled in a graduate program not offered at the previous institution.

The school submits documentation that these requirements are met, along with a statement from the student-athlete. Generally any waiver that meets the requirements is granted. There is not reason to show “compelling mitigation” or anything quite so fuzzy.

Comparing the Two

So if a football, basketball, baseball, or men’s hockey player has never transferred previously from one four-year school to another, her or she will likely use the graduate transfer exception. If he or she has previously transferred, the waiver will be necessary. And only under the waiver is the athlete required to enroll in a graduate program their previous school did not offer.

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