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NCAA Considering Expanding Self-Release to Division I Transfers

ESPN’s Dana O’Neil interviewed NCAA vice president of academic and membership affairs Kevin Lennon who revealed that a major change to one of the NCAA’s most criticized rules is in the works. Specifically, permission to contact (a.k.a. “transfer releases”) may become a thing of the past:

“It would be a situation where a kid would provide notice that he’s transferring and wants to talk to these five schools, for example,” Kevin Lennon, the NCAA vice president for academic and membership affairs, told “Schools can’t say, we’re giving you permission but not to these five schools. It’s in the student’s control more.”

This is all part of the NCAA’s review of transfer rules that has been going on for the better part of a year now. That review initially considered equally significant changes to the one-year residency requirement, but has since scaled back in that area. But permission to contact was still on the table and it appears the Leadership Council has not ruled out—even focused on—a seismic shift in how the transfer process starts.

This idea, of athletes simply notifying their institution they are transferring or being recruited by other schools, is not entirely new in the NCAA. Division III has a self-release form (pdf) used by student-athletes who wish to transfer within Division III. Athletes provide the new institution permission to recruit him- or herself, not the current school providing permission for the athlete to be recruited. The DIII self-release even includes a clause which requires the potential transfer destination to keep their recruiting a secret from the athlete’s current school for the first 30 days.

From Lennon’s comments it sounds like DIII’s secrecy clause will not be a part of any potential Division I self release. That makes sense when athletes are on scholarship. Coaches at least knowing that an athlete is actively looking for a transfer is much less controversial than the coach having any sort of control over the transfer destination.

Two caveats though: the timeline is not realistic and whether such a rule is actually implemented is at best a coin-flip.

O’Neil mentions a formal change coming “next year” and says athletes may be able to stop asking for permission to contact “as early as next season”. But Lennon had this to say about the timeline:

Lennon said the issue isn’t entirely settled, but he expects it to discussed formerly with NCAA membership in the spring, with an eye for a formal change by this time next year.

The plan may be to have the new rule in place on August 1, 2014. But as soon as the membership gets a hold of any formal idea, expect them to slam on the brakes. Any proposal which eliminates the ability of institutions to give or deny permission to contact, if adopted, will be overridden. Especially if the proposal is not fully vetted through the NCAA legislative process.

The NCAA should also want to avoid a repeat of what happened with Proposal 2005–54, the original graduate transfer exception. The initial adoption of 2005–54 followed by its subsequent defeat on an override vote created this one-time free agency period for any athlete who had graduated. Allowing athletes to simply give notice rather than ask permission only to take that away a few months later would create a major mess.

Given all these factors plus the uncertain nature of whether the proposal will be passed at all, a more reasonable timeline would be to have the proposal put into the standard 2014–15 legislative cycle, with possible adoption coming in January or April 2015, and an effective date of August 1, 2015. That leaves plenty of time to get through the override request and voting process before the proposal becomes effective, as well as giving the membership enough of a voice that the odds of passing this proposal are increased.

But it is already a major victory for this significant of a change to be considered this seriously. It also speaks to the commitment of the NCAA to get this pushed through that a staff member has gone on the record to talk about it before a formal proposal was given to the membership. But self releases have a long, winding road ahead of them and there is still a very good chance they never see the light of day.

Are you ready for the NEXT STEP!