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The NCAA’s Little Known Run Off Waiver

Now that football’s initial signing day is over, the annual rhythm of the college football season turns to sorting out the rosters for 2014 that coaches have lined up. For some programs, that will be more difficult than others. Roll Bama Roll predicted that Alabama would be over by 10 scholarships. Tennessee wrapped up a class of 34 commits including early enrollees. Whether either school is “oversigned” or whether the practice is acceptable or not is beyond the scope of this post. This is about what happens to the players who get the short end of the numbers stick and a little known bit of help the NCAA gives them.

Some of these players will get medical scholarships, some of them might end their careers and finish their degrees, but many who end up losing their spot will decide to transfer. Waivers of the transfer residency requirement based on the illness of a family member get most of the press. But the NCAA has another waiver specifically for these cases so an athlete who loses his or her roster spot can transfer and play right away.

In September 2012, the NCAA Division I Subcommittee for Legislative Relief adopted guidelines for waivers based on an assertion that the student-athlete was “run off” by their previous institution. The NCAA staff is directed to grant relief in cases where an athlete is ineligible for the one-time transfer exception due to playing a sport which does not have the exception or because it is their second (or more) transfer between four-year schools. The institution filing the waiver on behalf of the student-athlete has to include the following documentation:

  1. Documentation demonstrating that the student-athlete would not have had the opportunity to return to the previous institution’s team for reasons outside the control of the student-athlete.
  2. A written statement from the applicant institution that the student-athlete is in good academic standing and meets all progress-toward-degree requirements at applicant institution.
  3. A written statement from the student-athlete’s previous institution indicating that the previous institution supports the request.

Kelly Brooks, a director of academic and membership affairs with the NCAA who oversees the legislative relief staff gave some background on these waivers. This waiver is designed for athletes who have not been kicked off the team for academic or disciplinary reasons. That would be within the control of the student-athlete. Athletic performance is not considered within the athlete’s control, whether the team is oversigned, the athlete was “recruited over”, or the coach misevaluated the athlete and they do not meet the standards of the program.

The guidelines do not differentiate between different reasons why an athlete was cut from the team, so long as it was not within the athlete’s control. To that end, the NCAA will ask the previous institution what the athlete’s status was when they were told they no longer could participate. Participation is the critical point, not the athlete’s scholarship. An athlete who has their scholarship cut but still has a spot on the team would not get relief under these guidelines.

Despite having a relatively low bar compared to some other waivers and the number of athletes who transfer because they were cut from the team, these waivers are rare. The reason, according to Brooks, is that few coaches and athletic departments are willing to go on record that they cut or ran off a student-athlete who had no disciplinary or academic problems. Some will respond by agreeing to support the waiver, but will not admit to the conversation where the athlete was run off, which makes meeting the first requirement difficult.

This is not some Holy Grail that lets all or even most athletes transfer and play immediately in sports like football and basketball. But it does soften the blow for athletes who find themselves out of a team due to oversigning, over recruiting, or a coaching change. The only thing needed is for coaches who cut players for athletic reasons to be willing to stand by that decision, especially considering how valuable it can be to the student-athlete.

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