SEC Overthinking Graduate Transfer Rule

Jon Solomon of CBS Sports with a story on how the SEC is considering a change to its graduate transfer rule at the behest of South Carolina:

  • Allow all graduate-student transfers to play immediately in the SEC.

  • Let all graduate-student transfers play immediately in the SEC except in football. “The sport of football is excluded from this proposal in order to alleviate concerns related to lack of academic accountability for graduate students who might enroll for the fall term only and subsequently professionalize themselves,” the proposal says.

  • Open up graduate-student transfers in the SEC only in basketball. “Since the basketball competitive season stretches into the spring semester, student-athletes remain academically accountable in order to remain eligible to compete,” the proposal states. “Basketball graduate students also remain accountable for the ‘E’ points in APR (eligibility), and institutions consequently have an interest in ensuring these student-athletes continue to succeed academically.”

The existence of the other two proposals is close to a guarantee that the simpler first proposal will not be adopted. The basketball-only proposal does not make any sense though, especially coming from former baseball coach-turned AD Ray Tanner. Baseball requires athletes to be eligible for the fall in order to be eligible for the spring, does not allow mid-year transfers, and keeps athletes on campus and connected to the academic environment longer than basketball. The same logic applies to virtually any spring or two-semester sport like golf, tennis, track and field, swimming and diving, softball, etc.

Likewise the all-but-football proposal ignores the possibility of athletes in other fall sports professionalizing themselves after the fall semester. It might be more prevalent in football but it exists in volleyball, soccer, and cross country.

The SEC wants to have a higher bar, but finds itself at a competitive disadvantage because the rest of the NCAA has (correctly in my opinion) not adopted that higher bar. But the disadvantage stems less from the rule itself since the SEC has a waiver process for its rule. Rather, it stems from the perception in recruiting:

“But when you go through the waiver process, sometimes that’s a competitive disadvantage in the recruiting process because maybe somebody outside tells a player, ‘We know we can take you, and you don’t have to wait,’” Kennedy said.

According to Solomon, the SEC waiver process includes the following requirements above and beyond NCAA requirements:

  • Must have no record of academic or disciplinary trouble at the previous institution; and
  • Did not lose any APR points at the previous institution.

Both of those are objective criteria which can be answered in a simple questionnaire, the type of which are sent between schools every time an athlete transfers. If all of the criteria are so straight forward, the simplest solution for the SEC to have its higher standard and eat its recruiting cake is to change its waiver into an exception.

Waivers are something an institution has to apply for and stand a chance of being denied. Many waivers, like the graduate transfer waiver, have such clear criteria that there is virtually no question whether or not a waiver will be approved or denied. In that case, creating an exception that an institution can apply on campus without applying to a conference or national office is appropriate. Hence the NCAA now has the graduate transfer exception; institutions only use the graduate transfer waiver when the exception does not apply.

By turning the waiver of the SEC rule into an exception, SEC institutions could tell transfer recruits whether or not they will be able to play immediately without waiting on a waiver. Like the NCAA’s graduate transfer rules, the waiver could be maintained to cover a broader range of situations not easily covered by clear, objective criteria.

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