This column from the Oklahoman’s Berry Tramel is mostly about the signing ideas offered by Nebraska head football coach Bo Pelini and Northwestern head football coach Pat Fitzgerald, but it ends by discussing Oklahoma’s two transfer cases:
Of course, the letter of intent system doesn’t seem all that broken. What’s broken is the transfer system. OU seems optimistic about Dorial Green-Beckham becoming eligible, but pessimistic about Baker Mayfield receiving the same treatment.
It’s a broken system when a player leaves a school because of personal conduct problems and is given a green light to play immediately, but another player, who wasn’t even on scholarship, leaves a school with an exemplary record and is made to sit out.
Just shows you that sometimes it’s hard to get divorced in college football and sometimes a little too easy to get married.
Tramel identifies the symptom but the bigger problem is the underlying cause. Baker Mayfield and Dorial Green-Beckham’s two transfers to Oklahoma might not seem to have much in common but the result of both cases is being driven by the same factor: the decisions of their former school.
In the push for consistency in NCAA decisions, the NCAA has increasingly been pushed out of making judgments in transfer cases. Institutions thought transfer hardship waivers were too inconsistent, so they became a checklist. It was still too inconsistent or too easy for football and basketball players to get eligible right away so the NCAA’s members eliminated immediate eligibility altogether (starting next year).
That push has left more of the decision making power in the hands of the schools, especially an athlete’s former school. The run-off waiver has three elements, two of which implicitly or expressly require the athlete’s former school to sign off on the waiver. The NCAA’s waiver guidelines for transfer cases has said for over a decade that the NCAA will normally not get involved when an institution denies permission to contact or use of a transfer exception.
To belabor Tramel’s marriage/divorce metaphor, this is like removing judges and family courts from divorce cases and instead letting someone’s former spouse decide whether they can get divorced and who they can remarry.
The thrust of Tramel’s argument seems to be that “quickie divorces” should be allowed generally but I think the issue is more complex than that. I think there are legitimate reasons for a school to object to a transfer. But right now the burden is on the player to either get permission from his former school or to show that there is an even better reason for letting him transfer right away.
Instead, the presumption should be that athletes can transfer and play immediately unless the former institution raises a very good reason why not. That means putting the NCAA into the position of deciding in some number of cases what will happen to an athlete when they transfer. But for consistency’s sake, that decision has to be boxed in a number of ways:
- There should be an exclusive list of the reasons a school can object to a transfer. If a good reason comes up that was not on the list, it should be added legislatively, not on a case-by-case basis.
- There should be strict documentation standards about what is needed to carry an objection to a transfer.
- And the athlete should be allowed to practice and play while the previous school is objecting to a transfer in case it drags on.
That would make cases simpler for the NCAA to decide while still giving schools a chance to raise serious issues. It would prevent the petty restrictions placed on some athletes mostly out of a coach’s hurt feelings. And it might help bring other transfer issues to the fore.