NCAA Transfer Exceptions and Waivers

The transfer process has a complex mix of rules and regulations that determine when and where athletes can transfer and if and when they can receive a scholarship. If you are being told you will need to sit out, not be able to play right away or not get a scholarship right away, below are some of the exceptions and petitions you can file to get a more favorable outcome.

One-Time Transfer Exception

The one-time transfer exception is the most commonly used exception for transfers from one four-year college to another, especially if the transfer involves two colleges in NCAA Division I or II.

  • If transferring to a Division I school, the athlete must play a sport other than football, men’s or women’s basketball, or baseball. The exception is that an athlete can transfers to a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS or I-AA) school and use this exception provided he or she has at least two seasons of competition remaining. In Division II, any sport may use the one-time transfer exception.
  • The athlete must not have previously transferred from another four-year school.
  • At the time of the transfer, the athlete would have been academically eligible at the previous school; and
  • If transferring from an NCAA or NAIA school, the athlete’s previous school states in writing that they have no objection to the athlete using the one-time transfer exception.

While the one-time transfer exception is the most commonly used, it is technically the last resort. If a student-athlete can find another transfer exception to use, it is generally better since they have fewer requirements and sometime make the transfer not count if the student-athlete needs to transfer again.

Graduate Exception

The graduate exception is a version of the one-time transfer exception. It is for student-athletes who cannot use the normal one-time transfer exception because they play one of the sports that are not permitted to use the exception.

  • The student-athlete must have graduated with at least a bachelor’s degree;
  • The student-athlete meets the other requirements of the one-time transfer exception;
  • The student-athlete must have at least one season of competition left; and
  • The student-athlete’s previous school did not renew his or her athletic scholarship or offer an athletic scholarship for the following academic year.

The requirement that the scholarship be cancelled or not renewed is generally not an issue. The scholarship does not need to be cancelled before the transfer or be the reason for the transfer. Because the one-time transfer exception requires you to get a release, what will happen with your scholarship is generally just an administrative detail.

Graduate Transfer Waiver

The graduate transfer waiver is now typically used by athletes who have previous transferred once before and so cannot use the one-time transfer exception (even as a graduate student).

A letter from the previous school saying it does not object to the student-athlete being eligible;

Documentation that the student-athlete has been accepted into a specific graduate degree program;

Documentation about whether that degree program is offered by the previous school;
A student-athlete statement including the reasons for the transfer; and

A statement from the previous institution about the student-athlete’s status on the team.

Generally the heart of the waiver is the three middle bullets. The NCAA wants to see that the student-athlete transferred in order to continue his or her academic career by pursuing a graduate degree not offered at the previous school.

Family Hardship Waivers

Family hardship waivers are some of the most common and most controversial waivers decided by the NCAA. The reason it is so controversial is many student-athletes in football and basketball request these waivers, and whether one is granted or denied can seem inconsistent.

The key thing to remember is that a student-athlete is arguing that the best thing for the athlete and his or her family is to allow the athlete to play immediately and that the athlete needs to transfer to assist with an ill or injured family member. The NCAA measures this in three areas.

  • Nature of the injury or illness: The injury or illness should be life-threatening and involve an immediate family member (parent, legal guardian, or sibling). Waivers that are denied typically involve an extended family member (aunt, uncle, grandparent, etc.) unless that family member raised the student-athlete.
  • Student-athlete’s responsibilities related to the care of the family member: The more involved the student-athlete is in the day-to-day care for the family member, the more likely the waiver is to be granted.
  • Chronology of events: Waivers are more likely to be granted if something changed that prompted the student-athlete’s transfer like a diagnosis, the actual injury, or a worsening condition. Waivers are less likely to be granted if a family member has been ill or injured for a while, and nothing changed that require the student-athlete to transfer.

When requesting the waiver, the school must submit at least three sets of information, much of which will come from the student-athlete or his or her family:

  • Documentation from the doctor who diagnosed the family member;
  • Documentation from the doctor who is currently treating the family member; and
  • A letter from the student-athlete explaining the need for a waiver.

These documentation standards can be hefty. Medical documentation typically includes both a letter from the doctor and medical documents like charts, treatment orders, and prescriptions.

Discontinued Academic Program Exception

Student-athletes may transfer and play immediately if their academic program was discontinued and they enroll in the same major they were studying at the previous school.

Military Service Exception

A student-athlete may transfer and play immediately if he or she returns from at least 12 months of active military service.

Discontinued/Non-sponsored Sport Exception

A student-athlete may transfer and play immediately if his or her previous school meets one of the following criteria:

  • The institution has dropped or has publicly announced it will drop the student-athlete’s sport;
  • The institution has reclassified or has announced it will reclassify from Division I or II to Division III and the student-athlete does not play after the school moves to Division III; or
  • The school never sponsored the student-athlete’s sport while he or she attended the school, and the student-athlete never previously attended any institution that sponsored the sport.

Two-Year Non-Participation/Minimal Participation Exception

A student-athlete may transfer and play immediately if for a two-year period prior to starting any practice or competition at the new school, the student-athlete did not participate at all in intercollegiate athletics for two years, except for one 14-day period (i.e. a tryout). The two-year period must start after the student-athlete enrolls in college.

Return to Original Institution without Participation or with Minimal Participation Exception

A student-athlete may transfer and play immediately if the student transferred to a second school and returns to his or her original school either without practicing or competing in athletics at all, except for one 14-day period (i.e. a tryout). Athletes may do this even if they were originally required to sit out for one year.

Non-recruited Student Exception

A student-athlete may transfer and play immediately if he or she met the following conditions at the first institution:

  • The student-athlete was not recruited according to the NCAA’s definition of recruiting;
  • The student-athlete never received an athletic scholarship; and
  • The student-athlete did not practice or compete at all in athletics at the original school except for one 14-day period (i.e. a tryout).

If you are still unsure what your next steps might be, you can start at the NCAA Transfer home page or contact us directly 1(800)974-2171 or

Author: John Infante

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