The NCAA logo.

There have always been plenty of stories about NCAA athletes looking to transfer and being unable to do so without first sitting out a year (or receiving an often-controversial exception), unlike coaches and their much-greater freedom of movement.  But in recent years, there have only been five NCAA-sponsored sports (football, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball, and men’s ice hockey) that have not used the free one-time transfer exception available in other NCAA-sponsored sports, and it’s been looking like those sports would follow suit after the NCAA transfer waiver working group proposed that move last February. The NCAA Division I council was expected to officially approve the extension of the one-time transfer waiver to those five remaining sports Wednesday, and Nicole Auerbach of The Athletic reported on Twitter Wednesday afternoon that they have done so (albeit with that decision not being official until the end of their meeting, which covers plenty of other subjects):

Update: Interestingly enough, the details here make this seem like an even more significant change than the initial discussions around it implied. Last February, Auerbach wrote that the other NCAA-sponsored sports that already had one-time transfer exceptions still had conference and school rules that could mandate athletes sit out a year if they transfer to specific schools, and that that seemed likely to be the case for a change in these sports as well. That would still be big, as it would shift immediate eligibility from “allowed only if the NCAA permits it” (which was never a guarantee, and didn’t work out for many athletes) to “allowed except when specific schools have a rule preventing it.” But the actual language here, as Auerbach reported late Wednesday night, is even more significant, taking out school discretion in blocking transfers (outside of specific tampering complaints):

This isn’t all bad for coaches. As Nebraska volleyball coach John Cook and Wisconsin volleyball coach Kelly Sheffield told Auerbach last February, the one-time transfer exception has encouraged coaches in that sport to increase their focus on keeping their current players happy and developing, and they see benefits to that:

“We’ve worked harder than ever on building relationships with our players off the court, so that we can try to avoid them getting unhappy or all of a sudden make an impulsive move to leave and go somewhere else,” Cook said.

…“I look at this like, as a coach it’s my responsibility to create an environment where people want to be here and they want to stay,” Sheffield said. “If there’s a time where people are leaving, then I either did a poor job of communicating (about their role) or I did a poor job of recruiting. In a lot of cases, that’s on me. There’s going to be some exceptions where some people or some outside influences are going to get in people’s ears. That’s certainly going to happen on the fringes. But I don’t think we legislate on this on the fringes. …

“I don’t look at it as continuing to recruit people. I look at it as I’m continuing to build relationships.”

And then-ACC commissioner John Swofford told Auerbach in that piece that the net effect of this rule in other sports seems to have been positive:

“It’s generally worked in a favorable way in the sports that have it,” Swofford said. “That makes us believe it certainly can work in all sports. I know if it occurs it’ll make roster management more of a challenge for coaches and programs, but our group felt like that can be managed. Anytime there’s significant change with something like this, there’s a tendency to go through the worst-case scenario and believe the sky’s falling.”

This is certainly a big change for college sports, and it’s one that may be quite beneficial for many athletes. It also removes  a lot of the controversy about who gets a transfer waiver and who doesn’t. This move also encourages coaches to try and keep their players content, and it provides more opportunities for players left on the outs after a sudden coaching change. We’ll see how it ultimately plays out.

[Nicole Auerbach on Twitter/The Athletic]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.