Buried within the NCAA's Thursday press release over its newly endorsed governance structure was a rule that directly impacts players.
Specifically, the NCAA adopted a previous recommendation that eliminates "the ability for transfers to receive waivers to play immediately." Previously, athletes in special circumstances could apply for a waiver that would grant them immediate eligibility. Undergraduate athletes wishing to transfer to other Football Bowl Division programs are required to sit out a season to satisfy NCAA rules.
From the NCAA's release:
Qualifying student-athletes who cannot transfer and play immediately without a waiver will be allowed a sixth year to complete their four years of eligibility.
The change primarily impacts student-athletes who play baseball, basketball, bowl subdivision football and men’s ice hockey, as well as those in other sports who already transferred once. These student-athletes would no longer be able to seek a waiver to transfer and compete immediately.
When the words "NCAA" and "transfer" are tied together in the same sentence, it can carry an immediately negative connotation. However, the rule, which will become effective for the 2015-16 academic year, actually makes things more simplistic.
Let's say a football player needs to transfer to a school closer to home because his mother is ill. The NCAA will now give him an extra year of eligibility rather than determine if the specific case warrants a hardship waiver. That means the aforementioned player will have six years to complete four years of eligibility instead of the traditional five years.
Whether or not you believe athletes should be able to transfer and play immediately, regardless of their situation, the NCAA's reasoning passes the smell test.
"We hope this change will encourage student-athletes who must transfer based on hardships to focus on the circumstances prompting the transfer during their first year and adjust to their new school, while giving them a season back to complete their eligibility," Amy Huchthausen, commissioner of the America East Conference and chair of the Leadership Council subcommittee, said in the NCAA's release earlier this month.
That said, there's a fair counterpoint in that an athlete would still be practicing with the team and taking part in workouts. In other words, their schedule would remain largely the same. The biggest difference would be the travel—or, lack thereof—to compete in games.
The NCAA also claims the rule is "intended to reduce concerns about abuse of the waiver process and inconsistency in decisions."
Therein lies the biggest benefit for the NCAA: taking the complication of subjectivity out of the situation. As Brian Hamilton of Sports Illustrated sarcastically tweets, the new rule means sick family members everywhere have suddenly been healed.
Proof of hardship will always need to be presented, but this does take a large portion of the guesswork out of the NCAA's hands.
If you're of the belief that athletes should be able to transfer and compete immediately, then Thursday's approval doesn't advance your cause. However, if you're of the belief that the NCAA makes things unnecessarily hard and arbitrary, then the ruling makes more sense.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand.
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