College athletes will no longer need permission from their coach or school to transfer and receive financial aid from another school.
The NCAA Division I Council approved the change effective Oct. 15 on Wednesday. The council also decided that Division I football players will be allowed to play in up to four games in a season without losing a year of eligibility if they can no longer play because of injuries "or other factors."
The long-awaited transfer reform ended up being a narrow change, but should provide more freedom for athletes to transfer when and where they want.
Under the new rule, athletes would be permitted to be contacted when they notify their current coaches, who have two days to enter the names into a database created and managed by the NCAA that will alert schools who can be recruited. The change will come with stricter tampering rules to help appease coaches who worry illegal recruiting could rise.
Currently, an athlete must ask a coach for permission to contact other schools when choosing to transfer. A school interested in recruiting a transferring player also must ask the current school for permission to recruit. Without permission from the original school, the athlete cannot get financial aid from another school, essentially blocking a transfer.
Nicholas Clark, a former football player at Coastal Carolina and a member of a student representative on the council, said the change promotes fairness and the well-being of college athletes.
"This creates a safe place for student-athletes to have a conversation with their coaches and makes the whole process more transparent," Clark said.
Standoffs between athletes and coaches over transfers have often led to embarrassing results for schools standing in the way of players who want to leave. Last spring at Kansas State, reserve receiver Corey Sutton said he was blocked from transferring to 35 schools by coach Bill Snyder before the school finally relented amid public pressure.
Even with the new rule, conferences could still restrict athletes from transferring within the league.
The NCAA transfer working group, led by South Dakota State athletic director Justin Sell, has been working on reform since last year. The group quickly found support for switching from a permission model to notification while also codifying rules against impermissible recruiting of athletes under scholarship. A proposal was originally presented to the D-I Council in April, but tabled to allow conferences to provide feedback from spring meetings.
"The membership showed today that it supports this significant change in transfer rules," Sell said. "I'm proud of the effort the transfer working group put forth to make this happen for student-athletes, coaches and schools."
The NCAA has made several attempts in recent years to change transfer rules, but this is the first to come up with something substantive — if not comprehensive.
Much of the talk about transfers focuses on the so-called year-in-residence, the one year a player in the most high-profile sports such as football and basketball must sit out after switching schools.
There was discussion about easing that restriction, which doesn't exist in most NCAA sports. Golfers, tennis players and other athletes in traditionally nonrevenue sports can transfer one time without sitting out. There was never serious consideration to lifting the year-in-residence altogether, but tying unrestricted transfer to an athlete's grade-point average was considered. That idea has fallen off the table amid concerns about creating an inequitable system that could face legal challenges.
The NCAA said legislation that governs when a Power Five school can reduce or cancel financial aid for an athlete may be looked at next week. Currently, a student's notification of intent to transfer at the end of a term is not a listed reason a school can use to cancel aid. The so-called autonomy conferences will consider two different proposals to allow schools to cancel the aid.
The transfer working group initially was looking at uniform rules across all sports. Now that will be re-examined in the fall.