Dana Holgorsen grew tired of coaching at West Virginia. No in-state recruits. Playing in the Big 12, etc. So, he bolted for Houston where he is surrounded by tons of Texas talent. As a result of Holgorsen’s move, Neal Brown up and left Troy to take the West Virginia job. 

Coaches do it all the time. They easily move from one job to the next and no one bats an eye. College football players? Historically, they have not experienced that type of freedom of movement. Now, the NCAA will once again look into and review its transfer rules.

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Understanding the Current Transfer Rules
FBS players are bound by current NCAA legislation that forces them to sit out one year when transferring to another FBS school. The exception to that rule occurs when a player has graduated from one institution. A graduate may transfer to another FBS school and play immediately. Also, players that transfer to lower divisions – FCS, Division II, or Division III – may be eligible immediately as well.

Over the past decade, the number of graduate transfers has risen dramatically. More often than not, the quarterback position sees the highest number of graduate transfers. This year, players such as Jalen Hurts (Alabama to Oklahoma), Kelly Bryant (Clemson to Missouri), and Brandon Wimbush (Notre Dame to Central Florida) used the graduate transfer rule to give themselves another chance at being a starting quarterback at the FBS level.

The Waiver
More recently, undergraduates are transferring and petitioning the NCAA to grant them immediately eligibility. Current Michigan QB Shea Patterson is a great example. Patterson started at Ole Miss but then-head coach Hugh Freeze was fired amidst a scandal. The Rebels were placed on probation leaving them ineligible for SEC titles and bowl games. 

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Patterson wanted out and the NCAA agreed. Because of the circumstances at Ole Miss, the NCAA granted Patterson immediate eligibility at Michigan, where he was the starting quarterback last season. The NCAA had changed its rule on transfer waivers just last April no longer requiring student-athletes to provide extraordinary circumstances or hardship. 

The new waiver rule states that the student-athlete must be in good academic standing and the school they are leaving must not object to a transfer. There must be “documented mitigating circumstances that are outside the student-athlete’s control and directly impact the health, safety, and well-being of the student-athlete.”

The Future
Since the beginning of this academic year (2018-19), the NCAA reports 29 FBS players that have requested immediately eligibility. Of the 29, 19 (66 percent) have been successful in obtaining athletic eligibility. Do the numbers indicate that the NCAA is leaning toward doing away with the current transfer rules? Not necessarily. The NCAA’s Football Oversight Committee, which decides these transfer cases, does not believe the majority of waivers should be approved. If there are mitigating circumstances, then the waiver will be granted.

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It happened in the Justin Fields case. Fields was the backup quarterback at Georgia last season as a true freshman. With Jake Fromm in front of him, Fields didn’t want to spend another year on the bench. He transferred to Ohio State, petitioned the NCAA for a transfer waiver, and showed mitigating circumstances to get the waiver approved. 

What will this mean for college football? Would the freedom of movement result in de facto free agency in college football? It’s hard to say but regardless of what the NCAA decides to do with the transfer rules, one thing is certain. The number of waivers just might be a reflection of how coaching staffs around the country are treating their players. 

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