Change is coming to the NCAA.
That's a startling statement, given any change within the NCAA that doesn't involve generating more TV revenue typically moves at a glacial pace. Yet by the time the 2018-19 school year rolls around the transfer rules that have been set in granite for generations will likely have a makeover.
And it's about darn time.
A proposal submitted by the faculty athletic representatives at Baylor and Iowa State is gaining traction among athletic directors and university presidents. Colorado athletic director Rick George is part of the NCAA's Transfer Working Group, and a shift toward uniformity in transfer rules — including a welcoming of several scenarios in which transfers would be eligible immediately — are likely on the horizon.
"One of the charges that we've gotten from the presidents is that we've got to look at our transfer rules," George said. "I think this is the fourth or fifth time they've looked at them. We're trying to make some changes that we think are going to be beneficial for student-athletes and try to uniform what those transfer rules look like.
"We've gotten input from students. We've gotten input from coaches from all different sports. In June, we'll have some kind of vote on a direction."
The proposal on the table would allow athletes to transfer without having to sit out a season if his or her coach leaves the program. The rule would apply to retiring coaches as well as those fired or who leave for other jobs. Student-athletes also would be free to transfer with immediate eligibility if their school is sanctioned by the NCAA. They would not be able to follow their former coach to his or her new school without still sitting a season.
These proposed changes are no-brainers. The idea that athletes must sit out a season while the coaches they agreed to play for as teenagers are free to move on to their next lucrative contract is an antiquated notion. Student-athletes that wish to transfer without the cloud of a coaching change or NCAA sanctions still would be forced to sit out a season.
Moreover, these new rules would apply across all NCAA sports. Currently, the only sports in which transfers must sit out a season are men's and women's basketball, football, hockey, and baseball. That means some of the recent Colorado stars who have been able to suit up for the Buffaloes immediately after leaving their former schools — such as volleyball's Alexa Smith, or soccer's Becca Rasmussen and Tatum Barton, to name just a few — would have to sit out a season, as their peers in other sports have for decades.
The primary outcry against opening up transfer rules is the obvious one: Coaches don't want to see the sort of free-agency frenzy so prevalent in professional sports. In football and men's basketball, however, that reality pretty much already exists. The graduate transfer rule would remain unchanged, allowing seniors who have graduated and still have a year of eligibility remaining to complete their careers elsewhere without having to sit a season. And student-athletes already are transferring at a record rate. One of the Buffs' basketball rivals in the Pac-12, Washington State's Drick Bernstine, is on his third team in five years, having gone to the University of Denver out of Cherokee Trail High School in Aurora before transferring to North Dakota and then to WSU as a graduate transfer.
No proposal will ever be perfect, and this one isn't either. Scholarship-allotment stipulations would have to be addressed in the event of mass defections after a coach leaves. And certainly the threat of those sorts of mass defections might influence future personnel decisions. For instance, if a university has a popular, long-tenured coach in place who happens to have suffered a run of mediocrity on the field, the brass will have to consider if possible large-scale roster defections are worth the price of change.
Still, this proposal is about as fair and balanced as it gets. It opens the door to new opportunities for young men and women stuck in bad situations through no cause of their own while erasing the disparity in rules between, say, a basketball player that wants a fresh start from a soccer player who right now can achieve the same thing so much more readily.
When CU men's basketball coach Tad Boyle, always among those wary of opening up transfer rules, admits he has something to think about with the current proposals, there is reason to believe the NCAA Transfer Working Group is on the right path.
"The old line of thinking is that he's signing with a school, he's not signing with a coach. The reality is, he's signing with a coach and a coaching staff," Boyle said. "You can look at it two different ways. Coaches leave for one of two reasons in college basketball. One of three...some of them retire, but mostly they're fired or they leave for a different job. I don't know. I'd have to give it some thought. Off the top of my head, I'm not sure how I feel about that.
"There's no doubt, the way this transfer thing is going, it's going to be more student-athlete friendly, not less student-athlete friendly. I just would like to get a situation where there is freedom of movement. I think transferring is part of our sport. There is legitimate reasons for kids to transfer, just like there's legitimate reasons for coaches to leave jobs."