If you’re a fan wandering the camp that’s questioning their allegiance to college athletics amid the complete razing and restructuring of the landscape, this week offered another telling blow.
The shifting of that landscape isn’t going to settle anytime soon.
On Friday, the Division I Council announced it had approved several new measures, including some much-needed parameters on the transfer portal and another that lifted the final, albeit fading, hurdle preventing the equivalency of year-to-year free agency.
In regard to the transfer portal, the council recommended two separate “open window” periods for the transfer portal. For fall sports athletes, the first 45-day period would begin after that sport’s championship selection (for football, that date this year is Dec. 5). The next portal opening would be a 15-day period beginning May 1.
I’ve been a backer of the freedom of movement that was far overdue for college athletes, but creating transfer windows was a necessary compromise. The launch of the portal has been magnified by the additional year of eligibility the NCAA granted all athletes for the 2020-21 season, but its impact also has been exacerbated by its 24/7 availability.
If the revenue sports of football and men’s basketball are expected to fund entire athletic departments, sudden summer departures could be viewed as unfair to season ticket holders. Coaches get paid handsomely to solve tough problems, so don’t feel sorry for them. Yet the reality of many late and seemingly sudden defections is that many of the best-laid plans for a season are crumpled up and tossed aside with no solution in sight until the following recruiting cycle.
The combined 60-day opening for the transfer portal still provides ample opportunity for athletes to make a move. And in the case of the football calendar, that 15-day window in May still gives players a chance to rethink their situations after spring practice — especially when offseason coaching changes are involved.
Yet the new transfer rule approved by the Division I Council, allowing for multiple transfers without the penalty of a redshirt season, might replace the open-all-the-time portal as the biggest driver of player movement.
Granted, it may not appear to be much of a change at first. Even before the one-time transfer rule was approved last year, eliminating the longstanding practice of being forced to sit out a year (as was the case in football, basketball, ice hockey, and men’s and women’s basketball, but not other sports), that practice already was trending toward extinction. At one time, getting a waiver from the NCAA to void that year on the sideline was akin to winning the lottery. You pretty much had to get lucky. Perhaps having foresight, for once, about the winds of change in the air, the NCAA had been granting those waivers regularly even before opening the transfer portal. The graduate transfer loophole also had been exploited to the point of blurring the line between permissible and impermissible transfers.
Still, abolishing that year on the sideline even for multiple transfers opens the door for year-to-year free agency. With the possibility of sitting out no longer simmering in the background, there is nothing preventing players from constantly seeking greener pastures. And I do mean greener. While player movement has largely been unrestricted in sports like soccer and volleyball without the chaos of unfettered free agency, the advent of the NIL era puts dollar signs, and not just playing time, into these decisions — particularly for football and men’s basketball players.
While on the surface of it the NCAA seems uncharacteristically gracious in abolishing the sitting-a-year caveat for multiple transfers, the concession almost assuredly was spurred by the dim prospects of winning any prospective court case on the issue. It’s essentially the same reason the NCAA ultimately punted on creating uniform NIL legislation. If the bureaucracy can’t govern and enforce an issue, better to wash hands of the matter.
The NCAA Division I Board of Directors is expected to approve the latest council recommendations on Aug. 3. The votes will be yet another reminder college athletics no longer is any place for traditionalists.