The NCAA got something right this past week. Something smart. No, this isn’t the setup to a joke.
The governing body of college sports actually passed two rules that deserve praise, not the usual scorn hurled any time the NCAA unveils new legislation.
The NCAA’s Division I Council loosened restrictions on the transferring process and also passed a rule that will allow football players to play up to four games without losing a year of eligibility.
These are significant changes that are long overdue and will provide more freedom and benefits to athletes.
The shift in philosophy regarding transfers saves schools from embarrassing public-relations blunders. Athletes now will be allowed to transfer to another school and receive a scholarship without fear of being blocked by his or her coach.
Under the previous system, athletes were required to get permission from their school to contact another school. That led to some cases in which a bitter coach blocked a player from transferring to specific schools.
The new rule eliminates that potential nonsense because transferring athletes’ names will go into a national database within 48 hours of informing their school that they intend to transfer. Once that happens, coaches from other schools are allowed to contact the athlete.
The NCAA discussed changes but ultimately kept in place a rule that requires athletes in five sports — football, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s hockey and baseball — to sit out one year of competition if they transfer.
That was a wise decision, too.
It does seem somewhat hypocritical that athletes in lower-profile sports can transfer without restrictions while those five sports operate under different guidelines. Also hypocritical when coaches know they can bolt for better jobs without punishment.
But eliminating that one-year stipulation for transfers would, in essence, create free agency. The top programs could raid smaller programs of their best talent if they had a hole in the roster to fill immediately. That would move the needle too far.
The NCAA gave conferences authority to enact tougher restrictions regarding transfers, but it seems unlikely that any will deviate from these new standards. A conference would look remarkably callous in saying, ‘Thanks, but we’re still going to allow our coaches to block athletes from transferring.”
The Big Ten has tweaked its own transfer rules in recent years. The most significant difference is that now athletes who transfer within the conference are eligible to receive scholarships, removing a substantial roadblock. Previously, an athlete could transfer from one Big Ten school to the next but could not receive a scholarship.
The NCAA’s rule change involving the redshirt process in football is a major victory for both players and coaches. Previously, a player lost a year of eligibility once he played in a game. Players had to petition the NCAA to regain that year as a redshirt in cases of injuries or personal issues.
Starting this season, players can appear in four games without losing a year of eligibility. That should eliminate the annual redshirt tap dance.
Here’s one example: A coaching staff decides in fall camp that a true freshman is physically ready to play, but then that player looks overwhelmed once the season starts. The player won’t be penalized a year for that missed evaluation.
Every season coaches lament the injury toll on their roster and whether they can afford to redshirt certain players. And inevitably, injuries force them to play freshmen that they had hoped to sit for a season.
Gophers defensive back Justus Harris got thrust into action last season as a freshman when injuries decimated the secondary. He played in three games. It’s absurd to strip a player of one year of eligibility because he played in three games out of necessity.
Conversely, highly touted offensive lineman Blaise Andries would have provided reinforcement when injuries hit his position last season. But P.J. Fleck resisted the temptation to burn his redshirt. Those decisions should be less of a quandary with a four-game grace period.
The NCAA got it right with these new rules. That’s not something we say too often.
Chip Scoggins firstname.lastname@example.org