The leaders of big-time college sports agree that transfer rules need to better accommodate players.
The days of coaches having a say in where an athlete can transfer could very well be going away, though it's not likely deregulation will lead to a system where athletes come and go as they please. "The trick ... to this is affording students the prerogative and privileges that they deserve and to also be fair to the universities that invest heavily in time and resources to recruit them to that school,' Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said Thursday in a telephone interview.
How that change happens is up for debate. The wealthiest college football conferences (Big 12, Big Ten, Atlantic Conference, Pac-12, Southeastern Conference) are willing to work with all of Division I to come up with a solution, but they also want the power to make their own transfer rules if need be as part of an autonomy structure the NCAA is moving toward.
That worries the schools outside those powerful leagues, concerned they'll be in danger of losing their best players to the Big Five. Most of the areas in which the Big Five conferences are seeking autonomy are related to how schools spend money on athletes. Transfer regulations are seen more as purely competitive-balance issues.
"I still haven't gotten a good answer as to why transfer rules have been included in the autonomy bucket," said SMU athletic director Rick Hart, whose school plays in the American Athletic Conference, one of the other five leagues in the top tier of college football knows as FBS. "I'm hopeful that will remain something that is voted upon by the entire membership."
NCAA transfer rules vary some from sport to sport. For football, men's and women's basketball and baseball, transferring players must sit out a year and lose a year of eligibility if they want to take a scholarship with another school playing at the same level. Athletes can apply for a family hardship waiver to be allowed to play immediately.
A recently passed proposal would eliminate the hardship waiver, but give transfers back the year of eligibility, though they would still have to sit out a year at the new school. Hart said there is "general support for that proposal," but more changes are being discussed.
"We've talked about outside the box type of things but they all have intended and unintended consequences," Hart said. Current transfer rules also allow schools to deny an athlete's release from a scholarship, making it impossible to receive a scholarship from another school.
Recently, Kansas State drew criticism for initially denying the release of women's basketball player Leticia Romero. The school eventually released her to transfer to any school outside of the Big 12.
Many conferences have rules against athletes transferring from one member to another. At times coaches will place schools outside the conference on a restricted list for a transferring athlete. Former Oklahoma State quarterback Wes Lunt, now at Illinois, was initially restricted from transferring to an SEC school or Southern Mississippi, where former OSU assistant Todd Monken is head coach, in addition to another Big 12 school.
"Unless there is some evidence of tampering by a coach or another institution, I don't think institutions ought to have the opportunity to restrict where (athletes) can go," Bowlsby said. "And I particularly don't think it should be left up to coach's discretion. I never thought it was a good idea."
The greatest fear for all those involved, no matter the conference, is transfer rules becoming so liberal that coaches have to recruit their own players. This, again, is especially worrisome for the schools outside the power conferences that rely on developing athletes who are not as highly recruited.
"The example that I used is Kellen Moore at Boise State," Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson said of the former star quarterback. "He came in as an un-recruited player and by the time he was into his junior year he showed he had some unbelievable talent.
"If the transfer rules are eliminated and there's free movement, does that allow that type of a player to quote 'go up' without any type of sitting out?" Bowlsby said he understands the concerns about placing transfer rules in the autonomy bucket, and is confident a solution can come from all of Division I that suits all of Division I.
"But in the end, the five high-visibility conferences need to find a solution that meets our needs," he said.