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What's up with NCAA transfer rules? Some frequently asked questions

What's the deal with colleges being able to slap transfer rules and restrictions on departing players? Here are some answers.


The attentive reader may be aware that the rules governing intercollegiate athletics are frequently confusing, nonsensical or simply antiquated. Perhaps the most bizarre set of rules are those that regulate the transfer process.

The latest example of this silly setup involves Pitt running back Rushel Shell. Shell wants to transfer away from Pitt, and one of his potential destinations is Arizona State, whose Sun Devils are coached by former Pitt head coach Todd Graham. Graham's departure left Pitt hanging in a bad way, and Panther fans are still upset at him. It's understandable.

However, Pitt's athletic administrators are acting like fans, not the rational adults they are paid to be. Restricting Shell from transferring to a team that's not in their conference and most assuredly won't be on the schedule in the future is low down and childish. ASU fans are seeing this situation for what it is, but I have no doubt that if the roles were reversed, things would look largely the opposite.

The process is complicated, so I put together some FAQs to try to explain any questions we may have.

Can't these kids just transfer wherever they want?

Yes, actually. Players can transfer to any school they wish, regardless of restrictions placed on them by their original school. The sticking point in these situations comes when the school refuses to release the athlete, meaning the player would have to pay his or her own way for a year on top of sitting out the next season.

For kids that come from well-off families, that isn't the end of the world. However, many of these kids come from poor backgrounds, and going to school without a scholarship simply is not an option.

Why do schools place transfer restrictions on student-athletes?

Well, that's a good question. Most schools try to discourage transferring to a conference rival, which normally doesn't draw a lot of outcry. Some schools also place restrictions on out-of-conference schools that are on the schedule in the future. It seems to be based on a desire not to have the kid transfer, then come back and bite the original school on the behind in a game.

Isn't that a bit unfair?

Well, that depends who you ask. I happen to think that transfer restrictions are impossibly petty and restrict a kid's life because supposed adults don't want to be embarrassed. The transfer process in college athletics is already a farce, and this adds another dimension to it.

The idea behind these transfer rules is to prevent a sort of free agent market on the college level. I suppose I understand the reasoning, but the execution is poor. Kids who have very legitimate reasons to transfer are being punished for no good reason, and unfortunately, this is not a new development.

Coaches can (and frequently do) go wherever they want. Isn't that hypocritical?

Why yes, it is. Almost every athlete on scholarship is technically committed for only one year, and the scholarship is renewed on a yearly basis. If someone wants to transfer, he or she would have to obtain a release from his or her school to an acceptable destination school and then sit out a year before being allowed to compete.

Coaches, meanwhile, have long-term contracts that they break with shocking frequency, and all they have to do is pay a buyout. Often times, the schools they're moving to will cover that buyout. And they never have sit out a year. The situations aren't perfectly analogous, but the hypocrisy is startling.

Can a restriction be overridden?

Sure. Players can appeal to the university itself (as in, the athletic department's bosses) and to the NCAA. Sometimes it works. Give it a shot!

College sports are stupid.

That's not a question, but yes, things frequently don't make sense. You either rationalize it, learn to deal with the cognitive dissonance or find something else to do with your time.

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