NCAA takes very encouraging first steps toward possible transfer reforms

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The NCAA said it would discuss the prevalence of transfers at the Division I level. Earlier this week, it did just that and had productive sessions toward potential reforms.

The “Division I Transfer Working Group,” assembled back in April, met Sunday and Monday in Indianapolis to examine a few scenarios in the vast world of transfers. Perhaps most notably, the group is in favor of altering permission to contact rules.

Presently, student-athletes need permission from their current school if they want to receive financial aid at a potential transfer destination. Financial aid, the NCAA group believes, “should not be tied to whether a school grants permission to contact.” The next step is to broach the subject with other administrators around the country.

Group members believe financial aid should not be tied to whether a school grants permission to contact. They want to know if others in the membership feel the same way. The group also agreed that enhancements should be made to the formal process students use to notify a school of their desire to transfer. The group will seek input from the membership on appropriate enhancements.

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This issue — and the larger issues of a school’s role in transfers in general — came into focus with Bill Snyder’s draconian handling of wide receiver Corey Sutton’s attempt to leave the Kansas State program earlier this month. Initially, Kansas State would not grant Sutton his release after he announced his intent to transfer in early May. Sutton presented a list of 35 schools, including some FCS and Division II options, he had interest in transferring to, but KSU — Snyder, specifically — denied them all.

He went public with his predicament by speaking to the Wichita Eagle:

“When I originally told Coach Snyder I was going to transfer he said, ‘Well, Corey, I feel bad that you want to leave, but I can’t make you stay,’ ” Sutton said. “I dropped all my classes, moved out of Kansas and started looking at my options, then I find out they are denying me my release.

“Coach Snyder told me that when I signed my letter of intent that was my commitment to him, that I was going to be there for four years. I heard that and told him, ‘Coaches can leave. So why can’t a player leave? You made a commitment to me that you were going to treat me the right way and that’s not what you’re doing.’ ”

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Without a release from KSU, Sutton could still transfer but would not have been allowed to receive financial aid.

“I don’t have enough money for that,” Sutton told the Eagle. “(Snyder) is trying to treat me like I am his kid. Why is he treating a 19-year-old like that and trying to change his life like that? I have never heard of anything like this before.”

It was a completely ridiculous ordeal that was inflamed when the 77-year-old Snyder spouted off to the media about Sutton failing drug tests during his time in Manhattan (Sutton denied the claim). A day later, Snyder apologized for his comments and rightly granted Sutton a full release. Sutton subsequently announced a commitment to Appalachian State in his home state of North Carolina earlier this week.

That entire mess could have been avoided if the school did not hold the power of financial aid over the player’s head.

Additionally, the group wants to look at the academic side of graduate transfers while “generally agreeing” that post-graduate transfers should be immediately eligible at their new school.

The working group generally agreed that immediate eligibility for students competing after graduation is appropriate now, but the group expressed interest in identifying additional methods for holding the schools where students may transfer accountable for the student’s academic progress. One potential approach could be to require that the financial aid provided to graduate students count against a team’s scholarship limit for two years, regardless of whether the graduate student stays for two years or leaves when their eligibility is complete.

Another concept for increasing that accountability is through the Academic Progress Rate calculation, specifically the eligibility and retention points for which a student would be held accountable as they pursue a graduate degree. The Committee on Academics discussed the calculation and the working group plans to continue conversations on the topic.

Currently, the SEC is the only Power Five conference that has academic tie-ins with its graduate transfer rule — similar to those proposed above. Previously, if a school’s graduate transfers did not meet specific APR requirements, the SEC would not allow the school to enroll graduate transfers for a period of three years. Following a vote at the league’s meetings, that three-year term dropped to one year. The change allowed Florida to bring in quarterback Malik Zaire from Notre Dame.

On a related note, the group said it supported looking into how transfer regulations differ in specific conferences.

“It will be important to prevent any national policy related to the transfer environment from being undercut through conference regulations,” the NCAA’s release says.

And on a broader note, the group said it is interested in establishing “uniform transfer rules” that would “require everyone to follow the same rules regardless of the sport they play.” Two specific models were discussed: requiring all transfers to sit out for a season or allowing all transfers to play immediately (provided their academics are in order).

Remember, all of these suggestions are subject to further discussion and debate. The fact that some of these potential policies, many of which are positive developments for student-athletes, is encouraging.

The group hopes to introduce potential transfer legislation “into this year’s cycle,” which has an April 2018 vote, but it will not rush. The proposals, it said, need to be thorough and depend on “membership feedback.”

To create the best possible legislation, the group would like extra time to vet proposals with the membership by requesting an extended deadline for submission. The Division I Council agreed to ask the Division I Board of Directors to extend the deadline to Nov. 1. The normal deadline for proposals is Sept. 1.

“I am thrilled with the great progress made this week, and I’m confident we can move forward with some initial concepts for consideration in this year’s legislative cycle,” said Justin Sell, the group’s working chair. “We are working toward academics-based, data-driven decisions that benefit student-athletes, teams and schools.”

Other issues discussed included ethical recruiting of transfers, further educating student-athletes on the transfer process and providing aid even after a graduate transfer exhausts their eligibility.

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Sam Cooper is a writer for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!