NCAA tweaks guidelines for immediate eligibility waivers for transfers

Four of 13 guidelines the NCAA uses to determine if transfers should be able to play right away rather than sit out a season have been adjusted.

The move announced Wednesday comes after the governing body of college athletics came under fire from two sides — those worried "free agency" has come to the NCAA because of an increase in high-profile waiver approvals and those who found some decisions inconsistent with others.

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The announcement characterizes the changes “as minor adjustments to the waiver process intended to clarify the requirements, prompt more involvement from athletics directors and give guidance to members as they submit waivers.”

Perhaps most notably, guidelines were added for consideration in cases that involve a player transferring to be closer to “home or their support system” to better deal with an injury or illness.

Via the NCAA:

In those cases, the school must provide contemporaneous medical documentation from the student-athlete's treating professional showing the student-athlete is debilitated and was receiving treatment before the transfer; an explanation of the student-athlete's need to transfer and treatment plan; and a statement from the previous school's athletics director explaining why the student-athlete indicated he or she was transferring. The student also must be in good academic standing and meeting progress-toward-degree requirements at the new school. The transfer must occur in the academic year after diagnosis, and the new school must be within 100 miles of the student-athlete's family or support system.

Previously, staff did not have specific guidelines in such cases, but a rise in waiver requests because of a student-athlete's own injury or illness, particularly mental health issues, prompted the membership to create the guidelines approved by the council.

This was an issue brought to light by the denial of a waiver for James Hudson, an offensive lineman from Toledo who transferred to the University of Cincinnati after two years at Michigan.

In a note on Twitter on May 14, Hudson shared he had cited “mental struggles” in deciding to change schools but, “Now the NCAA is telling me that my courage to step forward and speak about my issues was done too late.”

(A school spokesman told our media partner WCPO the school had submitted "a reconsideration" of Hudson's case, though based on publicly available information it does not appear the new guidelines would help his case.)

Other guidelines were also expanded, though not as significantly because they were more detailed to begin with.

In the case of a player who says he or she was unable to continue playing at their former school, the former school’s director of athletics now is required to confirm whether or not the player could return to the team. Previously, the original school was to provide a statement detailing its position on the matter, but the A.D. did not have to be involved.

In the case of a player transferring “because he or she is the victim of egregious behavior directly impeaching his or her health, safety or well-being, the new school must continue to provide objective documentation of the behavior and how it impacts the health, safety or well-being of the student athlete” along with a statement from the previous school’s athletics director “explaining why the student-athlete indicated he or she is transferring.”

Previously, the new school was required to provide documentation of what happened along with the previous school’s position on the situation.

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Lastly, more detail was added to deal with situations in which a student transfers to be closer to an ailing member of his or her immediate family.

In addition to providing written documentation from a medical professional, an explanation of why a transfer is needed and an assurance from the new school the student is allowed to depart the team to provide care for a family member (all previously required), the new school must explain the athlete’s role in providing care.

Additionally, the transfer must occur within or immediately after the academic year in which the athlete learned of the injury or illness, and the new school must be within 100 miles of the immediate family member.

In all cases, the new school must provide proof the student-athlete is in good academic standing and on track to graduate.

The granting of waivers has been a hot topic throughout the college football offseason with Ohio State involved in quarterbacks both coming and going.

Justin Fields’ waiver was granted after he transferred from Georgia, and Tate Martell’s waiver was granted after he left Ohio State for Miami (Fla.).

Fields declined to go into the specifics of his case, but it was widely speculated a racially-charged incident involving a Georgia baseball player in the stands at a football game was part of his appeal.

ESPN reported in May that Martell was encouraged to find another team and Ohio State did not object to his waiver application.

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