NCAA’s 2 new rules break down barriers for student-athletes

Those competing in high-profile sports will have the power to transfer immediately; standardized tests won't be obstacle for many in Div. I and II the next two years.

Two major developments in college athletics within the past 24 hours could have a major impact on student-athletes’ eligibility and mobility for the foreseeable future.

The most significant news is that NCAA athletes in high-profile sports such as football, basketball, baseball and hockey, will be allowed to exercise a one-time immediate transfer to another institution that will take effect for the 2021-22 season.

“Allowing student-athletes a one-time opportunity to transfer and compete immediately provides a uniform, equitable and understandable approach that benefits all student-athletes,” said Jon Steinbrecher, commissioner of the Mid-American Conference. “The decision is consistent with Division I’s goal of modernizing its rules to prioritize student-athlete opportunity and choice.”

Previously, athletes who made the bold decision to shift schools, had to sit out a year before being eligible to play. Few chose the path because of the ramifications of sitting out. The new rule, however, opens the door for a wave of players to leave their colleges and join others, with some coaches fearing the potential for free agency that exists in pro sports.

“There’s nothing wrong with the old rule, but everybody was in a big hurry to change it, and this is what we have,” Iowa basketball coach Fran McCaffery said at a press briefing. “So, again, rules change, laws change, we adjust. So, it’s gonna be a different look for pretty much everybody.”

The other groundbreaking decision by the NCAA – which has received far less fanfare – is that in the short term, new, first-time Division I and II student-athletes will not have to submit standardized test scores to be eligible to play in the 2021-22 or 2022-23 academic years, provided they meet certain criteria.

“Many testing centers around the world remain closed or with limited capacities, and this makes it hard for some prospective student-athletes to take a standardized test,” NCAA Eligibility Center Vice President Felicia Martin said. “Our members decided that extending the 2021-22 COVID-19 initial-eligibility policies was most fair for current high school juniors who will initially enroll in college during the 2022-23 academic year.”

There are stipulations that they must meet in order to have those test scores waived:

  • For Division I athletes enrolling this year and in 2022-23, they must have a 2.3 GPA in 16 core high school courses that are approved by the NCAA. Ten of those must be completed before they are seniors.
  • For Division II athletes enrolling this academic year and next, they must have a 2.2 GPA in those courses.
  • The same rules apply for international student-athletes at each level.

The NCAA said it has formed a task force to look at the future of test score inclusion in eligibility that will “consider a number of factors, including the equity and accessibility impact, the movement among some in higher education toward test-optional admission policies and an evaluation of the effectiveness of standardized tests as a predictor of academic success,” Martin said.

More than of 40% of NCAA Division I member institutions have either test-optional or no-test policies, while a little more than a third require them.

As for student-transfers, although some coaches and conference commissioners expressed frustration over the transfer rule change, others have pointed to the imbalance that already exists from sport to sport – for example while football players must sit out a year, athletes in softball, volleyball, swimming and other sports don’t have to. They can transfer immediately, but only do it one time over their collegiate career.

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Athletes in all sports will need to decide by July 1 if they want to transfer. Moving forward fall dates will be pushed to May 1, while winter and spring athletes will need to decide by July.

Another report from The Athletic noted that recruiting of student-athletes will return to normal at the beginning of June. Because of the pandemic, the NCAA instituted and extended a dead period from last March where coaches and recruiters were barred from meeting face to face with prospective athletes for safety reasons.

Though student-athletes don’t currently have much flexibility in transferring out, they have had the advantage of entering their names in a transfer portal so other coaches can see that they were available. Students ultimately have the decision on whether to stay or leave their institution, but it did put them in a precarious position, as college programs have the power to waive their scholarships if they do.

Several high-profile athletes in recent days have entered the portal … so it will be interesting to see how many more sign on over the coming days.

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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