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'Great news': Michigan AD Manuel backs NCAA proposal allowing one-time transfer for athletes

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was out front last summer publicly declaring the need for a one-time transfer without penalty for football players and now it appears the NCAA is moving that direction in a move that would be all-encompassing for all sports.

The NCAA Transfer Waiver Working Group on Tuesday formally proposed a change that would allow first-time transfers to have immediate eligibility. According to the release, the group’s goal is to have the new criteria approved by the NCAA Division I Council during the April meeting for transfers in the 2020-2021 academic year.

Warde Manuel

Late last month, CBS Sports reported that the Big Ten had proposed legislation late last year supporting legislation for a one-time transfer for all student-athletes without sitting out a year in residence. The Atlantic Coast Conference released a statement on Monday indicating that at its winter meetings last week, it was “unanimously concluded … we support a one-time transfer opportunity for all student-athletes, regardless of sport.”

“That’s great news, it really is,” Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel told The Detroit News on Tuesday. “The idea is that everybody can transfer one time. The second time you transfer, there is no waiver. Everybody sits. There should be no waiver process. This gives everybody a chance to transfer once.”

Athletes who participate in football, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball and hockey, currently must sit out a season after transferring unless a waiver appeal is approved. Former Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson, for instance, transferred from Ole Miss in December 2017 and endured a grueling appeal process that required legal assistance before he was declared eligible in April 2018 for that season.

“The current system is unsustainable,” working group chair Jon Steinbrecher, commissioner of the Mid-American Conference, said in the NCAA release. “Working group members believe it’s time to bring our transfer rules more in line with today’s college landscape. This concept provides a uniform approach that is understandable, predictable and objective. Most importantly, it benefits students.”

Harbaugh, while speaking at Big Ten media days in Chicago last July, said he backed a one-time transfer without penalty.

“I am clearly advocating for rights that college football players have not had,” Harbaugh said last July. “It would be good to just have a clear, concise (rule) where everybody understands what the ramifications are. I think that would be a fair way to proceed.”

The NCAA working group concept, according to the release, would change waiver criteria to allow approvals for first-time four-year transfers in all sports to compete immediately if they:

► Receive a transfer release from their previous school.

► Leave their previous school academically eligible.

► Maintain their academic progress at the new school.

► Leave under no disciplinary suspension.

“We know that challenges will exist with this concept, particularly as it relates to other coaches potentially tampering with currently enrolled student-athletes,” Steinbrecher said. “The working group will continue to examine this, as well as any potential financial aid and academic impacts, so the Council can make a fully informed decision.”

Waiver criteria changes do not follow the regular legislative cycle but still must be approved by the full Division I Council. Steinbrecher also serves as vice chair of the Council.

As Manuel said, there would be no automatic eligibility after a second transfer, and as has been the case with other sports that have allowed immediate eligibility, a player cannot transfer during a season and immediately play for another program.

The working group agrees that a waiver process will remain in place for student-athletes who have transferred previously or otherwise do not qualify for the one-time waiver guidelines, according to the release.

Manuel said he had given the one-time transfer proposal considerable thought.

“It’s always been in the back of my mind around the fact we have a few sports that were excluded from their ability to transfer,” he said. “As I started thinking about everything we’re doing and all the questions that are arising, this one seemed like low-hanging fruit for us to just be equal.

“What would really convince me about this is when 65 percent of waivers that kids were applying for, they were receiving. That tells me our rule is bad. Let’s do away with the rule, but let’s not make it open season where kids can just go back and forth and transfer to three, four schools. Academics take precedence. If we really are talking about that, then we need to put some teeth to that and make kids focus and not play this game where they’re transferring to three, four institutions just to play sports."

Twitter: @chengelis