The NCAA transfer frenzy has created a perception that free agency has arrived in college sports. Texas has seen several players leave and one five-star recruit, Bru McCoy, arrive through the transfer portal. More two-way action is likely.
Those in Indianapolis have taken notice.
The NCAA announced Thursday that it has begun a “holistic review” of the guidelines used when reviewing waiver requests from transfer athletes seeking immediate eligibility at another Division I school.
Everyone at Texas, including athletic director Chris Del Conte and head football coach Tom Herman, will be watching this unfold. The school is seeking a waiver to have McCoy, a December signee with USC, ruled immediately eligible after transferring to UT in January.
The Committee for Legislative Relief, acting on a suggestion from the Division I Transfer Working Group, started the review process earlier this week at the committee’s meeting at NCAA headquarters. The NCAA said the review will include feedback from Division I Council members and “other stakeholders,” and any changes would be aligned with current membership philosophies.
“We do believe attention on a small number of high-profile requests can skew perceptions of the scope of staff and committee review,” Kaity McKittrick said in a statement released by the NCAA.
McKittrick is the deputy athletic director at Louisiana-Lafayette.
“Each waiver request is reviewed individually, as they each present a unique fact pattern and almost always confidential information of the student,” McKittrick said. “Our committee and the staff operate with the membership’s guidelines in mind, and are not driven by a specific approval percentage.”
To be sure, the number of athletes applying for an immediate eligibility waiver are small. It’s just that they quickly earn high-profile status.
The NCAA released numbers that said 29 FBS athletes applied for eligibility waivers during the 2018-19 academic year. Nineteen of those were approved. There are 15,505 athletes playing FBS-level football, according to the NCAA.
In men’s basketball, 79 athletes applied for waivers. Of those, 43 were approved. There are 5,537 Division I men’s basketball athletes.
The NCAA has shifted to a player-friendly approach in recent years, even creating the transfer database, or so-called portal, to give athletes an easy way out. For decades, players would have to talk to their coach, who could then try to talk him or her out of leaving. Now, athletes can bypass the coach and go straight to the school’s compliance officer to be put into the database.
Herman’s two freshmen quarterbacks, Cameron Rising and Casey Thompson, both put their name in the database to explore other options. Rising transferred to Utah; Thompson is staying at UT.
A third Longhorns quarterback, Shane Buechele, also jumped into the transfer database, but his situation is different. Buechele will graduate from UT this spring and then transfer to SMU. Since he will have graduated, he will be instantly eligible on his own. Rising and Thompson would need waivers to be eligible immediately.
Georgia quarterback Justin Fields, a freshman backup, placed his name into the transfer database and left for Ohio State. The NCAA granted his waiver request on Feb. 9, and Fields will be eligible to play immediately for the Buckeyes.
The NCAA has indicated that athletes who provide “documented mitigation circumstances” that led to their transfer to improve their “health, safety and well-being” will be viewed favorably. McCoy signed with USC, enrolled early and attended classes and was all set to practice with the Trojans. Then on Jan. 8, newly-hired offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury left the school to become the head coach of the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals.
Two weeks later, McCoy asked to be put into the NCAA transfer database and then signed paperwork with Texas.
The Longhorns announced McCoy, the Maxwell national player of the year, as part of their 2019 signing class on Feb. 6.
“I applaud Bru and his courageousness to say, ‘Hey, this is not where my heart is, and I’m going to do something to change that,’ ” Herman said at UT’s signing day press conference.
UT officials have not commented on McCoy’s waiver, though. One UT athletic department source said the school does not want the NCAA to feel “boxed in and have to react.”
McCoy’s case will be watched nationally because of his status as a five-star recruit and for the sequence of events. He signed, enrolled, attended classes and then changed his mind after an assistant coach left. Historically, the NCAA has forced those athletes to sit out one year.
But this is a new era with the NCAA. According to the association, any new changes would take effect for the 2019-20 academic year.
For now, McCoy, a 6-3 receiver, will work out with the Longhorns this spring and prepare for the fall as if he will play.
“This is a student-athlete, their family, along with our compliance department kind of getting all of the ducks in a row as far as appeals process is concerned,” Herman said on signing day.
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.