“Oh, The Places You Will Go!” The Transfer Portal Voyage

Updated: Jun 29

Pictured Below | Megan DeGrafft:

Recent UM Law Grad & MSLR Online Legal Comment Contributor

A Historical and Comparative Analysis Of :

The NCAA’s Ratification of Student-Athlete Transfer Regulations


Name, Image, & Likeness

You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You [are] on your own… And YOU are the one who [will] decide where you go.1 -Dr. Suess


The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) seemingly prides itself on having a deep commitment to amateurism.2 In the past, the organization steadfastly enforced its former transfer rules to employ amateurism. The transfer rule’s central objective is to maintain amateurism by focusing on academics. However, student-athletes seem to believe the former transfer rule is a hindering challenge in capturing the freedom to create their path.

Athletic enthusiasts appear to debate whether the NCAA focuses more on revenue and competition than committing to amateurism and prioritizing its student-athletes.3 Nevertheless, the money-hungry perception of the NCAA is changing due to the change in the transfer rule.

The NCAA’s new transfer rule permits student-athletes to play immediately when a transfer occurs,4 and the one-year in-residence rule no longer applies to first-time transfers.5 The absence of the in-residence hurdle for student-athletes provides less red tape and collegiate conference politics through the transfer portal.6 With the hopes of a new future, all college athletes can steer themselves in any direction they choose, absent the punishment of the one-year residence requirement.7 Most importantly, the new transfer rule is consistent with Division I’s goal of modernizing its rules to prioritize a student-athlete's opportunity and choice.8

This legal comment gives a brief analysis of the NCAA’s transfer rule, the positive aspects of the transfer rule changes, and how the rule refocuses the NCAA on its core values of academics and amateurism. In addition, it highlights concerns arising with the new transfer rule while analyzing the new name, image, and likeness (NIL) policy’s influence on the transfer portal.

I. History

In the past, the NCAA transfer rule mandated that any student-athlete transferring from a Division I institution to another must spend an academic year in residency at the new university before regaining eligibility to play.9 In order to satisfy the academic year in-state residence requirement, a student-athlete must demonstrate enrollment and completion of a minimum full-time program of studies for two full semesters or three full quarters. Alternatively, the student-athlete must demonstrate enrollment in a minimum full-time program of studies for two full semesters or three full quarters and hours certifying summer enrollment equal to the minimum load of each required term.10 Yet, the rule provided some exceptions for athletes.

The ‘One-Time Transfer Exception’ rule in permitted transfers to play immediately when transferring from one four-year university to another. Typically, this exception did not extend to student-athletes in areas of baseball, basketball, bowl subdivision football, and men’s ice hockey. However, student-athletes playing in those sports could apply for a transfer waiver.

Due to a lack of standardization, the NCAA's wavier processes were formerly inconsistent. The new rule provides more consistency and reduces the need for waivers.12 Nevertheless, permitting a waiver only avails in specific extraordinary circumstances.13 Ratified on April 28, 2021, the new rule does not completely eradicate the need for waivers. However, the new rule does include new guidelines for receiving a waiver.14 The new guidelines state:

In order to compete immediately after a second transfer, a student must meet either the current education-impacting disability guideline or an updated guideline that addresses a “real and imminent health and safety” threat.

The disability guideline requires the transferring student to provide documentation showing that the student-athlete needs support services and/or treatment that was unavailable or inadequate at the previous school but available at the school to which they are transferring.

The health and safety guideline requires schools to provide timely, objective documentation demonstrating that the transfer was due to unique, extenuating, and extraordinary circumstances outside the student’s controland caused by an imminent threat to the student’s health or safety.15

The NCAA’s attempts to create a more standardized waiver process are expected to be more stringent.16 At the same time, while increasing efforts to modernize its rules, the NCAA is trying to change the narrative of prioritizing its revenue to the detriment of student-athletes’ needs.

II. The Problems & Possibilities

OpeningAnother Door & Controlling The Future

Numerous coaches are conveying concerns about the change in the transfer rule.17 Coaches are rethinking their recruiting