Graduate Transfer Rule Or NCAA Farm System?

​Notre Dame’s Everett Golson and little known Eastern Washington all-star quarterback Vernon Adams, Jr. have something in common. They are both taking advantage of the big stage and the NCAA graduate transfer rule.  

Typically, a player that transfers from one school to another has to sit out a year before he can play. UC’s own Ben Mauk, Brandon Underwood, Demetrius Jones, Vidal Hazelton, Jordan Luallen, Mekale McKay, Jeff Luc, Gunner Kiel, and new Vanderbilt receiver transfer Jordan Cunningham all faced this penalty. Indeed, the rule is meant to disincentive treating college like a free market where players can change schools and pick and choose at their whim. This is one of the few things distinguishing college sports from the NFL’s, MLB’s, and NBA’s of the world. Sure, if a player wanted to leave after having a rough go of it, he could, but he would have to think long and hard and face the consequences of sitting out a full year.
Behold the graduate transfer rule: a player does not have to sit out a year if he has earned a degree. Under the rule:

• The student-athlete must have graduated with at least a bachelor’s degree;

• The student-athlete meets the other requirements of the one-time transfer exception; 

• The student-athlete must have at least one season of competition left; and

• The student-athlete’s previous school cannot renew his athletic scholarship or offer an athletic scholarship for the following academic year.

The requirement that the scholarship be cancelled or not renewed is generally not an issue. The scholarship does not need to be cancelled before the transfer or be the reason for the transfer. Because the one-time transfer exception requires you to get a release, what will happen with your scholarship is generally just an administrative detail.

The rule was implemented to allow players, who can have five years of athletic eligibility, to start working on a graduate level degree at the same school. Instead this year Golson will be on center stage at Florida State and Adams will go to Oregon. Golson was likely not going to start this year at Notre Dame, which would inhibit his draft stock and shot at the NFL pay day. Likewise, Adams, whom I had never heard of before, was at Eastern Washington where games are not exactly primetime ESPN material and NFL scouts do not tend to frequent. This makes sense, right? The rich get richer, and the talented players get an arguably better chance to get into the NFL. 

These two players are just the latest quarterbacks to leave their schools high and dry for a chance to further their NFL dreams. Virginia Tech brought in Michael Brewer. Boston College brought in Tyler Murphy. Even Alabama grabbed Jacob Coker from Florida State. Probably the most significant catch was Russell Wilson when he left NC State for Wisconsin and led the Badgers to a Rose Bowl in just one year. Even UC’s former do-everything halfback Ralph David Abernathy, IV left the Bearcats this year to join his brother at Tennessee next season after earning a bachelor’s degree in finance.

This trend will certainly continue, and it makes sense from the perspective of the players. The players get a fresh start, a new stage, and a new opportunity to prove their value. But is it good for college athletics? Sure, the players are in fact earning a degree, which is a great thing, but does this hurt the image of the NCAA? Is the player’s initial commitment to a school completed upon earning a bachelor’s degree? Are these transfers really earning a graduate degree? Does it hurt the image of the sport as a whole? You be the judge.

By Andy Smith