The NCAA shook up the sleepy college football offseason Wednesday by announcing two groundbreaking rule changes that will have major and immediate ramifications.
Starting this season, Division I football players can now participate in up to four games in a season without losing a year of eligibility, and all college athletes will no longer need permission from their coach or school to transfer and receive financial aid from another school, the NCAA Division I Council announced.
Division I student-athletes have five years to compete in up to four seasons of competition. Currently, a freshman football player loses his redshirt as soon as he steps on the playing field. But the new exception allows players to preserve a season of competition if, for example, injuries or other factors result in them competing in a small number of games.
Nebraska football coach Scott Frost expressed support for the rule in a recent interview with the Journal Star.
"I like that one," he said. "I think that helps your roster size. Let's say, at the end of the year, you have two running backs hurt and you have to make a decision whether to take a redshirt off a kid or not — especially if you're playing meaningful games at the end of a season."
In that circumstance, the true freshman running back would not be penalized for making a move for the good of his team.
What's more, "I think it would help the development of young kids," Frost said. "I think kids would get an opportunity to taste what competition's going to be like, even if it's just for one-third of the season. I think it's fair. I think it could be good for everybody."
Nebraska Athletic Director Bill Moos said Wednesday he thinks the rule benefits student-athletes. He likes the leeway it could give coaches who are trying to determine whether certain freshmen are ready to play immediately.
"Maybe a coach thinks a player is ready, and then that player gets into a game or maybe two and it's clear he just isn't ready," Moos said. "Well, now, you don't have to scrap that whole year."
What's more, "I think it keeps redshirts more focused on being a part of the team with a chance that they may come off of the redshirt and play in games," he said.
Meanwhile, the NCAA also announced the new transfer rule that gives Division I student-athletes more freedom in the process of switching institutions. Beginning Oct. 15, student-athletes will have the ability to transfer to a different school and receive a scholarship without the risk of being blocked by the school from which he or she is transferring.
According to an NCAA news release, the Division I Council adopted a proposal this week that creates a new “notification-of-transfer” model. This new system allows a student-athlete to inform his or her current school of a desire to transfer, then requires that school to enter the student’s name into an NCAA-managed national transfer database within two business days. Once the student-athlete’s name is in the database, other coaches are free to contact that individual.
The previous transfer rule, which required student-athletes to get permission from their current school before contacting another school, was intended to discourage coaches from recruiting student-athletes from other Division I schools. The rule change also should effectively end the controversial practice of blocking students from having contact with specific schools.
Even with the new rule, conferences could still enact rules that would effectively restrict athletes from transferring within the league.
The NCAA transfer working group, led by South Dakota State Athletic Director Justin Sell, has been working on reform since last year. The group quickly found support for switching from a permission model to notification, while also codifying rules against impermissible recruiting of athletes under scholarship. A proposal was originally presented to the D-I Council in April, but was tabled to allow conferences to provide feedback from spring meetings.
The NCAA had made several attempts in recent years to change transfer rules, but this is the first time it's come up with something substantive — if not comprehensive.
Much of the talk about transfers has focused on the so-called year-in-residence, the one year a player in the most high-profile sports such as football and basketball must sit out after switching schools.
There was discussion about easing that restriction, which doesn't exist in most NCAA sports. Golfers, tennis players and other athletes in traditionally nonrevenue sports can transfer one time without sitting out. There was never serious consideration to lifting the year-in-residence altogether, but tying unrestricted transfer to an athlete's grade-point average was considered. That idea has fallen off the table amid concerns about creating an inequitable system that could face legal challenges.
The NCAA said legislation that governs when a Power Five school can reduce or cancel financial aid for an athlete may be looked at next week. Currently, a student's notification of intent to transfer at the end of a term is not a listed reason a school can use to cancel aid. The so-called autonomy conferences will consider two different proposals to allow schools to cancel the aid.
The transfer working group initially was looking at uniform rules across all sports. Now that will be re-examined in the fall.