The NCAA has started an all-encompassing review of the guidelines it uses when granting immediate eligibility to athletes who transfer from one school to another before finishing their degree.
The organization's Committee for Legislative Relief started its review earlier this week during a meeting in Indianapolis and plans to solicit feedback from a variety of stakeholders before deciding if it needs to change any of its criteria for granting waivers to play right away. Several high-profile cases -- such as Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields and Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson -- since the NCAA established new rules last April have made the transfer waivers one of the most discussed and debated topics of college football's offseason.
"We do believe attention on a small number of high-profile requests can skew perceptions of the scope of staff and committee review," said Kaity McKittrick, chair of the legislative relief committee. "Each waiver request is reviewed individually, as they each present a unique fact pattern and almost always confidential information about the student."
Several prominent coaches have criticized the new rules in the past months, saying the bar to play right away has been set too low and encourages a version of "free agency" among college athletes. Stanford's David Shaw told ESPN it has become too difficult for coaches to try to manage rosters and that."
Players say the new rules provide them a better chance to make the most of their college playing years and puts them on equal footing with coaches, who face no penalty when they jump from one job to another.
"I just think going to college you never know what happens," said Fields, who was granted a waiver to play at Ohio State in 2019 after spending his freshman season at Georgia. "So having that option kind of helps players choose what's best for their future and get where they want to be."
Prior to last year's rule change, players that wanted to skip the traditional one-year waiting period that comes with a transfer had to demonstrate extraordinary circumstances or hardship. New rules state that the player must be in good academic standing, have no objections from the school they are leaving and show they are leaving "due to documented mitigating circumstances that are outside the student-athlete's control and directly impact the health, safety and well-being of the student-athlete."
The NCAA says 29 FBS football players have asked for immediate eligibility since the start of the 2018-19 academic year and 19 of them (65.5 percent) have been granted their request. Members of the Division I Football Oversight Committee decided they were in favor of allowing immediately eligibility in cases with extraordinary circumstances, but do not believe that the majority of players who apply should be granted waivers. McKittrick said the committee that makes those decisions doesn't have a specific approval percentage in mind when weighing the merit of each case.
Thomas Mars, an Arkansas-based attorney who helped Field and Patterson among several others in their quest for immediate eligibility, said he thinks the NCAA doesn't get the credit it deserves for handling these cases well. Mars said the public makes uninformed assumptions about why some of the players he has helped are granted immediately eligibility and describes the backlash against those decisions as "misguided mass hysteria."
"If people think the percentage of waivers granted is too high, the number of waivers that have been granted might just be a reflection of how the football coaching staffs are treating their players," he said. "It doesn't necessarily mean the NCAA is being too lenient."
The committee reviewing the rules hopes to be able to give the NCAA's rule-making body final recommendations about the future of transfer waivers before the start of the 2019-2020 academic year.