Clarifying waiver process for transfers

September, 17, 2010

J'mison Morgan received a waiver to play immediately at Baylor instead of sitting out the year in residence after transferring from UCLA because his grandmother and legal guardian is battling colon cancer in nearby Dallas.

The NCAA staff originally denied Jeremiah Masoli's waiver request to play at Ole Miss after the QB was dismissed from the Oregon football program but an appeals committee reversed the ruling, allowing Masoli to play while pursuing a graduate degree in Oxford that wasn't offered in Eugene.

Every year there are more cases in men's basketball and football of transfers seeking waivers to play without sitting out a year. The NCAA staff is constantly reviewing the way in which it grants waivers and is intent on scrutinizing every aspect of the request.

But what is the process to determine whether or not a transfer has to sit out a year?

Brad Hostetter, the NCAA's director of academic membership affairs, tried to clear up the confusion on this subject.

First, let's look at the example of a transfer request to be closer to a family member who is ill or has been injured. There have been a number of these cases lately; some have been approved, some have not.

Hostetter said the school and the player must include medical records if there is an illness or injury in the family and the player is seeking to play immediately.

"There likely will be statements from any of the parties that wanted to go on the record and the student-athlete can explain what the motivation is for the transfer," Hostetter said. "What we're trying to do is set up a process to gather enough information to reasonably determine what the motivation for the transfer was."

A criticism of this type of waiver goes like this: Why does a player need to play immediately if the motivation behind the transfer is to be closer to an ill relative? Former Northwestern forward Kevin Coble took a semester off to be with his mother in Phoenix during her chemotherapy treatments and then returned to playing in January. He didn't transfer to an Arizona-based school. If a family member is ill, wouldn't the player want to spend more time with him/her instead of dealing with the constant demands of being an eligible player (practice, games and travel)? Why does being closer to home because of an illness or injury have to equate to playing immediately?

"That's a fair point," Hostetter said. "And that is a point that is discussed and shared with our staff and the subcommittee that oversees this work. The one thing from our perspective is that it's not my place or our place to judge what is in the best interest for that student-athlete at that particular time given their set of circumstances. We try to evaluate what the motivation for the transfer is and allow them to state their case why playing immediately is in their best interest and in the family's best interest at that time."

So when Herb Pope asked for a waiver to play immediately upon transferring from New Mexico State to Seton Hall, he probably didn't receive the waiver since he is from Pittsburgh, which is not exactly next to South Orange, N.J.

"We do ask for information about how much they will be involved in the care if it is an injury or illness situation," Hostetter said. "We will add that to our analysis."

The NCAA has become stricter when it comes to denying waiver requests when the motivation for the transfer involves a coaching change or even infractions handed down by the NCAA. One exception is if the committee on infractions puts a team on probation that bans it from postseason play. If a player's eligibility is set to expire during that the postseason ban, then that player can transfer immediately without sitting out. There are extenuating circumstances, such as the case of Baylor during the aftermath of Patrick Dennehy's murder by teammate Carlton Dotson. The sanctions Baylor faced weren't yet known but players on that team -- John Lucas III and Lawrence Roberts -- were allowed to transfer and play immediately at Oklahoma State and Mississippi State, respectively.

In other instances, waivers are denied. Upon transferring from Indiana to Xavier, Jordan Crawford applied for a waiver because there was a coaching change and sanctions at his former school, though no postseason ban. Crawford could have stayed at Indiana and played, even though the roster had been gutted, and still attempted to get into the postseason. He had to sit out a year before playing at Xavier.

Hostetter said information in waiver requests is often private, so the NCAA can't talk about it. "If the transfer is primarily motivated by a coaching change then that will likely be denied," he said.

Another common request for waivers involves student-athletes seeking to play immediately as graduate students. The biggest mistake in characterizing the graduate school waiver is to say that it is a rule. It is not.

In 2007, according to NCAA spokesperson Stacey Osburn, the membership overwhelmingly overrode a rule change that allowed all graduate transfers to be eligible immediately if they met specific conditions. Instead, Osburn said, the membership endorsed a waiver process involving third-party scrutiny to resolve cases that are academically motivated. The graduate student waiver is for football, men's and women's basketball, baseball and men's ice hockey.

Hostetter said the subcommittee has to find out what graduate program the student-athlete is pursuing and whether the previous institution supported the transfer.

"There have been concerns raised," said Hostetter about whether the spirit of the waiver -- to be used for academic purposes -- is being honored. "Some of these concerns will bubble up through the membership and there will be a broader discussion about the waiver itself and whether the waiver is in the right place. This is a waiver, not a rule."

Hostetter said the initial work is done by a 12-member staff at the NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis. If there is an appeal then there is a subcommittee for legislative relief that includes members of the Division I management council including athletic directors, faculty representatives, associate athletic directors, commissioners and associate commissioners.

"We have seen a steady increase of grad student waivers," Hostetter said. "More of those than the one-time transfer sitting out [for illness or injury to a family member]."

Hostetter said not having support from the previous school can hurt the student-athlete's case in being granted a waiver. He also said that the waiver doesn't have bearing on financial aid. That means the student-athlete may have to apply for financial aid before knowing if he or she has received a waiver to play immediately and will be awarded a scholarship. You can't apply for financial aid retroactively once the semester begins, so if there is a question the student-athlete would be better served to get the aid before seeing if the waiver is granted.

"That doesn't come up often," Hostetter said.

He said most of the waiver requests come from June to September and are handled in a timely manner as the NCAA receives the necessary information.

• The Alabama high school association is evaluating former Kentucky guard Eric Bledsoe's high school grades. What happens next is still unknown, as the high school association may do nothing or may deem that he shouldn't have been eligible to play at Kentucky. According to Chuck Wynne, the NCAA's director of communication strategy, whenever there is new and credible information the member school is obligated to track the information down and forward it to the NCAA provided it is "salient to the record." Wynne said if a transcript is officially changed -- which is something that the Alabama high school would have to do -- then the new transcript goes to its authorized list of recipients, which would include the NCAA Eligibility Center. That's the same for new standardized test scores. Then there is a process of working toward a correct resolution, even if that means changing a decision. But Wynne said that "depends a great deal on how the new information comes to light." But nothing will happen if the transcript isn't officially changed since Bledsoe was cleared by the Eligibility Center with his old transcript. If there isn't a new transcript then there wouldn't appear to be a change in his eligibility.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer




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