As the oldest league in major college athletics, the Big Ten Conference sees itself as a thought leader.
In recent years, it changed the landscape when it launched the Big Ten Network and was on the forefront of large-scale conference realignment.
However, conference athletic directors believe they’re simply adjusting to the times they’re in when discussing a proposal that, if adopted, would overhaul how and when student-athletes can transfer schools.
The proposal, which Big Ten athletic directors submitted to the NCAA in October, calls for student-athletes across all sports to be allowed one transfer in their five-year eligibility window without sitting out a year-of-residence at their new school. Currently, football, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball and men’s hockey are the only NCAA sports in which student-athletes must sit out a season after transferring schools for the first time unless they receive a waiver. A player who decides to transfer a second time would need to sit out a year under the proposal.
The proposal would do away with the transfer waiver system currently in place that has been called into question because of its lack of consistency and transparency.
UW athletic director Barry Alvarez declined comment for this story, as did five other Big Ten athletic directors.
The NCAA did not address the Big Ten proposal in last year’s legislative cycle, and the NCAA Board of Directors put a moratorium on transfer-related proposals for the cycle ending this fall. The earliest the Big Ten’s proposal could become an NCAA policy would be 2021.
How long the proposal had been debated and the timeline of its crafting has not been confirmed, but the proposal became public knowledge last week in a CBS Sports report by Dennis Dodd.
“We want to force the question,” Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel told Dodd last fall. “Our take in the Big Ten — my take at Michigan — would be to vote for everybody getting a one-time transfer."
If the proposal was adopted by the NCAA, it would be another major upheaval in major college athletics in a time where long-held tenets of the institution are rapidly changing. It could also create de facto free agency in the college ranks, something that administrators and coaches have long been against. But momentum toward more player movement in college has been building.
In 2005, the graduate transfer policy allowed players who had earned their undergraduate degree to change schools without sitting out their remaining eligibility — UW used this system most famously to bring in quarterback Russell Wilson for a season that led to a Rose Bowl berth. Since 2018, the transfer portal has let players broadcast their intentions to transfer and start the recruiting process while still enrolled in schools.
A common theme presented when discussing this topic is fairness. Big Ten athletic directors want the NCAA policy on transfers to be the same across the board of all sports rather than the two-policy system currently in use. About 65 percent of the transfer waivers applied for are accepted, but because of privacy laws, the reasons for one waiver being accepted and another being denied aren’t made public.
The Badgers have experienced both sides of the transfer coin this academic year.
UW’s men’s basketball program fought for a waiver this fall to make forward Micah Potter immediately eligible after he transferred from Ohio State in early 2019. Potter’s waiver request was denied even after several appeals, and he missed the Badgers’ first 10 games of the season. Meanwhile, UW’s women’s hockey team has benefited greatly from the arrival and immediate eligibility of Daryl Watts, a forward who transferred from Boston College after winning the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award as the national player of the year two seasons ago. Watts leads the Badgers with 64 points (22 goals, 42 assists).
However, UW men's basketball coach Greg Gard believes if the proposal were to become the NCAA's policy there would be negative consequences.
"One, what’s going to happen to graduation rates, because now you don’t have the year of residency that you have to sit and make up for the credits that don’t transfer when you go from school A to school B? So graduation rates, I think, are probably going to plummet with the impact of this. Because you’re going to run out of eligibility before you hit graduation day and your completion of your degree. I think the second thing that’s not good about it is it’s going to turn it into even more of the wild, wild west, so to speak, than what it is now. Where you’re always concerned about (if) somebody recruiting one of your guys right off your own campus?" Gard said on his radio show this week.
"I understand the Big Ten is trying to be progressive, stay ahead of the game, so to speak. Specifically in our sport, I don’t know if that’s the end-all, be-all."