Former Georgia quarterback is working out with Buckeyes and attending school while also appealing to be eligible immediately this fall.

NCAA’s transfer protocol mightn’t be a stairway to heaven

The NCAA transfer protocol is new to everyone. It’s so new that, as was mentioned in this space over the weekend, the NCAA itself is wondering if it made the waiver process for immediate eligibility too player-friendly.

For those among us who don’t spend our days/nights studying the latest version of the ever-changing NCAA rule book, the whole thing can seem dizzying, so here we offer up heartfelt thanks to Andy Staples of His latest post expertly outlines potential complications for transferring players and helps simplify things for those on the periphery. 

It’s tempting to present a bullet-point breakdown of Staples’ story, but you really need to click the link and read his findings in their fullness. I will, however, share the most provocative bit: “Once a player enters the portal,” Staples writes, “the player’s current school is under no obligation to keep that player on scholarship.” 

Meaning: Even if a player decides he wants to stay — or can’t find a school of his liking that’s willing to take him — his old spot mightn’t be waiting for him. The transfer protocol was established to give players more freedom, but freedom could come at a cost. As Staples illustrates, the protocol has already become a way for coaches to practice roster management. Believe it or not, that roster management could be more severe than was allowed under the former rules. 

Tom Crean, Georgia’s frazzled basketball coach, recently said after a loss to Ole Miss — the Bulldogs have since lost twice more to slip to 1-11 in SEC play — that he was “the one who decided to keep these guys,” meaning those players left on campus after Mark Fox was fired. Crean has apologized for appearing to suggest that he should have run off some of those players, but as Chip Towers of DawgNation notes: “The reality is a coach cannot revoke a student-athlete’s scholarship who is otherwise living up to all other conditions of his grant-in-aid agreement with the institution.” 

A coach doesn’t have to keep deploying every player on scholarship; that coach cannot, however, boot the player out of school. A player who enters in the transfer protocol faces no such protection. It’s like that business rule of thumb: If you tell your employer you’re looking at other jobs, you’d darn well better find one. 

In our missive regarding transfers, we mentioned the NCAA is sifting through the unintended consequences of its actions. (Almost everything the NCAA does spawns unintended consequences.) The transfer protocol worked for Justin Fields, the ballyhooed Georgia signee already cleared to play for Ohio State next season. It mightn’t work so well for a fourth-string linebacker who discovers that every place he’d like to go has 85 players on scholarship. 

We say again: This is all new, and the NCAA is essentially doing beta testing. Trouble is, those people who enter their names into the transfer protocol aren’t snippets of code. They’re real people, and sometimes in the real world real people don’t get exactly what they want.

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About the Author

Mark Bradley
Mark Bradley
Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has been with the AJC since 1984.