Proposal to allow immediate eligibility to first-time transfers was the right move from the B1G
Justin Fields and Luke Ford both attended Georgia in 2018 before deciding to move on after just one season in Athens. The former teammates both pursued opportunities to continue their football careers in the B1G.
Fields committed to Ohio State, moving further away from his hometown of Kennesaw, Georgia, after working in a backup role behind Jake Fromm at Georgia. Ford was poised to be a starting tight end for the Bulldogs in 2019 before opting to leave UGA for Illinois, moving closer to home to be near family members with medical concerns.
Both players used attorney Tom Mars to represent them as they petitioned the NCAA for immediate eligibility waivers for the 2019 season.
Fields received the nod from the organization, and went on to help Ohio State complete a 13-1 season that resulted in the program’s third-straight B1G title and a College Football Playoff appearance. He was one of four players to be named a Heisman Trophy finalist.
Ford didn’t get approval to play immediately and was forced to watch from the sideline as Illinois earned its first bowl berth since the 2014 season. The Illini finished 6-7.
Examples of absurd and seemingly arbitrary decision-making had head coaches clamoring for transparency from the NCAA during B1G Media Days in July 2019. And, thanks to the B1G, transparency may be finally coming to college football — and other major sports.
Late last week, Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports reported that the B1G had quietly proposed the idea that would allow student-athletes across all sports a one-time pass for transferring without consequence of missing a season. All athletes, in any sport, would be immediately eligible for the following sports season if they are transferring for the first time.
Currently, football, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball and hockey are the five sports where student-athletes must sit out one season for transferring, unless granted special permission from the NCAA. All others, immediate eligibility is permitted.
Regardless of what you think about the B1G’s proposal — perhaps you think sitting out one season is the better route — there’s no question that uniformity across the sport is a step in the right direction. All student-athletes in a sport should be treated equally, without the NCAA intervening and determining what constitutes a permissible transfer and what doesn’t. Over the last handful of years, it’s been quite clear the organization doesn’t really understand its own rules, anyway.
As the transfer portal continues to gain popularity as time goes on, the current process will only receive more harsh criticism. The voices calling for reform will only get louder.
This was an easy move from the B1G. With enough coaches, players, fans and media bickering about the lack of transparency, there would eventually come a time when the NCAA, and the conferences associated with it, would need to address the situation.
The head-scratching decision to allow Fields to play while banishing Ford to the sidelines with little-to-no explanation about the difference between the two was enough to realize the system was flawed. And now, the B1G is putting a proposal in motion to fix a portion of what’s broken with the NCAA.
Not only would this proposal put everyone on a level playing field, it also cuts back on the vulnerability of student-athletes. After all, these are kids ranging in age from 18 to 22, primarily.
Call me “soft” if you’d like, but I don’t see why it’s necessary for a student-athlete to explain his decision to transfer, and leave his situation in the hands of an organization that often fails to make common-sense decisions.
It shouldn’t matter if an individual is transferring because of an ailing family member, a mental health issue or another serious matter. The NCAA doesn’t need to know if a player is leaving because of a spat with a teammate, a disagreement over playing time or an issue with a coach.
Maybe the student-athlete just made the wrong decision when he signed the National Letter of Intent.
Whatever the reason, it shouldn’t be the NCAA’s place to determine what circumstances warrants a waiver for immediate eligibility and what forces a player to spend a season on the sidelines. We don’t need more examples of the Fields vs. Ford situation in college athletics.
Proposing a rule change that creates equality for all schools and all players across all sports is an important step. Kudos to the B1G for being the first to take it.