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Basketball and football players will soon be free to transfer and play immediately.

The NCAA’s Division I Council has approved immediate eligibility for all college athletes who transfer. As soon as the upcoming school year, basketball and football players do not have to sit out a season after their first transfer.

The rule isn’t official until April 28 when it’s voted on by the Division I Board of Directors. That vote is expected to make the rule official. 

“Allowing student-athletes a one-time opportunity to transfer and compete immediately provides a uniform, equitable and understandable approach that benefits all student-athletes,” council vice chair and MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said in an NCAA statement. “The decision is consistent with Division I’s goal of modernizing its rules to prioritize student-athlete opportunity and choice.”

The rule has been in the works for a while; it’s not a surprise that it’s been approved. And many players and schools have been operating under the assumption that it would be official sooner rather than later. Over 1,000 men’s basketball players have announced their intentions to transfer already this offseason and schools have been recruiting those players with the belief that they would be able to play in 2021-22.

It’s also important to remember that men’s and women’s basketball, men’s hockey, baseball and football were the only Division I sports that had required transferring athletes to sit out for a season. Every other sport allowed players to switch schools without having to miss a season.

Under the new rule, basketball, football and hockey players who want to transfer and play the following season at their new schools need to announce their intentions by May 1. Baseball players have until July 1 to put their names in the transfer portal.

Will more players transfer?

It’s fair to wonder if more football and basketball players will transfer now that they don’t have to sit out a season. And while there’s likely to be an increase, it’s easy to see why that will be a slight one and not a spike. 

The increase in transfers this offseason can be traced back to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on college sports. Players went through a lot over the last 12 months. And the NCAA gave all athletes an extra year of eligibility if they want to use it. That extra year of eligibility coupled with no increase in scholarship limits was bound to lead to a lot of player movement. 

Players have also been able to obtain waivers to play immediately with increasing frequency. The NCAA has not taken as hard of a line on transfer waivers in recent years and numerous players — most notably quarterbacks — have been able to play right away thanks to effectively pleading their cases to the NCAA.

NIL is next

The official loosening of the transfer restrictions sets the NCAA up for another big move. The governing body has signaled its intention to allow athletes to make money from sponsorships and endorsements. But the pace of those reforms, much like the transfer deliberations, are not moving quickly.

The NCAA would like a federal framework for its name, image and likeness changes. Federal guidelines would supersede differing state laws across the country paving the way for players to make endorsement money. 

The structure of that framework is currently unclear, however. The NCAA hasn’t offered many details and there’s no imminent legislation pending. 

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