LARAMIE — The one-time transfer rule that figures to heavily impact the University of Wyoming and all other Division I athletic programs is nearly official.
The NCAA Division I Council on Thursday adopted new legislation that will allow student-athletes in all sports to transfer and be immediately eligible at another school once during their collegiate career. The legislation must now be ratified by the Division I Board of Directors, which has its next meeting April 28, though that’s likely a formality at this point.
The legislation, which was initially proposed by the council last year, expands the one-time transfer exception to include football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, baseball and men’s ice hockey, sports which currently require athletes transferring from one Division I school to another to sit out a year unless they’re granted a waiver. The one-time exception already exists for other sports.
“This proposal creates a uniform, equitable approach for all student-athletes no matter the sport they play,” Division I Council Vice Chair Jon Steinbrecher said in a news release. “The decision is consistent with Division I’s goal of modernizing its rules to prioritize student-athlete opportunity and choice.”
Should the board ratify the new legislation as expected, athletes in all sports transferring for the first time would be eligible at their new school beginning this fall. In anticipation of the change, the activity in the NCAA transfer portal, which has been around since 2018, has reached a fever pitch. In men’s basketball alone, 1,386 scholarship players were in the portal as of Friday afternoon, according to verbalcommits.com, which tracks those transfers.
Like nearly every other Division I school, UW’s football and men’s basketball programs have been affected. Both have multiple players that are either currently in the portal or have already completed their transfers (athletes in the portal have the option of returning to their current school if mutually agreed upon).
But Thursday’s development was hardly a surprise to UW football coach Craig Bohl. A member of Division I’s football competition committee, Bohl said back in December that “all indications” were the one-time transfer proposal for all sports would be adopted.
Bohl voiced some apprehension about the change then but said his program would change with the times. Asked this week about the council’s official adoption of the rule, Bohl’s tune didn’t change much.
“The NCAA has made that decision. We’ll roll with it,” Bohl said. “I don’t think it’s necessarily a great decision, but those are the rules. And we will adapt here at Wyoming.”
To this point, the impact on Bohl’s program has been minimal. The Cowboys have had five players transfer since last season, and two of them were walk-ons. One of the scholarship players, freshman defensive end Cameron Smith, left the team once he was suspended after being suspected of domestic assault.
Now more than ever, Bohl also knows that could change at any moment.
“As a program, we’ve not had a lot of guys place their name in the transfer portal,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we won’t have some guys in the future, but we had a long staff meeting (Thursday) to address what our long-term strategy is going to be.”
It’s been a different story for the men’s basketball program.
Forward Drew Lamont (who left the program after just five games) and sophomore guard Kwane Marble II (who’s off to Loyola Marymount) were the first two scholarship players to put their names in the portal. Then the biggest one of all, Marcus Williams, popped early this week.
The freshman point guard started 24 of 25 games for first-year coach Jeff Linder this season, serving as the catalyst for the Mountain West’s highest-scoring offense. He led the Cowboys in scoring and finished second on the team in assists on his way to being selected as the league’s unanimous rookie of the year.
Williams entered the transfer portal Tuesday night, and a message posted to his social media accounts — one in which he thanked his former teammates and coaches as well as UW fans for their support — suggested a return to UW likely isn’t in the cards. That leaves the Cowboys in need of a replacement at the point, which Linder could go searching for in the portal given UW has two more scholarships available for the 2021-22 season.
Linder has said he’s not big on trying to build a program with a bunch of Division I transfers, and Bohl said he’s not actively searching the portal for scholarship players to add to next season’s roster. But both have also benefited from a transfer here and there.
For next season, men’s basketball has added Utah transfer wing Brendan Wenzel, whom Linder previously recruited when he was the head coach at Northern Colorado. Football has landed Louisville transfer Trey Smith and Cornell transfer Nick Null in recent years, though both of them were graduate transfers who would’ve been immediately eligible anyway.
Smith, who has used the NCAA’s eligibility relief amid the coronavirus pandemic to return for a third season with the Cowboys, is one of UW’s top running backs while Null, UW’s primary punter last season, has since transferred again. The Cowboys have added another transfer for the 2021 season in walk-on quarterback Jayden Clemons, who spent the last two seasons at Utah.
“The transfers go both ways,” Bohl said. “There’s always going to be some type of movement.”
But for Group of Five football schools and mid-major basketball programs like UW, the unintended consequences of the one-time transfer rule could end up hurting more than helping, particularly with young players like Williams who burst onto the scene early in their careers being more inclined to immediately look for an opportunity to prove themselves a higher level without having to sit for a year. Suddenly, major-conference programs that either weren’t interested in or missed out on those players during their initial recruitment get to start over with the allure, in some cases, of better facilities and more national exposure.
The rule has been likened to free agency at the collegiate level. But rather than focusing on the potential negatives it might create for Group of Five schools, Bohl said his approach with current and prospective players will be to emphasize the positives of playing — and sticking — at a program like UW, which Bohl noted had more players on active NFL rosters last season (14) than any other Mountain West school.
Then it’s hope for the best.
“Whether some guys are being looked at by other schools, we can’t control that,” Bohl said. “Our whole deal is we’re going to be as open, honest and transparent on what kind of guy we want at the University of Wyoming. Have a program that can develop them where you can get a meaningful degree, have a chance to play on some really great teams and then hopefully some of them play in the NFL. We’re going to let the chips fall where they may.”
For any athletes that are still considering whether or not to transfer, the council has set a deadline of July 1 for this year only if they want to be immediately eligible. After this year, the deadline to provide written notice of transfer will be May 1 for athletes in fall and winter sports and July 1 for athletes in spring sports.
Recruiting back to normal
The Division I Council has also approved the return of the normal recruiting calendar in all sports beginning June 1, ending a stretch of more than a year during which schools haven’t been able to take part in any in-person recruiting activities.
When the pandemic began last March, the NCAA instituted a “dead period,” which restricted coaches and prospective student-athletes to virtual contact, and extended it through May 31 of this year. The regular recruiting calendar will return at the beginning of June with a “quiet period,” which allows coaches to have in-person contact with recruits and their parents on campus only.
The council also approved some changes for prospective football student-athletes whose recruitment was affected by the pandemic, including a waiver allowing in-person evaluations during authorized on-campus camps and clinics in June and July and an increase in the number of evaluation days from 42 to 56 for the fall 2021 evaluation period only.