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The NCAA(‘s Waivers System) Needs to be Abolished

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It’s time to stop letting the worst possible decision makers make decisions


Let’s start by undermining all the losers and haters: Justin Fields being immediately eligible to play for Ohio State University next season is absolutely the correct and ideal outcome. Players aren’t paid to play in the NCAA, despite their play directly and indirectly generating billions(?) of dollars for coaches, schools, boosters, media conglomerates, and SEC recruits. To tell players they can’t change which school currently isn’t paying them without delaying their potential playing careers by a year is absurd. Coaches can switch schools on a whim without penalty (sure sure, buyouts and such, but show me proof that coaches are “prevented” from switching schools because of a buyout or contractual provision even 5% of the time), and they get paid for the revenue they generate! Players should at least get the benefit of one of those things.

So again, to be clear, Fields getting to transfer schools and play right away is the ethically-and morally-correct move. The problem with the Fields transfer, and really any transferee this offseason who received a waiver for immediate eligibility, is that other players from other schools who decided switching schools is best for them didn’t and/or won’t get waivers for immediate eligibility. Why? Who knows.

At this point, anyone expecting the NCAA to clearly explain its decisions or seemingly apply the same standard in every situation is fooling himself or herself. This is compounded by the mealy-mouthed, subjective, ill-defined, totally-primed-for-favoritism-and-abuse standard the NCAA purportedly uses for granting the waivers:

The transfer is due to documented mitigating circumstances that are outside the student-athlete’s control and directly impact the health, safety and well-being of the student-athlete

This isn’t the only thing a player needs to prove, but the rest of the criteria seem pretty objective. Also there are other ways a player can get a waiver, but this is the “Fairness/Well-Being/Operational” waiver rule. What’s wrong with it? Well...what does “mitigating circumstances” mean? “outside the student athlete’s control”? “directly impact”? How are we determining health/safety/well-being? Is it any impact or does it have to be a certain level of impact?

In its very, very, very tepid defense, the NCAA realizes there are problems:

“The Committee for Legislative Relief is reviewing current transfer waiver guidelines to make sure they are in line with the membership’s expectations. We do believe attention on a small number of high-profile requests can skew perceptions of the scope of staff and committee review,” said Kaity McKittrick, deputy athletics director and senior woman administrator at Lafayette. “Each waiver request is reviewed individually, as they each present a unique fact pattern and almost always confidential information of the student. Our committee and the staff operate with the membership’s guidelines in mind, and are not driven by a specific approval percentage.”

1. The NCAA is aware of the perception problems. 2. It is, understandably, protecting confidentiality of its students, something I often think they don’t do well enough. (e.g., why in the WORLD are we releasing injury information beyond likelihood of playing?) 3. The NCAA’s own explanation rightly points out that they can’t have an objective standard.

There problem with the waiver system comes from the joining of two factors. First, the NCAA has to be opaque to some degree to protect the confidentiality of players, and practically, to avoid letting personal disputes, personal issues, etc... turn into blanket assessments of the transferor school. Second, the NCAA is terrible, contemporarily and historically, at both explaining its decisions and in applying similar logic to similar situations.

The result? Waivers are granted (to Fields, that guy who transferred to Miami, Shea Patterson) to some but not others (Jacob Eason, Marcus Carr, maybe Luke Ford?). What’s the difference? Who knows, because the NCAA can’t (legally) explain, can’t (competently, logically) explain, and the NCAA doesn’t even try to explain.

As I said up top, Fields getting to play immediately is the right result, but without explanation, and with the denial of a waiver to some players but not others, it looks like the NCAA is doing its oft-stereotyped “we don’t want to hurt the big name schools TOO much” thing yet again. At least we non-OSU fans can cling to the “OSU gets special treatment!” argument, but in the end, OSU fans can cry their tears about how mean we are into their brand new totally-not-Fields-jersey-but-it’s-his-number-and-an-OSU-jersey while they make yet another CCG.

In short, the problem is there’s almost no understanding of how the system works or when waivers will be granted, and such opacity is susceptible to shenanigans, perceived or otherwise. The solution to all this? Abolish the NCAA. Or at the very least, abolish the waiver system and let players transfer during the offseason and play immediately the following season.

Just for “fun,” here are the transfer stats. As you can see, we’re not talking about many players, although that’d obviously go up if the NCAA went auto-waiver grant:

NCAA Player Transfers

Sport # waiver requests 14-15 # approved 14-15 # waiver requests 18-19 # approved 18-19 Overall participation 17-18
Sport # waiver requests 14-15 # approved 14-15 # waiver requests 18-19 # approved 18-19 Overall participation 17-18
Men’s basketball 73 53 79 43 5,537
Football Bowl Subdivision 54 36 29 19 15,505
Football Championship Subdivision 6 2 15 13 13,423
All sports 246 179 226 149 181,512


What’s the solution here?

This poll is closed

  • 47%
    Abolish the NCAA
    (103 votes)
  • 20%
    Abolish the waiver system
    (45 votes)
  • 4%
    Doesn’t matter, got Fields
    (10 votes)
  • 26%
    Which one lets us complain about OSU the most?
    (58 votes)
216 votes total Vote Now