Coaches believe FBS level would benefit greatly by additional "free agency"
"Greetings from the farm system."
Montana football coach Bobby Hauck reluctantly uttered those words on Tuesday, one day before a proposed one-time transfer exception was expected to be introduced into the NCAA's 2020–21 legislative cycle during a Division I Council meeting, according to SI.com. The proposal affords football players in good academic standing a one-time transfer without sitting out a season and could be voted on at the NCAA Convention in January with an effective date of Aug. 1, 2021.
FBS programs shouldn't expect a postcard from Hauck with his words plastered across the front.
There's widespread concern on the FCS level that a one-time transfer rule would lead to underclassmen commonly jumping to FBS programs, much like the spike in recent years of FCS players making graduate transfers to FBS programs for their final season of eligibility. Many FCS coaches believe the graduate transfer rule is a form of free agency that allows FBS programs to benefit from the player development made on the lower half of Division I.
What's the next step beyond free agency? Chaos?
"I think (a one-time transfer rule is) going to make you, in any level, have to make you re-recruit your team," Jacksonville State head coach John Grass said. "You're not going to recruit just the guys coming out of high school, you have to re-recruit your team year-round basically. I'm not really for it, I'm just totally against."
Hauck has seen this transfer scenario before. He was coaching in the Big Sky Conference in 1994 as an assistant at Northern Arizona when the NCAA voted in a one-time transfer exception from Division I-AA (now called FCS) to I-A (now FBS) and Weber State lost quarterback Brad Otton after his freshman season in a move to USC. Otton mostly backed up Rob Johnson that year and went on to be a two-year starter and have a successful career with the Trojans. He was grandfathered into the rule, though, when the NCAA eliminated it after one season and reverted back to the old standard that had existed since the 1960s, and still stands today.
Towson head coach Rob Ambrose said he supports any measure that benefits student-athletes and football, but in calling the proposal a potential "game-changer," he added, "I just hope we deeply evaluate all aspects and any possible consequences. It is our responsibility to protect these young men and the game they love."
Added Grass, "Every FBS team in the country has an FCS (personnel) board – they recruit our kids already (as grad transfers), so it's going to hard enough to deal with when it's a one-time transfer. It's going to become a problem for them as well. I think player-wise, there may be some benefits, so I see rational, but I see a lot of negative that it does to the game."
Over time, the NCAA has allowed for immediate-eligibility waivers to student-athletes due to extraordinary circumstances. In addition to football, the new proposal covers a one-time transfer exception in baseball, basketball and men's ice hockey. Transfers in other sports are immediately eligible at their new school.
The COVID-19 pandemic has split the FCS season over fall and spring semesters, but the proposal prohibits players from competing at two different schools in the same academic year.
— Written by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for www.fcs.football. He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.
(Photo courtesy of Austin Peay Athletics)