Marshall: Controversial NCAA Rule A Good One

A new NCAA rule that allows athletes who have earned undergraduate degrees and who still have eligibility to transfer to other colleges without sitting out a year has some college coaches up in arms. A player like AU receiver Ben Obomanu from last year's team would have been able to play for another collge last fall if the new rule had been in place. Phillip Marshall weighs in on the subject.

The learned men who make decisions for the NCAA have a lot of bad ideas and pass a lot of bad rules, but I happen to think the one in the news in recent days is one of their best.

The rule, passed almost unnoticed a couple of months ago, allows an athlete who has earned his degree to transfer and be eligible immediately. The purpose is to allow athletes--gasp!--to be able to put school ahead of athletics, to go to do graduate work at the school of their choices.

Coaches, of course, have raised the alarm, saying the rule could dangerously destabilize college football. A move is afoot to change it, and that move may well be successful.

But it shouldn't be.

In the first place, it just isn't going to be much of a problem. Most athletes don't graduate before their eligibility has expired. Those who do--if they are prominent in their teams' plans--are not likely to leave teammates and coaches with whom they have developed strong bonds over four years.

Most transfers will be by players who don't figure strongly into their teams' plans or players who are unhappy for other reasons. A prominent player leaving just because another team might have a better chance at winning a championship just isn't going to happen often, if at all.

But if, say, an offensive lineman who knows he isn't going to get much playing time wants to transfer to a school where he can be a starter, who could blame him?

It's the first scholarship rule I know of that actually favors athletes over the schools they choose. It is blatantly unfair that scholarships are one-year agreements. If a player who is an undergraduate decides on his own to leave a program, he must sit out a year. That can be very disruptive. Yet, the school faces no penalty if it takes away his scholarship. And dozens of players lose their scholarships every year, particularly in football and basketball.

I have often wondered why some player doesn't take that to court. The player, for all practical purposes, is committed for four years. The school is committed for one. That doesn't seem fair to me.

The latest rule, though, is imminently fair to athletes. And that really is who all this should be about.

Lest anyone think I've become an NCAA apologist, there are plenty of NCAA decisions, rules and regulations that I find ill-advised at best and absurd at worst. Among them:

*The outlawing of athletic dormitories. Coaches are expected to make sure players stay out of trouble and make sure they do their schoolwork. That's not so easy when they are scattered all over the place. Some players who ran afoul of the law and saw promising careers destroyed might have been saved had they lived in athletic dorms where their activities could be more closely monitored. One of the great myths ever was that athletic dormitories--confined mostly to the South--were some kind of extra benefit. For the most part, players couldn't move out fast enough once their eligibility was used up.

*Limits on training table meals. This is one of the worst. Athletes are limited to one training table meal per day, and that only during their seasons. Considering what is asked of them, the rule should be the opposite. The NCAA ought to require that athletes be fed well year-around.

*Rules that require athletes to have attained certain percentages of the hours needed in their major at certain times. The actual result of that rule is that an athlete who decides--like thousands of other college students--that he wants to change his major might risk his eligibility by doing so, even if he is an outstanding student.

*Rules that don't allow football coaches to be on the field with players, even in small groups, during the offseason. It is allowed in basketball and baseball. Why not football?

*The hardship redshirt rule. A football player can get a hardship redshirt if he plays early in the season and is then injured after playing three or fewer games. That's why a whole lot of freshmen who play early and don't get into the regular rotation end up getting "hurt." Why not just say a player can be redshirted if he doesn't play beyond the third game? Better yet, listen to what the football coaches have been saying for years, and just give them all five years of eligibility. Few players headed for the NFL will hang around for a fifth year. More of the players who stay will earn their degrees, some of whom might not do it otherwise.

Until next time...

Inside The AU Tigers Top Stories