In college sports, the age of unfettered free agency is officially here

Eric Prisbellby:Eric Prisbell04/17/24


Spring Transfer Portal Update: Wednesday, April 17, 2024

After years of industry contention surrounding the issue of transfers, we’ve officially entered the age of unfettered free agency.

The NCAA Division I Council adopted emergency legislation to remove the year-in residency requirement for multiple transfers and instead base their eligibility to compete on academic standards.

In other words, all undergraduate college athletes can transfer multiple times and be permitted to play immediately – without having to sit out a year – provided they meet specific academic benchmarks.

The expedited process played out against the backdrop of scores of football and basketball players entering the transfer portal by the day. The approved legislation creates more attractive transfer options for athletes and promises to further level the competitive playing fields, as athletes perpetually relocate in search of more playing time and more lucrative NIL packages.

It also is sure to create more disruption and opportunity for coaches, both those who now have a realistic quick-fix formula and those who will struggle to maintain any semblance of program continuity because of the constant revolving door.

Previous NCAA rules permitted athletes to play immediately – without sitting out a year – after transferring one time. Absent a waiver, athletes still needed to sit out a year after transferring multiple times.

The subjectivity of waivers for multi-time transfers in recent years sparked several high-profile public relations battles between schools and the NCAA, most notably involving North Carolina football player Tez Walker

Legislation follows consequential lawsuit against NCAA

Pushback on the NCAA’s multi-time transfer rule became significantly more pronounced in December.

That’s when attorneys general from seven states – Ohio, Colorado, Illinois, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia – filed a lawsuit against the NCAA, challenging the association’s limits on athletes transferring multiple times. The complaint was led by Ohio AG Dave Yost.

The complaint alleged the restrictions violate federal antitrust law by serving as an illegal restraint on college athletes’ ability to market their labor and control their education. 

U.S. District Judge John Preston Bailey in West Virginia in December granted a temporary restraining order, which afforded immediate eligibility to college athletes not able to compete because of the multi-time transfer year-in-residency requirement. 

Then came an important preliminary injunction agreement between the plaintiffs and the NCAA, which granted immediate eligibility to multi-time transfers through the fall.

The U.S. Department of Justice and attorneys general from more states – Minnesota, Mississippi, Virginia and the District of Columbia – also joined the lawsuit. 

The NCAA has said in court documents that the AGs “seek to remake collegiate athletics and replace it with a system of perpetual and unchecked free agency.”

That era of free agency has now arrived.