Student-Athlete Transfer Disputes

Any sports fan knows that players frequently change teams via drafts, trades, and free agency. While changing teams is relatively straightforward for professional athletes, the process can be quite complicated for student-athletes.

Student-athletes must transfer schools to be eligible to play for a new team. They may transfer due to factors like seeking a new coach, more playing time, or a simple change of scenery. About 13% of Division I student-athletes eventually changing schools.

For student-athletes, switching teams isn't as simple as putting on a new jersey or learning a new playbook. Many student-athletes face barriers from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which has strict rules regulating transfer opportunities. They also must get approval from their school and ensure that they meet academic standards before transferring.

You don't have to be intimidated if you are involved in a student-athlete transfer dispute. An attorney can support your transfer and work with the parties involved to reach a resolution. They can also protect your rights and assist you in your quest. Before contacting an attorney, you can arm yourself with some basic knowledge to simplify the transfer process. Here's what you need to know.

NCAA Student-Athlete Transfer Rules

While the NCAA lets student-athletes transfer schools, they do not always allow them to play for their new team right away. Generally, the NCAA requires student-athletes to sit out from athletics activities during their first year at a new school.

What if you want to transfer schools without missing a full season of play? You may have options. In most cases, the NCAA allows student-athletes a one-time transfer exception. This exception lets the athlete resume sports activities immediately as long as the school supports the transfer. They can also appeal a school's decision if they refuse the transfer exception.

Student-athletes who sign a National Letter of Intent are not eligible for this exception during the first year of competition. However, they may apply for a limited exception if there is a head coaching change before they begin their first fall semester.


The requirements for the one-time transfer exception from a four-year school are as follows:

  • You transfer to a Division 2 or 3 school or a Division 1 school in a sport other than football, baseball, men's ice hockey, or men's or women's basketball
  • If you play one of the ineligible sports, you may be eligible if your first school did not recruit you and you have not received athletic scholarships
  • You are academically and athletically eligible at your first school
  • You receive a transfer-release agreement from your first school

Before transferring, you should review both the NCAA and your school's rules. The rules may differ depending on the university and the NCAA division of your prospective school. An attorney can help you review these rules and ensure that you meet all requirements before applying for a transfer.

The Transfer Process

The student-athlete transfer process has many roadblocks. You must meet all the NCAA and university requirements to facilitate a transfer. Here are some of the most critical elements of the transfer process that can lead to potential pitfalls.

Transfer Portal

Student-athletes must notify their school in writing that they wish to transfer. Once notified, the university has two business days to add the request to the NCAA transfer portal. The transfer portal resets at the end of every academic year and is only accessible by compliance offers, administrators, and coaches.

Although the portal streamlines the transfer process, student-athletes don't always get equal treatment. Some sports analysts believe that the transfer portal gives special treatment to high-profile athletes when it comes to granting them immediate eligibility. If you've experienced issues related to the transfer portal, you should speak with a student-athlete attorney. They will work to ensure you receive equal treatment and opportunities for eligible transfers.

Waiver Process

Student-athletes who do not qualify for a transfer exception must submit a transfer waiver when changing schools. The school will fill out the transfer waiver and submit it to the NCAA staff for review.

To qualify for this waiver, you must be able to show that circumstances beyond your control necessitate your transfer. The NCAA staff will review mitigation, academic records, and the previous school's position when making their decision.

You can request a reconsideration and appeal if the NCAA denies your transfer request. An attorney can advise you on whether or not you qualify for a transfer waiver and can also guide you through the appeal process.

Qualifying for Exceptions

If you do not qualify for the one-time transfer exception, you may still be able to bypass the one-year waiting period. The NCAA grants some exceptions for student-athletes who wish to participate in sports immediately after transferring. Student-athletes must meet one of the following conditions to receive certification an exception:

  • It is the student-athletes first transfer
  • The student-athlete returns to the first school without participating in sports at the second school
  • The current school dropped the sport
  • The sport and institution did not recruit or give the student-athlete scholarship or aid
  • The student-athlete did not participate in the sport for two years
  • The student-athlete enrolls in a graduate program, professional school, second baccalaureate and has eligibility remaining

Academic Year in Residence

NCAA transfer rules require student-athletes to spend one academic year in residence at a new school before playing on a team unless they qualify for an exception. You must be able to prove that you were enrolled full-time for two semesters or three quarters to be eligible at your transfer school. An attorney can help you if you feel you qualify for an exception and wish to gain immediate eligibility at your new school.

Academic Requirements

Student-athletes must also take into account the academic requirements at an institution before transferring. Generally, student-athletes must be on track to graduate to maintain academic eligibility for a transfer. Compliance staff will evaluate your grade-point average and transfer credits to determine your eligibility at your new school.

The NCAA generally requires Division 1 athletes to earn at least six credit hours per term and meet a school's minimum grade-point average requirements to stay eligible. Division 2 athletes must earn a minimum 2.0 cumulative grade-point average each year.

Your academic requirements may vary when transferring schools, especially if you move from a two-year school to a four-year school or change NCAA divisions. If a compliance officer deems you ineligible due to grades, you should speak with an attorney right away. They can help you file an appeal and work with a compliance officer to restore your eligibility.

Loss of Scholarship

Your decision to transfer not only impacts your eligibility to participate in your sport, but it can also jeopardize your scholarship. After you add your name to the NCAA Transfer Portal, your university can revoke your scholarship at the end of the semester.

You must also get a permission-to-contact letter from your school before transferring to a new university. This letter allows members of the athletics staff at other schools to contact you and your family. If your university refuses to sign this letter, you will not be eligible for an athletics scholarship until you have completed an academic year at your new school.

Losing a scholarship can have dire consequences. You may be unable to afford tuition or cost of living expenses. In general, you have the right to appeal scholarship decisions. If your university fails to renew your scholarship, you should speak with an attorney to figure out your next steps.

Why You Need an Attorney

NCAA transfer rules are constantly evolving. The NCAA continues to implement new policies and requirements that further complicate the transfer process for student-athletes. Although the NCAA allows student-athletes to transfer schools, many requests get denied due to unreasonable obstruction.

If your transfer request gets denied, you shouldn't lose hope. An attorney can file an appeal and identify an infringement of your rights by your university or the NCAA. You may also qualify for an exception or transfer waiver that will grant you immediate eligibility with your new team.

There's no denying that the student-athlete transfer process is complex. A student-athlete attorney can work with your university's compliance officer and provide a roadmap to a successful transfer. Although attorneys cannot submit transfer waivers, they can work with your university to get you back on the field. They can also help you identify potential pitfalls that may negatively affect your eligibility or scholarship renewal.

An attorney can provide the support you need to challenge a ruling by the NCAA, universities, or sports teams. They can give you the best possible chance of achieving a successful transfer regardless of the case.

Your Student-Athlete Attorney

Are you involved in a transfer dispute? Don't let someone else determine your future. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has spent many years advocating for student-athletes and achieving favorable results. He has the knowledge and experience necessary to protect your rights and help with all facets of the transfer process. Contact Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 to schedule a consultation today.

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If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact our offices today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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