After transferring to Miami, Tate Martell probably won't be eligible in 2019. Should he, though? Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

Should College Football Eliminate Transfer Penalties Once and for All?

David Kenyon

Every single year, the college football world is mad in February.

It's not about national signing day and whether your favorite team added the 5-star, program-saving prospect. No, it's arguing if a transferring player should be eligible immediately for the upcoming season and/or if a school is restricting his potential options.

Every year this happens, and the debate is repetitive.

College football is becoming free agency! Don't these players know what loyalty is? This is becoming an epidemic!

Why do coaches get to leave without penalty, but the roster they leave behind is totally stuck?

Grad transfers should have zero restrictions. An athlete who has earned a degree has accomplished what he needed to do. They're not part of this discussion; the focus is on undergrads.

In 2018, the process improved with the transfer portal. Players no longer need permission from their school to transfer, and their names are placed in a national database. They do risk giving up a scholarship, and some conferences restrict movement within the league. Still, the portal is a good and fair addition.

The dilemma is what happens from there.

Immediate eligibility for anyone and everyone is too much, but transfer restrictions still should be loosened.

One recent transfer likely in mind is Justin Fields, the former Georgia quarterback who will be allowed to play at Ohio State in 2019. His waiver involved being the target of racial slurs, which is rarely the subject of an eligibility request. As such, Fields shouldn't apply here.

Mike Stewart/Associated Press

Similarly, Bru McCoy's situation is unusual. The 5-star wide receiver chose USC but had second thoughts when offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury took the Arizona Cardinals job. Because McCoy had enrolled, the freshman is an undergraduate transfer who won't be eligible at Texas for a year, barring an approved waiver.

Given his near-immediate change of heart―semester registration wasn't finalized―it would be reasonable for the appeal to be granted. But early enrollees almost never leave school that quickly.

That a coaching move affected McCoy's thought process, however, is completely normal. Thousands of players, such as Tate Martell, watch their program make a change each offseason.

Schematic overhauls can be massively problematic for an athlete. For example, the quarterbacks on Georgia Tech's roster are best suited for Paul Johnson's option attack. But he retired, and Geoff Collins is revamping the offense into a modern spread.

New coaches often love to rely on youth. Chigozie Nnoruka made 49 tackles for UCLA in 2017 but hardly played last season "mostly as a function of the Bruins going with younger players" under Chip Kelly, per Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times. That wasted a year of the sophomore's eligibility, and similar things happen all over the college football landscape.

It's easy to say players should "commit to a school not a coach," but if they don't fit a system, that's not a productive choice, either.

Coaches deserve the chance to progress in their profession. Schools should be able to find someone who best positions the program for success. Yet either way, the greatest impact of those departures is unfairly pinned on the athletes left behind.

Players should not have their athletic futures wrecked.

Conversely, a total free-for-all has the potential of destabilizing an entire program. That shouldn't be the desired outcome because it could unbalance the sport even more.

In particular, Group of Five schools may see a mass exodus of talented players if the coach earns promotion to a Power Five team. Building a competitive team is hard enough; P5 schools raiding a G5 roster after a coach moves on must be avoided.

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald suggested a reasonable tweak in April, as noted by's Mitch Sherman:

Look, that proposal has issues too, just like the current rules or a one-time immediate eligibility transfer, but a perfect solution that protects players, coaches and schools does not exist.

If you want maximum entertainment, a free-for-all is great! Someone could spend one year at each of Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma and Ohio State. However, that furthers the likelihood of shady recruiting tactics and may have academic ramifications. (While not our focus, it's a possible accompanying factor.)

Coaches should not hold complete power, yet players shouldn't be stuck when someone is fired. Waivers in these situations should be considered more seriously.

Frustrated players also shouldn't avoid penalty because an initial choice didn't work out. Decisions have consequences.

This topic is not simple. Resolutions are difficult.

No matter how noisy this offseason is regarding transfers, expecting drastic changes in the immediate future is unwise. The portal and special waiver requests took years of discussions, and finding the next steps in this conversation will be challenging.

We'll see you next February.


Stats from, or B/R research. Recruiting ratings from 247Sports. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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