Take The Power Back: Some Advice for Incoming Student-Athletes, Part 2 of ?

Isiah Thomas is gone, but the crazy hasn't been purged from FIU yet.

Rubie sez: having satisfied myself that my proposal below doesn't appear to run afoul of any NCAA rules, and having inserted enough weasel language to protect myself in case it IS an NCAA violation, let's continue our series of posts on how NCAA student-athletes can better protect their own interests.

On Monday, we addressed one of the first things a student-athlete can do to level the playing field with his future employer school: don't sign a National Letter of Intent. Today's issue is semi-related: leaving the school on your terms, or at least something resembling your terms, or at least something not resembling the hideously unfair terms that college coaches are currently free to impose.

As they're currently written, NCAA rules gives coaches and schools tremendous power to limit the potential destinations of a player who wants to leave the program. Transfer restrictions are born of the NCAA rule that mandates that a transferring player must obtain a permission-to-contact letter from his old school for any new schools he wants to talk to. The issue: there are precious few guidelines curbing the school's/coach's/AD's discretion in granting (or denying) permission to contact, and if permission isn't granted, the kid is largely left SOL:

If your current school does not give you written permission-to-contact, another school cannot contact you and encourage you to transfer. This does not preclude you from transferring; however, if the new school is in Division I or II, you cannot receive an athletics scholarship until you have attended the new school for one academic year.

This spring, we've seen example after example of the potential for abuse provided by this power, and the NCAA doesn't seem to be in any particular rush to remedy the issue; witness yesterday's heinous screw-job of Florida International's Dominque Ferguson, who was left with no choice but to enter the NBA Draft after FIU refused to give any -- ANY -- schools permission to contact Ferguson after he informed the school he wanted to transfer.

If the NCAA isn't going to do anything about this issue, it's time for the "student-athletes" to start looking out for themselves.

What do you do about a problem like transfer restrictions? Let's get contractual, after the jump.

While the NCAA gives coaches and ADs the power to restrict the schools to which a transferring player can move, it doesn't impose any affirmative obligation to do so (an important distinction that Bo Ryan didn't seem to grasp during the brouhaha last week). And, unlike the National Letter of Intent, scholarship forms aren't standardized: pursuant to NCAA By-Laws (15.3.2.1), they're left to the schools to draft (with the NCAA, of course, providing guidelines on benefits that can and can't be offered in those scholarships).

Remember: a scholarship, at its core, is a contract: you play ball, the school pays your tuition. And, as with any contract that's not a contract of adhesion, the contracting parties are free to negotiate its terms (again, provided those terms conform to the NCAA guidelines on benefits, etc.) So, a bit of advice to student-athletes: to make sure transfer restrictions don't become an issue for you down the line, modify your contract to take the power away from the school right at the start. Find some free space on your scholarship form and insert a clause like this:

School/coach/athletic director agree that, in the event player expresses his intention to transfer to another NCAA Division I or II institution, school/coach/athletic director will issue permission-to-contact letters to every institution requested by the player, excepting those institutions to which player is not allowed to transfer under the rules of [insert conference here].

Please note: I'm not a contract lawyer, so my language probably needs to be tweaked a little -- or even a lot. But hell: for a couple hundred bucks, you can retain an attorney to review your scholarship and to provide advice regarding modifications/improvements of the kind I've suggested above. And while we're noting things: I don't think you can get in trouble with the NCAA if you hire a lawyer for this purpose; the By-Laws, it seems, prohibit hiring a lawyer or agent to negotiate a professional contract, or to represent a player for the purpose of having a player sign with a particular school. And since the NCAA is adamant that its student-athletes are NOT professionals, I don't see the problem in having a lawyer review a scholarship. But you might want to check with a compliance person before taking my word for it.

ANYWAY, the point is: if you get the school to agree up front not to impose transfer restrictions, you'll have less of a headache down the line. Sure, you'll still have to deal with the silly "you have to sit out a year" rule for transferring players, but at least you'll have the freedom to go where you want. And if the school/coach/AD isn't willing to agree to release you to any non-conference schools if you want to transfer, maybe that program isn't the best fit after all.

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