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Nobody knows what the effect of relaxing transfer rules will be

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Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Vanderbilt
Two guys who transferred.
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

On the NCAA’s recent proposal to relax the rule requiring transfers to sit out a year before playing at their new school — known as a “year in residence” in NCAA parlance — there are two things we know.

One, there is a non-trivial number of players who are deterred from transferring by the current rule, though probably fewer than assumed by some fans (more on that in a minute.)

And two, there is a non-trivial number of schools deterred from taking transfers under the current rule. Many schools don’t want to use a scholarship on a player who won’t be able to play immediately.

That’s all you know. Anything else is mere speculation.

How this will play out in reality is anyone’s guess. The most common opinion seems to be that this will work to cause talent to flow upward and benefit the established powers of the sport, whether football or basketball. Football specifically gets a bit complicated because schools are limited to 25 initial counters per year, which means that everyone is kind of forced to rely on high school recruits (if you have a bunch of guys in the program for only a year or two, you quickly run out of players.)

Leaving that aside, though, the real question comes down to who is more deterred from transferring by the current rule. Is it the backup at Alabama or the star player at Weber State? If the latter, I can see this having the effect everyone says it will; but if it’s the former, well, I don’f see how it benefits the powers of the sport that their second- and third-stringers are leaving every year. I have my suspicions that changing the rule would lead to a lot more “down” transfers than “up,” because for most players, simply getting on the field is all they’re really looking for. If you think about it, a star player at Vanderbilt is already putting out plenty of film for NFL teams to look at, and simply by virtue of playing in the SEC they’re playing against good competition. Transferring to an Alabama or Clemson really doesn’t come with that much upside: you might win a championship, but you also risk getting buried on the depth chart. The equation is maybe a little different for star players at G5 or FCS schools, but players already make the NFL from those schools if they’re good enough.

On the other hand — if you’re barely getting on the field, that’s a pretty good reason to transfer. Under the current rule, having to sit out a year (in which maybe your role would increase at your current school) is a pretty strong deterrent, at least if you’re not being pushed out. It’s honestly hard to see the advantage for bigger schools here.

We’ll see how this plays out if it does come to pass, but I suspect that it will work about like the early signing period in football: maybe some effects that are seen in the first year, but a return to normal after that as programs adjust to the new rule.