NCAA fears ‘perpetual and unchecked free agency’ after court ruling strikes down longstanding transfer policy

College basketball programs with multiple-transfer athletes are pondering whether to let them play after a federal judge gave them a small window to compete as part of a ruling in a lawsuit that the NCAA suggests would open college athletics to free agency.

U.S. District Judge John Preston Bailey in West Virginia issued a temporary restraining order against the NCAA on Wednesday. The ruling said athletes who previously were denied the chance to play immediately after transferring a second time can compete in games for 14 days.

As some schools with athletes impacted by the ruling consulted with their internal legal teams to determine the next steps, a document circulated by the NCAA to its member schools clarifies that the redshirt rule for athletes would still apply if the court’s decision is reversed: Basketball players who compete during the two-week window would be using a season of eligibility.

The court ruling comes while the transfer window is open for football and creates an opportunity for players who have already transferred using their so-called one-time exception for immediate eligibility to enter the portal again and be cleared to compete next season.

A hearing on the restraining order is set for Dec. 27. The lawsuit filed by seven states could have a profound impact on college sports if successful. In court documents, the NCAA said the plaintiffs “seek to remake collegiate athletics and replace it with a system of perpetual and unchecked free agency.”

NCAA rules allow underclassmen to transfer once without having to sit out a year. But an additional transfer as an undergraduate generally requires the NCAA to grant a waiver allowing the athlete to compete immediately. Without it, the athlete would have to sit out for a year at the new school.

Last January, the NCAA implemented stricter guidelines for granting those waivers on a case-by-case basis.

According to the NCAA, the percentage of college athletes who have transferred multiple times and sought immediate playing eligibility in recent years is miniscule: 0.17%.

John Holden, an Oklahoma State business professor specializing in sports law and regulation, said he doesn’t anticipate a “huge desire” among athletes to transfer, especially in the next two weeks. Some will take advantage of the window, “but much like every other student on campus that we don’t make sit out for a year, this is really just putting them in the same position as though they are any other student on campus,” Holden said.

Patrick Stubblefield, a sports attorney and a former college compliance official, said that if the second-time transfer rule is overturned and the college transfer portal becomes a free-for-all, incoming recruiting classes potentially could find it more difficult to earn a roster spot if there’s a larger pool of athletes changing schools.

“It’ll shift things a little,” Stubblefield said. “There’s going to be some trickle-down effects, I would presume. But I don’t necessarily know how to quantify that as good or bad.

“Athletes for the most part are able to take agency over their own situations and determine for themselves, for whatever reasons they so choose, what is going to be in their best interests.”

For the current school year, the NCAA granted about 25% of the 175 transfer waiver requests as of Nov. 30. About one-third of those requests involved men’s basketball players.

Among the multi-transfer athletes already taking advantage of the court’s decision was UNLV’s Keylan Boone, who previously played at Oklahoma State and Pacific. He played in UNLV’s game Wednesday night against No. 8 Creighton, scoring 10 points and grabbing six rebounds in the Rebels’ 79-64 win.

West Virginia is mulling its options with two players who have each transferred twice, RaeQuan Battle and Noah Farrakhan. They could play in three games before the lawsuit is addressed again. Battle, who previously played at Montana State and Washington, has a year of eligibility left. Farrakhan, who had attended Eastern Michigan and East Carolina, has two.

“We just need some more clarity, more than anything,” West Virginia interim coach Josh Eilert said Thursday. “We’ve got to think of the student-athlete and how it affects their overall eligibility. If the decision is overturned and they’ve played during this course of the season, they lose that year of eligibility. That doesn’t seem like we made the right decision by the student-athlete.

“So I want all of the facts to be laid out for everybody involved before we make those decisions.”

The states involved in seeking the restraining order were Colorado, Illinois, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia.

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