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College athletes who transfer twice can play, for now, after a judge sets aside NCAA transfer rule

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College athletes who transfer twice can play, for now, after a judge sets aside NCAA transfer rule
AP
JOHN RABY
December 13, 2023

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — College athletes who were denied the chance to play immediately after transferring a second time can return to competition — for now — after a federal judge issued a 14-day temporary restraining order Wednesday against the NCAA.

U.S. District Judge John Preston Bailey in northern West Virginia issued the order against the NCAA from enforcing the transfer rule. A lawsuit filed by West Virginia and six other states alleged the rule’s waiver process violated federal antitrust law. The order clears the way for athletes to play during the two-week period and also ensures that schools won’t be punished for allowing it.

The NCAA said in a statement it would comply with the order and notify schools.

The 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 scheduled for Dec. 27.

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.

Bailey wrote that the transfer rule “is the exact kind of unreasonable restraint of trade within labor markets that the relevant antitrust laws prohibit" and that the plaintiffs “have a strong likelihood of success.”

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

It wasn’t immediately clear whether any of the affected players would try to compete during the 14-day window.

West Virginia basketball player RaeQuan Battle transferred this season from Montana State after previously playing at Washington and has been sitting out.

“I’m in the gym every single day with the team, with the blood, sweat and tears with them,” Battle told the court Wednesday. “When the ball is thrown up and that tipoff starts, I’m not suited up. That’s what hurts me the most.”

Battle, who grew up on the Tulalip Indian Reservation in the state of Washington, has said his mental health is a big reason why he came to West Virginia. Battle said he has lost “countless people” to drugs, alcohol and COVID-19.

After Battle visited West Virginia, he learned that now-coach Josh Eilert had lived on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota with his mother following his parents’ divorce and felt a connection with the coach.

West Virginia’s next game is Saturday in Springfield, Massachusetts, against UMass.

“We are consulting with WVU’s General Counsel along with outside counsel prior to making a determination on the eligibility status of any of our student-athletes," West Virginia athletics said in a statement. "We will discuss this with our student-athletes to make the best decision possible taking into consideration the potential consequences of our decision.”

Battle has the opportunity to play in at least three games before the 14-day window ends.

“Welcome to the party,” West Virginia forward Quinn Slazinski said on social media.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said he's “looking forward to proving definitively" that multitransfer athletes should be able to play without a waiting period.

The lawsuit alleged requiring athletes to sit can mean lost potential earnings from endorsement deals with their name, image and likeness (NIL) or professional careers. It pointed to exposure from competing in national broadcasts, noting: “One game can take a college athlete from a local fan favorite to a household name.”

“It is ironic that this rule, stylized as promoting the welfare of college athletes, strips them of the agency and opportunity to optimize their own welfare as they see fit,” the lawsuit said.

A recent transfer-waiver case involved North Carolina wide receiver Devontez Walker. The NCAA initially denied his waiver as a two-time transfer. He previously played at Kent State and also had a stop at North Carolina Central, although he never played there because the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out NCCU’s 2020 season. UNC fought for months to get Walker cleared in a testy case before the NCAA reversed its position in October.

The waiver process has become a source of frustration throughout college sports. Since the rules were changed to allow all athletes to transfer one time before graduating and be immediately eligible to compete, some are questioning whether any exceptions should be made for athletes who look to transfer a second time as an undergraduate.

“I’ve served in the men’s basketball aspect of the NCAA for quite some time on some committees and you ask most coaches and they’ll say, ‘We don’t want any waivers. There shouldn’t be any waivers,'" Conference USA Commissioner Judy MacLeod said last week during a panel at the Intercollegiate Athletics Forum in Las Vegas. “But as soon as they get a kid that they want want to get eligible, they’re all for a waiver.”

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AP College Football Writer Ralph D. Russo contributed to this report.

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AP sports: https://apnews.com/sports

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