Redshirt Football Transfers Beware!

Regardless of the new four-game redshirt rule, FBS football athletes who transfer to another FBS school still have to sit out a year at their new school, unless they qualify for an exception, such as the graduation transfer exception, or a waiver.

New NCAA legislation took effect this fall allowing Division I football athletes to play in up to four games and still redshirt for the season, thus preserving a year of eligibility.  (See NCAA Bylaw “In football, a student-athlete may compete in up to four contests in a season without using a season of competition.”).  Four games into the 2018 season, several football athletes have reportedly decided to redshirt this year and transfer to another school.  Although several appear to be graduate transfers, athletes who transfer to another FBS school before they graduate and do not qualify for a transfer exception may be putting themselves at risk of losing a year of eligibility.  That is, taking a redshirt this year does not automatically qualify an athlete to be immediately eligible at a new institution next year and those making such decisions should ensure they understand how the rules apply to their situation.

The new four-game redshirt rule does not impact the long-existing Division I requirement that athletes in all sports spend a “year-in-residence” upon transfer to a new school.  (See NCAA Bylaw 14.5.1).  Although the “one-time transfer exception” permits an otherwise eligible first-time transfer athlete to play immediately at the new school, such exception is not available to athletes in baseball, basketball, bowl subdivision football, or men’s ice hockey (FBS athletes with at least two seasons of eligibility remaining, can use the exception if they transfer to an FCS school).  Setting aside the highly questionable merits of the transfer rule for now, this means that to be immediately eligible, FBS football athletes must qualify for the graduate transfer exception, another less-common exception, or a waiver.  Otherwise, those who elect to use a redshirt year in 2018 and transfer to an FBS school, will spend another year sitting out in 2019.  Given that Division I athletes only have four seasons of eligibility within a five-year window, those who redshirt this year and transfer risk giving up one of those seasons. (See example below).

The graduate transfer exception is the usual way in which FBS football transfers are able to compete immediately at a new school.  That rule allows graduates to transfer and play right away if they meet the other requirements of the one-time transfer exception.**  Note that conference rules, which apply in addition to the NCAA rules, may contain further restrictions for transfers between schools in the same conference.  The Southeastern Conference recently modified its rules to permit immediate competition by intra-conference graduate transfers but each conference has its own rules.

To illustrate, consider the example below in which fictional FBS football athlete, Howard Desmond enrolled full time as a freshman in the fall of 2015 and will graduate early in December 2018.  His teammate, Herb Kirkstreit, enrolled full time in the fall of 2016 and will not graduate until sometime after his transfer.  Both athletes took a four-game redshirt this year and now plan to transfer to a new FBS school, but their outcomes will be very different due to the availability of the transfer exceptions. Please note that this example contemplates a transfer between two FBS schools (a 4-4 transfer) and does not account for circumstances in which an athlete transfers from an FBS school to a junior college before transferring back to a different FBS school (a 4-2-4 transfer).

NCAA Lawyer Blog Redshirt Football Eligiblity Table.png

Howard can take a four-game redshirt this year, graduate in December, transfer, and be eligible to compete immediately at his new school next year due to the graduate transfer exception.  He will have the chance to play in all four of his available seasons of competition.  Herb, on the other hand, who also took a four-game redshirt season this year, would not be eligible to play immediately next year unless he satisfies another transfer exception (e.g. discontinued sport, discontinued academic program, athlete was not recruited and competed minimally), which are relatively rare, or obtains a waiver (e.g. family hardship).  Consequently, Herb will only have a chance to compete in three seasons of competition before his five-year clock expires.

As shown, utilizing the new four-game redshirt rule does not automatically allow you to compete immediately if you decide to transfer.  As such, make sure you are fully informed of how the rules apply to your situation before deciding to redshirt and/or transfer.


** Notably, the one-time and graduate transfer exceptions require the former school to indicate in writing that it has no objection to the athlete being immediately eligible at the new school.  The rule states that the “previous institution shall certify in writing that it has no objection to the student being granted an exception to the transfer-residence requirement.” (See NCAA Bylaw  That’s right!  Despite the recent rule change that no longer requires the athlete to ask for “permission to contact” other schools, the previous school can still deny an athlete’s release for immediate eligibility, providing them a significant degree of control over a departing athlete’s eligibility to compete.  This can be especially problematic for athletes leaving coaches and programs that feel slighted as a result of the departure and decide to seek retribution against the athlete (yes, adults are doing this to young people and yes, it is wrong; join me in speaking out about this nonsense).


This article is for informational purposes and should not be considered legal advice or relied upon without consulting an attorney. This article does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and the author.

Timothy Nevius