MISSOULA — Montana football coach Bobby Hauck has seen this before during a previous coaching stint in the Big Sky Conference.
When Hauck was the linebackers coach at Northern Arizona, the NCAA approved a one-time transfer rule in 1994 that allowed I-AA (FCS) players to transfer to I-A (FBS) teams and be immediately eligible to play.
Weber State quarterback Brad Otton, who had sparked the Wildcats to five consecutive wins to close his redshirt freshman season in 1993, became a hot prospect when he entered the transfer market, getting courted by I-A programs USC, Washington State, BYU and Fresno State.
Otton had looked into transferring because of concerns Weber State might drop football, and the 1994 rule was introduced around that time, so he didn’t have to sit out a year when he landed at USC. He didn’t play anyway, serving as a backup in 1994, but he worked his way up the depth chart and led the Trojans to a win in the Rose Bowl to cap the 1995 season.
Weber State, meanwhile, didn’t exceed the seven wins it had with Otton under center in 1993 until 10 years later in 2003 as its bright future under the young stud was never to be fulfilled.
“Thus, welcome to the farm system,” Hauck said Tuesday, making it sound like less of a warm greeting and more of a warning when he discussed the NCAA’s one-time transfer proposal, which surfaced again this past week because the Division I Council put the proposed rule into the legislative cycle Wednesday.
The proposal could be approved as early as January and go into effect Aug. 1, granting all NCAA athletes in all sports one chance to transfer and be immediately eligible to play at their new school instead of sitting out one season, which is currently required in five high-profile sports, including football, in most circumstances.
The 1994 rule that Otton took advantage of was rescinded after just one year. It had come in response to a 1993 rule that allowed I-A football players to drop down to I-AA and be immediately eligible.
That 1993 rule has remained in effect and is one way football players can transfer and be immediately eligible. They can also get a waiver from the NCAA, but the increase in waivers and the random granting or denying of waivers has prompted the conversation about giving all athletes a one-time transfer exception. Currently, athletes in football, basketball, baseball and hockey typically have to sit out one season if they transfer to another school.
Another exception to play right away is if a player graduates with a degree and then transfers. However, The Associated Press noted that the one-time transfer proposal as it’s currently written doesn’t allow a player who transfers and gets immediate eligibility to be immediately eligible as a grad transfer later in his/her career.
Hauck, who voiced his displeasure with the initial proposal in March, doubled down Tuesday. He said the biggest negative is “we’re a farm system” at the FCS level. Asked if there are any positives from the proposal, Hauck simply said, “Uh, no.”
Many coaches across the country see the potential rule as creating a virtual free agency in which players they spend time developing getting persuaded to leave for the brighter lights of more prestigious programs. Some also see the potential rule as forcing coaches to have to re-recruit their players to return to the team every year.
In the farm system analogy, the Power Five teams would be comparable to the MLB level of baseball. Even if they don’t reach down to Montana or FCS schools – say, Double-A baseball – they might attempt to pluck top players from lesser-successful Power Five teams or Group of Five teams – say, Triple-A baseball – and then the Group of Five teams may reach down to the FCS schools to quickly replenish their rosters with top talent.
“Not maybe. Not maybe,” Hauck told the Missoulian and 406mtsports.com in March. “That’s what will happen.”
He expanded in that interview that college coaches, “are already doing it. If you think that Power Five schools don’t have a college personnel board in their recruiting office and know every marquee player at any lower-level school, you’d be wrong.”
While some schools may do that, scholarship limits aren’t being expanded under the proposal. That means FBS teams are still capped at 85 total scholarships and 25 new signees each year. So if a team dips into the transfer market, they would be taking away from the size of the high school recruiting class they could sign that year.
Also in the proposal, athletes will have to meet criteria to be immediately eligible at their new school. Among them, they have to leave their current school being academically eligible.
Fall and winter sport athletes would be required to notify their current schools of their transfer by May 1. There’s an extension to July 1 if there’s a head coaching change or an athlete’s scholarship isn’t renewed. Spring sports athletes have a deadline of July 1. If the deadline is missed, athletes won’t be immediately eligible.
A player’s current school can’t block their transfer to a specific school. The player and the coach at the school he transfers to have to certify no tampering took place.
“Greetings from the farm system,” Hauck wryly noted.
Those certainly aren't coming with warmest regards.