Brock Hoffman's Appeal Denial Must Inspire Change to the NCAA Transfer System
It was inevitable until it wasn't.
Last night, news broke that the NCAA had decided to deny the immediate eligibility appeal of Brock Hoffman, forcing the Coastal Carolina transfer, who is transferring closer to home largely to care for his ailing mother still recovering from a brain tumor, to sit out the 2019 season for the Hokies.
Yes, after all the facts made the decision obvious both the first and second time to grant Brock Hoffman immediate eligibility, the NCAA still failed to do what everyone across the country agreed was the right thing to do with this failure clearly being caused by a broken transfer rules system that makes it easier for players using a coaching change loophole to get playing time elsewhere to get an opportunity, and harder for those with legitimate medical hardships to receive such.
Somehow, Hoffman isn't the only insane denial as Illinois TE Luke Ford who left Georgia to transfer closer to home because of his grandfather's deteriorating health, was also denied immediate eligibility despite having a very legitimate reason. The fact that Hoffman and Ford were unable to receive the waivers that everyone, including likely those who enforce the rules at the NCAA, likely agree with.
That shows there that the medical hardship waiver system needs to be changed at minimum.
However, there are two major routes that fans can go from here, either to the say complaint system and person blaming that has made no progress and won't make any difference now, or to push for real, concrete solutions that are common sense and give players the rights that they deserve.
The path forward is clear, it's time to fix a broken transfer system that constrains student-athletes and forces them to share what they should be allowed to keep private but can't because of the NCAA rules circus that has caused this mess.
When the Brock Hoffman story gets brought up, one of the first things that is praised is the courage of the Hoffman family to share their story in the public eye and rightfully so. It is courageous to be so willing to share the deepest struggles of your life to thousands or even millions of people.
But think about it, shouldn't Hoffman and his family have the right to privacy in regards to their pain that they probably didn't want in the public eye in the first place? Shouldn't they be allowed to keep it private without that lessening the chances of Brock Hoffman being eligible to receive immediate eligibility?
Should the Hoffman family have to put together a packet with hundreds of pages of information to make their case in an attempt to simply make sure Brock Hoffman has the chance to be immediately eligible as he moves to a school that is closer to home?
Shouldn't Luke Ford not have to share the specifics of why he is moving closer to home, but rather simply be able to transfer and play immediately while keeping the rest private?
Shouldn't Cincinnati transfer James Hudson not have to discuss the mental health reasons as to why he left Michigan to join the Bearcats, something that almost every American has the right to privacy on without it affecting their status unless, of course, you're a college football player in pursuit of a waiver?
The answer to all of these questions is a resounding no.
No player or family of a player should feel the need to disclose a difficult health situation that the athlete or the athlete's family are going through let alone have to do so in the pursuit of the ability to be immediately eligible when all three athletes so clearly deserve that right.
All three of these situations are unacceptable and should be the last of their kind. A fixed transfer system should allow young athletes to protect their own and their family's privacy while allowing them the opportunity to play immediately.
So, what's the guaranteed solution to this problem? Well, it's one that Jim Harbaugh proposed when discussing the transfer of the aforementioned James Hudson from his Michigan program to Cincinnati.
Allow all athlete to have a one-time immediate eligible transfer should they choose to go to another program.
To expand on that, any transfer after that would fall under the current NCAA grad transfer and waiver rules with some modifications to ensure that athlete privacy is respected and more leeway is allowed so that if a second-or-more time time transfer was in a situation similar to one of the three stated above, they would be able to receive the immediate eligibility they deserve. Same thing for a grad transfer who has put in the work to get his degree and has earned the chance to play football immediately while pursuing a NFL career through another program or transferring because the graduate program fits their needs better.
The one thing that has caused more controversy this offseason than anything else is the unclear waiver system that has allowed players like Tate Martell to use a loophole to get an immediate opportunity elsewhere and somehow left Brock Hoffman and Luke Ford on the sideline. Put this rule in place and all of that controversy not only goes away but no one is talking about it in the first place.
Yes, you may say that Martell doesn't deserve such a quick opportunity or others like Justin Fields and Aubrey Solomon, but shouldn't they have the right given the fact that, as Jay Bilas has mentioned, this is the rule almost everywhere else in collegiate athletics including when a player drops down a level in college football. Why should football be an exception when these players bring in more money by far than any other college sport?
Yes, there may be some who fear a free agency of sorts in college football, but the first part of the rule would make sure that it doesn't necessarily run wild with players hopping from place to place. Some may say this goes too far as well but don't the players deserve the right to be able to transfer and play immediately. There is no other place in the world where someone goes from one place to another and is unable to compete because of that except if you're a transfer in college football before you have your degree.
Additionally, there is very little evidence to suggest that this would lead to a mass increase of transfers. Already, there are players moving as grad transfers and while those numbers seem to include a decent amount of players, the percentage of players who actually are, in theory, going to a bigger contender isn't really as many as the players who are dropping down the ladder in search of playing time. Why make any of those players who see a move as their best option for their career, just like any coach, sit out a year.
Now the NCAA isn't a professional organization (though there are conversations to be had for another time), but players should have the right to be able to transfer and play immediately once before they get their degree and possibly more if circumstances are worthy of a waiver. After they get their degree, then the current grad transfer rule should remain as well.
This rule would also mean that more quarterbacks stay during the season knowing that they could be eligible the next season. For example, North Carolina is down to two-scholarship QBs after Cade Fortin decided to transfer knowing that he needs to move to another school or JUCO now so this can be seen as his year on the sidelines rather than having to basically sit out two years. No player, in pursuit of an opportunity to play, should have to feel like if they need to transfer, that they have to rush it just to make sure they meet a deadline of sorts.
The NCAA's transfer policy has been exposed to be a complete mess full of loopholes for some to take advantage of while failing to give waivers to those who deserve it even after exposing the most difficult situation in their own and their family's lives just because the NCAA rules are that broken. Those athletes deserves their right to privacy and all athletes deserve the right to be able to transfer once before they graduate without losing their immediate eligibility.
It's time for a push for change that pushes not only the NCAA leadership, but also the athletic directors at every Division I program that this can no longer happen, that this should be the last time we allow a player like Brock Hoffman to sit out just because Virginia Tech happens to be 5 miles too far from home.
We can all do better, now it's time to make the push to actually do better rather than just complain about the NCAA who's power and rules are given by the Division I programs alone and can be changed by the member institutions.
Change is coming. Let's make this the last time we have to push for meaningful change.