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College Sports, Division I, Education

NCAA Legislative Relief Review: Bylaw 14.5.5.1 (Four-Year College Transfer General Rule–Academic Year-in-Residence)

The Michael L. Buckner Law Firm continues its rules-education series with a review of NCAA legislative relief cases. Under NCAA procedure, “in cases when no other waiver process already has authority, institutions, conferences and committees may seek relief from applying a rule when extraordinary or extenuating circumstances warrant”. Specifically, “a member school, conference or committee submits a waiver application to the NCAA national office. Staff members on the legislative relief waiver team work collaboratively with the school, conference or committee to develop a complete picture of the situation and then render an initial decision.” NCAA procedures permit the entity seeking relief to accept the decision or appeal it (Division I applicants appeal through the Division I Legislative Council Subcommittee for Legislative Relief, Division II applicants appeal through the Division II Committee for Legislative Relief, and Division III applicants appeal through the Division III Management Council Subcommittee for Legislative Relief). The appellate “bodies review the written appeal and provide final decisions, which include granting or denying the request for flexibility, or granting a conditional waiver”.

Today’s post concerns NCAA Bylaw 14.5.5.1 (Four-Year College Transfer General Rule–Academic Year-in-Residence), which provides:

Bylaw 14.5.5.1 – General Rule. A transfer student from a four-year institution shall not be eligible for intercollegiate competition at a member institution until the student has fulfilled a residence requirement of one full academic year (two full semesters or three full quarters) at the certifying institution.  (Revised: 1/10/91 effective 8/1/91, 4/14/10)

An NCAA member institution requested relief from this bylaw in Case No. 13756, which was decided on November 4, 2011. The case involved the sport of women’s basketball. The case is summarized below:

Facts: Qualifier. 4-4 transfer. 2009-10 academic year and 2010 fall term: Student-athlete (SA) enrolled full-time at Institution No. 1 (a Division I institution), SA practiced and received athletically related aid but did not compete. Upon enrollment at Institution No. 1, it was noted on the pre-participation physical exam that the SA had a pre-existing back condition that was originally diagnosed in high school. SA followed the recommendations of her physician to manage the pain related to the condition, however, SA back injury and pain became more programmatic. November 3, 2010: A third MRI was performed and showed further multi-level degenerative changes. Due to the advancement of the back injury, SA was medically unable to participate in basketball activity for the remainder of the 2009-10 season. During this same period of time, SA was struggling with the pressure of being a high profile SA at a very successful highly ranked institution and her inability to participate in competition led the SA to seek counseling from a psychologist. SA was subsequently diagnosed with depression. 2010 fall term: SA began to experience dizziness (i.e., syncope) when exercising. Due to family history of vasovagal syncope, SA sought treatment from her family cardiologist. SA was diagnosed with “near syncope with physical activity” and was told by her physician to self-limit activity as needed. Following this additional hardship, it became apparent that SA was physically and psychologically unable to perform at the level required at Institution No. 1. Both the SA and the coach of Institution No. 1 decided that transferring to a mid-major basketball program would be beneficial to the SA’s physical and mental well-being. 2011 spring term: SA enrolled full-time at applicant institution, SA practiced and received athletically related aid but did not complete. Applicant institution requests that SA be immediately eligible for competition for the 2010-11 academic year; however, SA is a 4-4 mid-year transfer in the sport of basketball and does not meet any exception to the transfer year-in-residence requirement. October 17, 2011: Subsequent to the December 17, 2010, decision by staff to deny the waiver, applicant institution submitted additional information indicating that SA was not afforded the opportunity to participate in the sport of women’s basketball at Institution No. 1. Applicant institution requests reconsideration based on the denied participation opportunity.

Request of Institution: Waive the normal application of the transfer year-in-residence legislation and permit SA to be immediately eligible for competition for the 2010-11 academic year. Applicant institution asserts: (1) SA continued to sustain back pain and was physically diagnosed with further multi-level degenerative changes which rendered her medically ineligible to participate in basketball activity during the 2009-10 season; (2) The stress of being a high-profile athlete at a top level institution and her inability to compete led to SA’s depression; (3) The medical staff at Institution No. 1 cleared SA to participate in athletics for 2010-11, but submitted documentation supporting the transfer and stated that a mid-major basketball program would be a better fit for the physical and mental well-being of the SA; (4) SA is in good academic standing and meeting progress-toward-degree requirements; and (5) The waiver request is supported by the coach and athletics staff at Institution No. 1. In the request for reconsideration, applicant institution asserts: (1) Institution No. 1 informed SA that her aid would not be renewed for the 2011-12 academic year in September 2010, after SA had already attended class for the 2010 fall term ; and (2) Had Institution No. 1 informed SA prior to the start of the 2011 fall term that her aid would not be renewed, SA would have transferred and served her year-in-residence during the 2010-11 academic year and would have been eligble for the 2011 fall term .

Rationale: STAFF DENIED (December 17, 2010): Based on circumstances not warranting a waiver of the legislation, intent of the legislation and the NCAA Division I Subcommittee for Legislative Relief October 2000 directive regarding transfers for athletics reasons and case precedent. Specifically, the staff noted: (1) SA’s inability to participate in the rigors of a top program is not a circumstance that requires relief of the legislation; (2) SA is medically cleared for competition at Institution No. 1; (3) Applicant institution did not provide documentation of a medical condition that necessitates a transfer; and (4) The academic year in residence requirement only prohibits SA from participating in competition during the first year in residence at applicant institution and does not preclude SA from transferring. STAFF RECONSIDERATION DENIED (November 4 2011): The staff noted: (1) SA transfered from Institution No. 1 mid-year, which was within her control ; and (2) SA transfered from Institution No. 1 for athletics purposes.

Action Taken: Reconsideration Denied.

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About Michael L. Buckner, Esquire

An attorney who provides clients with internal investigation, civil litigation, estate planning and compliance services.

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