Some student-athletes who transfer schools as a result of difficult life or family circumstances should be allowed an extra year to complete their eligibility, according to a recommendation from the Division I Leadership Council.

Council members propose that student-athletes who cannot transfer and play immediately without a waiver be allowed a sixth year to complete their four years of eligibility, if they qualify. 

The change would primarily impact student-athletes who play baseball, basketball, bowl subdivision football and men’s ice hockey as well as those in other sports who already used the one-time transfer exception.

These student-athletes would no longer be able to seek a waiver to transfer and compete immediately.

 “We hope this change will encourage student-athletes who must transfer based on hardships to focus on the circumstances prompting the transfer during their first year and adjust to their new school, while giving them a season back to complete their eligibility,” said Amy Huchthausen, commissioner of the America East Conference and chair of the Leadership Council subcommittee that examined the transfer issue.

Huchthausen stressed that the recommendation would provide student-athletes with additional time to focus on academic coursework and increase their likelihood of graduation. Research shows degree attainment generally takes longer for transfer students.

The change also is intended to reduce concerns about abuse of the waiver process and inconsistency in decisions.

Student-athletes would still need to present some form of mitigation, such as serious family illness, to be eligible for the extension. Several coaches associations, including the National Association of Basketball Coaches, expressed strong support for the change.

The Division I Board of Directors will review the proposal at its meeting April 24. If approved, the policy change would begin with the 2015-16 academic year to allow sufficient time to educate student-athletes, coaches and administrators about the possible impact.

In its feedback to the council, the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee indicated that some student-athletes preferred to be immediately eligible rather than have more time to compete, while others said the current model made it too easy to transfer without consequences.

The council first considered the subcommittee’s recommendation in January, but members agreed to seek additional feedback before making a final decision.

In their discussions of the issue over the last several months, some subcommittee members noted that student-athletes who transfer due to an ill family member, for example, might be better served spending time with that family member rather than traveling and competing. Other members noted that people cope with personal hardship in different ways, and the distraction of competition might assist some student-athletes.

The recommendation does not include graduate students, and subcommittee members noted that more work on transfer issues should be completed in a new governance structure.