The End of Free Agency in NCAA Baseball Leaves Some Players Behind

Recent changes in college baseball’s transfer rules take effect in August of this year, designed to end the “free agency” era of college baseball.  Essentially, Division I baseball players seeking to transfer to another Division I school will be required to sit out 1 season following the transfer, similar to athletes playing football, basketball in hockey.  On its face, the rule change does not appear significant.  However, it signifies the end of a college baseball culture that was dramatically different from other sports.  Despite the good intentions of the NCAA, a class of baseball players find themselves caught between the old and new regimes, victims of a rule intended to protect them.

Baseball was different from other sports in large part due to the alotment of scholarships.  Rather than award whole scholarships to its players, baseball teams were allotted 11.7 scholarships for rosters than typically exceeded 30.  Players received partial scholarships, and some received as little as $500 “book money.”  Coaches often promised players that scholarships would increase if they played well.   Of course an increase on one player’s scholarship led to a cut in another player’s aid.  With large rosters coaches often over-recruited, figuring that any players cut could simply transfer, and giving the coaches more to evaluate the players.

Players, seeking increased playing time and aid were free to transfer under the NCAA’s “one-time transfer exemption” and most importantly, were not required to sit out for 1 year.  The rationale was that it was not fair to prohibit a player with a minimal scholarship from transferring if he wasn’t playing or could receive more aid somewhere else.  A virtual free agency system was created.  Small school players that opened eyes at summer camps often transferred to more prominent schools the following year.  Some programs were suspected to have recruited players from other schools.  Nevertheless, the players were free to pursue their sports and academics at the school of their choosing.

Last year, the NCAA passed new legislation directly affecting baseball.  Transfers now must sit out a season, as the one-time transfer exception has been revoked for baseball players.  Book money scholarships are also history.  No scholarship player can receive less than a 33% scholarship.  Rosters have been trimmed.  The NCAA hopes these changes can alter the long-standing culture of the sport and end the free-agency system.

On the surface, these rules changes appear to be a positive development.  However,lurking just below the surface is the NCAA’s academic measuring stick, the Academic Progress Rate (APR).  Many of these rules were enacted to improve a school’s APR, first and foremost.  If the rules also are beneficial to student athletes, such benefits are ancillary.

The NCAA’s adherence to the APR is a classic example of misplaced priorities.  If the system is broken, fix it.  And if the measuring tool is ineffective, find a better tool.  But to change rules for the sake of statistic does not promote the goal of protecting student athletes.  The NCAA will defend itself on the grounds that sitting out a year is good for an athlete’s academic work; and staying at a school even though playing time is limited is an important ideal to promote.  Such over generalizations are insulting to those athletes whose academics are in order, and have well-considered reasons for transferring.  Moreover, the NCAA rule changes left out the group of players who were recruited under the old system of book scholarships and free transfers.  Now some of those players, lured to Division I schools by false promises, must sit out a year to transfer, victims of a rule intended to protect them and perhaps more importantly the NCAA’s favored measuring stick, the APR.


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  3. Great article.thanks for writing it

  4. The rule changes have left my son totally screwed. He is an outstanding player. He went to a Junior College that was ranked in the top ten and was the leading hitter. Then he was called by a large D-1 university and invited to walk on. Since it was his dream school and in-state tuition he said “yes” and turned down other offers. He was not informed that he only had about a 10% chance of making the Spring roster because it was pretty much set already with scholarship guys and returning non-scholarship guys! He, along with 8 other guys, got cut at the end of October. He was never actually recruited nor did he receive one penny of scholarship money but he is still not eligible to play next semester. He never got to play even one inning. Another team wants him and the compliance director of his current University said he would be eligible next semester. Wrong!! Apparently not even all the compliance directors know the new rules-after two years. His appeal was denied. The way I see it, this about ruins his career. He is a Junior now. He is not just sitting out “one” season. He is actually sitting out one year and ten months. . almost two years without the benefits of playing in an actual college game. Try to keep your competitive edge under those circumstances! In one day, he lost his study halls, college tutors, training table, work-out routine and his social network. When he transferred from his Junior college with a 2-year degree, he had to switch majors to be eligible. If he did go to the school who wants him next Fall, they do not offer his major. He will have to change majors again. This is just a lose-lose situation for the student. It will be too late in the game to establish residence in another state. There is nothing good in the situation for the student who is still an outstanding athlete and does not have the word “quit” in his vocabulary.
    The coaches have nothing to lose by asking a player to put their life and career on the line, just so they can have a closer look before they say “no”. I don’t blame the coach other than they need to communicate the level of risk the athlete is taking. I truly don’t believe he enjoyed cutting anyone. It’s just the way the system works. It’s the system that is messed up. It needs to change.

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  6. free agency should returned.. the ncaa did not take into effect that players are lied to . our son was lied to he was told he would play 45% of the time.
    the coaches knowing that he had had 2 starter positions offered from other D1 schools.. He then played a total of maybe 15 innings interspersed!
    with no explanation from th ecoaches. the coaches playued him once after the april cut out assuring him to be royally screwed. now you tell me is this fair?
    both of the d1 schools currently want him. He wants to transfer but cannot. Now you tell me how fair is this?
    he is an excellent student was lied to. Why isn’t it set up that if you don’t play a certain number of innnings you are allowed to transfer as oppose to the April cutoff. this is simply unfair! why aren’t his coaches held accountable for luring a player under false consequences? this is not the american way.


  1. […] without grandfathering those who began under the old policy.  It is not unlike the NCAA’s decision to change the transfer rules for baseball players and institute the change one year too early, so that players recruited under the old system were […]

  2. […] those who began under, and relied upon the old policy.  It is not unlike the NCAA’s decision to change the transfer rules for baseball players and institute the change one year too early, so that players recruited under the old system were […]

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