NCAA Athletics: Changes coming to transfer portal, NIL, and NLIs?

NCAA Football's Playing Rules Oversight Panel is expected to ratify some significant rules changes to college football. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
NCAA Football's Playing Rules Oversight Panel is expected to ratify some significant rules changes to college football. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) /

The world of NCAA Athletics is seemingly undergoing sweeping changes at all times. Near the top of the list of changes are the transfer portal and NIL (Name, Image, and Likeness) rules.

For the majority of the history of NCAA Athletics, athletes who transferred from one school to another were required to sit out a season (barring an approved waiver from the NCAA) in order to protect the balance of competition in college sports and dissuade “free agency” type of roster movement.

Now, with the transfer portal’s one-time free transfer allowance, that free agency has arrived for college sports.

Athlete pay has been a major topic of discussion in recent years, as well. Minor changes have been building behind the scenes to help provide a fairer financial situation to student-athletes, but restrictions against athletes’ ability to earn money (even off the field) created problems in a free-market capitalistic society.

Now, NIL has allowed players to make money from utilizing their names, images, and likenesses. That would have been a great thing across all NCAA Athletics had the proper guidelines been put i place. However, very few regulations exist and, coupled with the transfer portal, college sports have turned into a wild, wild west in which anything goes.

According to a memo sent out by the NCAA, some changes are coming to NIL.

According to the memo sent from the NCAA Athletics national office, schools, boosters, and “collections of boosters” are not permitted to use NIL in recruiting practices. This has technically been a rule since the inception of NIL, but its inclusion in the NCAA memo appears to be a warning to college athletic departments that the NCAA could be looking to crack down on violators.

In a controversial (and, frankly, extremely confusing, portion of the memo. The NCAA instructs its member institutions to ignore state laws regarding NIL and athlete compensation in order to adhere to NCAA guidelines. That is something schools cannot and will not do, so this particular issue assuredly will be revisited at a later time.

SportsIllustrated’s Ross Dellenger published the full memo here. He also reported that the NCAA Football Oversight Committee is looking to discontinue the signing limit permanently, allowing schools to sign as many players as they need each cycle.

The transfer portal could be in for some minor tweaks, as well.

According to The Athletic’s Nicole Auerbach, graduate student transfers (who have no restrictions as to when they enter the transfer portal) will be able to sign an NLI (National Letter of Intent) to shut down their recruitments. If another team contacts a player after an NLI is signed, that school could be subject to punishment.

Also according to Auerbach, NLIs will become less binding in the future.

According to Auerbach’s source, an athlete can simply request a school release him/her from his/her commitment to the school. Once released, the athlete will not be required to sit out a season (with or without an NCAA Athletics-approved waiver) and will be eligible to sign with another school.

This change will apply to any student-athlete who requests a release based on the departure of a head coach or if a student-athlete desires to leave a school after just one academic semester/quarter prior to competition beginning (think early enrollees to football programs or fall enrollees for baseball teams).

In a surprising way, the NCAA appears to be stepping on its own toes with these changes. The changes to NIL and the transfer portal seem aimed at decreasing the similarities in NCAA Athletics to the free agency seen in professional sports, but the NLI change seems to promote more roster fluctuation. Getting rid of the signing limit will make coaches happy, certainly, but it will also promote more player movement as more signees means more scholarships in need of becoming open.

More guidelines are still needed in the world of the transfer portal and NIL, but no fan of any NCAA Athletics competition is holding his/her breath waiting on the NCAA to get things right.