Questions? Call 866-495-5172
Already a member? 877-845-6272

NCAA Transfer Rules

Two IMG student-athletes smiling

Although the intent from both coach and student-athlete is to have the player be there for four or five years, play for four years and graduate from that school within that time span, that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes, a player will realize that a school or a team was not at all what was anticipated. Perhaps the coach was not pleased with the fit. Whatever the reason, players sometimes leave. When they do, they must follow NCAA transfer rules. They’re also sport specific; for example, there are NCAA football transfer rules specific to that sport.

NCAA transfer rules are often reported on in mainstream media when high-profile players in sports such as football and basketball decide to play elsewhere. Many know that NCAA football transfer rules and NCAA basketball transfer rules require D1 players to sit out a season, being red-shirted while attending classes full-time at the new school before being eligible to play. However, it’s not quite that simple. Some exceptions exist even in those situations, and athletes moving between schools in most other sports and between other divisions are often not held to that need to take a year off from playing.

These NCAA transfer eligibility rules also change from time to time. For example, the NCAA announced new NCAA transfer rules on June 26, 2019, stating that four of its guidelines had been changed. These new NCAA transfer rules were altered with the intent to clarify them. As a result, documentary evidence must be made available in relation to an athlete no longer being able to participate on a team at the former school or had their health “health, safety or well-being” undermined. The same is true for transferring due to medical reasons related to the athlete or an athlete’s family member.

The bottom line is that if you’re transferring from one institution to another, you should check the NCAA rules for transfer and possibly contact the compliance officer at your previous or future school. In some cases, these will apply even if you weren’t involved with the athletics department at your old school. The one clear exception where they are irrelevant is if you’re transferring somewhere and won’t play intercollegiate sports again.

Also take into account that conferences sometimes have rules that are more restrictive than the NCAA’s, and regularly keep abreast of any new NCAA transfer rules that are passed prior to you becoming a college athlete.

NCAA transfers – Timing and the NCAA transfer portal

When is the best time to start the transfer process? It depends. Generally, you want to start it as soon as you realize that you’d like to depart and attend a new school. However, you should be cautious.

The main reason for this is because entering the NCAA transfer portal, a phrase that is quickly becoming one of the common sports terms in NCAA athletics, might have an effect on your scholarship or your playing time at your current school. Of course, this is not important if you are 100% sure that you’re transferring, but if you might stay at your current school, you may want to be wary about taking this step. Your current athletic scholarship, if you have one, will not be affected, but it could be rescinded for future terms.

Learn all about NCAA transfer and eligibility rules.

Regardless, the NCAA transfer portal is useful for seeing who might be interested in you and what they have to offer. Conversely, you could include a “do not contact” designation with your profile, useful if you only have one or a small handful of schools in mind and want to be the only one being proactive.

As far as how the NCAA transfer portal works, you would just need to provide written notification to your compliance administrator at your current school. You don’t need to inform your coaching staff. You can apply for admission at the new school without doing this since NCAA transfer rules only apply if you’ll be participating in sports at the new school.

If you have not yet enrolled at any college, none of this applies to you. However, if you signed a National Letter of Intent and want to head to a different NLI institution, you need to either lose a year of competition or be granted a release from it from the school that you had agreed to attend and play for. All NLI institutions are NCAA D1 and D2 schools, so breaking an NLI to initially head to a D3 or NAIA institution would be fine.

NCAA transfer eligibility rules: Walk-ons

Walk-ons is one of the sports terms that’s important to know. Soon-to-be NCAA D1 student-athletes who were walk-ons at their previous institutions can generally be immediately eligible at their new one. This applies if the institution that they are leaving offered athletic scholarships in this player’s sport, but one was not offered to this student-athlete. It also applies if the previous school did not offer athletic scholarships in that sport, but the player was not recruited to play there.

Red shirting

This is another of the common sports terms. A player who is red shirting is a full-time student who does not take part in more than four games in a season, and, as a result, does not use one of their four years of eligibility. In NCAA Divisions 1 and 2, they may take part in any and all practices. In NCAA Division 3, they can only take part in practices up to the first competition of the season.

If you’re a D1 baseball, basketball, football or men’s ice hockey player, you’ll likely need to be red-shirted due to NCAA transfer rules sit out one year. However, being red-shirted for that year is generally not required for athletes in other sports or in other divisions.

Red shirting is important as you only have five years to complete your four years of eligibility with rare exceptions. In D1, this five-year clock commences when you become a full-time student anywhere, even if you don’t play sports there. It only stops in rare cases. In D2 and D3, it also starts once you enroll as a full-time student for the first time, but it’s paused anytime you are no longer a full-time student.

Everything you wanted to know about NCAA transfer and eligibility rules.

NCAA transfer rules: Transferring between divisions

An important thing to consider is that those engaging in the transfer process from an NCAA D3 institution to a D1 or D2 university must register with the NCAA Eligibility Center. Those who were already D1 and D2 student-athletes know the NCAA Clearinghouse well, but D3 student-athletes might not have any experience with it. If you’re a D3 student-athlete looking to head to a different D3 school, you don’t need to register with the NCAA Clearinghouse, and you can self-release yourself and then do the contacting. Division terms also allow you to the NCAA transfer portal if you’d like.

If you need to follow NAIA to NCAA transfer rules, rest assured that they’re simpler. While the NCAA does not require NAIA athletes to be in the transfer portal, NCAA coaches are prohibited from having contact with any student-athlete who is currently enrolled at any NCAA or NAIA 4-year institution. NAIA athletes will need a  permission-to-contact letter from their current athletic department or compliance office allowing them to start the recruiting process with another coach. NAIA to NCAA transfer rules don’t require you to procure a release from your current institution, but doing so is highly encouraged, and most NCAA schools will not speak to you until it’s done. NAIA to NCAA transfer rules also require you to be approved by the NCAA Eligibility Center unless you’re heading to a D3 school. If you’re going in the opposite direction, out of the NCAA and into the NAIA, you need to register with the NAIA Eligibility Center and meet that organization’s transfer rules.

The division terms that apply when transferring from a D3 or D2 school to a D1 institution occur if you’re a baseball, basketball, football or men’s ice hockey player. You’ll likely need to sit out a year, something that wouldn’t be required if you did a switch amongst D2 and D3 colleges.

Conversely, if you’re making a move from D1 or D2 to D3, the process is much simpler. As long as you would have been athletically and academically eligible at your former school, you can generally compete right away at your new one. One of the most famous examples of this type of move is Brett Elliott, a former Utah quarterback who transferred to Linfield, where he helped lead the Wildcats to the D3 national championship in 2004.

Student-athletes who graduated from an DI or DII school that have eligibility remaining and wish to transfer to compete at a DIII institution are not immediately eligible and must complete a stringent waiver process. These athletes can learn more about this process here.

Note that NCAA Division 1 transfer rules still require you to enter the transfer portal prior to contacting a D3 school while NCAA Division 2 transfer rules don’t include this requirement.

However, generally speaking, you need to focus on the division terms that apply to where you want to go.

NCAA transfer eligibility rules: How often?

You needed to transfer for whatever reason, but now you would like to transfer again. Is that allowed within the NCAA transfer rules? If you started out at a four-year institution before transferring to a junior college and now want to return to a four-year school, you can without penalty. You do need to pass academic requirements, and at least one calendar year must have elapsed from the last time that you were at a four-year institution, however

Conversely, if all of the schools are four-year institutions and your sport was offered at the previous two, then the 4-4-4 transfer rules NCAA come into play. Generally, you will need to lose a year of eligibility, but some exceptions exist.

NCAA transfer rules: Minimum GPA

Generally, you need to have earned a minimum GPA of 2.0 in order to be eligible to play college sports at your current or any future institution. However, when transferring from a two-year school to a four-year one, higher GPAs are sometimes necessary or preferred.

NCAA graduate transfer rules

The NCAA graduate transfer rules provide an easy way to transfer and play immediately. However, this depends on the student having earned a bachelor’s degree before departing. In that case, as long as they have eligibility remaining on their five-year clock, they can play right away at their new school. This is one of the NCAA football transfer rules and NCAA basketball transfer rules that’s becoming more well known as of late.

One prime example is Russell Wilson. He followed NCAA football transfer rules in moving on from North Carolina State in 2011 and heading to Wisconsin to play quarterback that fall. The intent behind these NCAA transfer rules is that a player should not be punished by graduating and wanting to attend graduate school elsewhere.

A recent proposal to change NCAA football transfer rules and NCAA basketball transfer rules and require schools to count that player as a used scholarship for two years unless a graduate degree was earned in one year was defeated.

NCAA transfer rules: Assistance

If you’re a football player looking to transfer schools, you need to understand the NCAA football transfer rules. If you’re a volleyball player looking to do the same, you should understand the NCAA transfer eligibility rules for your sport. Although NCAA transfer rules are mostly identical from sport to sport, significant differences exist in some cases. Unfortunately, the process can be daunting. That’s where NCSA College Recruiting comes in. It can help simplify this process, provide useful resources and educate you, ensuring that you’re doing what’s best for you as you continue to find your best fit.

NCSA’s employees are experienced with NCAA transfer eligibility rules as well as with all steps of the recruiting process. This is important as athletes tend to not be nearly as experienced with this as compared to the coaching staffs that recruit them. Although those looking for information on NCAA rules for transfer will be going through this for a second or subsequent time, that experience pales in comparison to coaches that recruit significant numbers of athletes every year.

If you would like to see what NCSA has to offer and how it can help you navigate the sometimes-confusing NCAA transfer eligibility rules, fill out your free profile today. Do call 866 495-5172 if you have any questions about what NCSA can provide or with the form itself. NCSA helps about 25,000 athletes commit to a college for sports within the past year and is well versed in the entire recruiting process, including as it relates to transfers.

Get Started for Free!

A profile only takes 60 seconds

Athlete Information

Parent Information

Get Started for Free!

A profile only takes 60 seconds

Athlete Information

Parent Information