As NCAA tweaks transfer rules, WVU’s Simmons grateful for year off

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – This week the NCAA Division I council updated the language of its rules about the waiver process for student-athletes entering the transfer portal. The portal debuted last fall as a way to streamline the process for athletes transferring between schools.

After some head-scratching decisions regarding immediate eligibility for players who were supposed to sit out a year – quarterback Tate Martell is the poster boy after leaving Ohio State for Miami because he was going to lose his starting job to fellow immediately eligible transfer Justin Fields – the council clearly tried to tap the brakes.

In the future, transfers will have to provide “documented extenuating, extraordinary and mitigating circumstances outside of the student-athlete’s control that directly impacts the health, safety or well-being of the student-athlete.”

The change brought an outcry from several members of the national media, including The Athletic’s Stewart Mandel and ESPN’s Jay Bilas, who believed it was too restrictive of athletes’ rights.

“Transfer restrictions are not based upon principle, but simply to deter an asset moving,” Bilas tweeted. “Clearly, athletes are employees… with non-compete clauses disguised as transfer restrictions.”

Mandel was to the point, writing “Oh, for crying out loud. Just let them play.”

One player on West Virginia’s roster remains in flux as he awaits word on whether he’ll get a waiver for this season. Wide receiver Sean Ryan transferred from Temple after the Owls changed coaches twice this offseason, and is trying to get on the field this fall.

But the right move for some is not necessarily the right move for all.

Former West Virginia quarterback Will Grier often mentioned how much he benefitted from a year of practice to learn a completely different offense from the one he ran at Florida.

Wide receiver T.J. Simmons, who transferred to West Virginia from Alabama, is also a proponent of sitting out.

“Every situation is different. I benefitted from it,” Simmons said. “I had a lot to learn leaving Alabama and coming to this place. Sitting back and not having the pressure of playing, being able to learn from the coaches and learn tidbits from everyone here, it helped me a lot. I developed a lot more than if I would have had to just jump in right away and play.”

The NCAA’s decision to toughen up the waiver process should take away from the feeling of an impending free-for-all that characterized the first year of its transfer portal. But Simmons says that players are still going to transfer even if they do have to sit a year. He doesn’t regret his decision to leave the most dominant program of college football’s past decade.

“People who haven’t been through it and haven’t had to make a change sometimes look down on it and don’t understand,” Simmons said. “But whenever you talk to your family and your family supports your decision, and when you yourself don’t think you can be as good as you can be in one program and another program can make you be as good as you can, then you should make that decision for you.”

The transfer portal will likely remain difficult for older fans to embrace, but even a traditionalist like senior defensive end Reese Donahue believes that the system is ultimately beneficial.

“You can’t make guys stay,” Donahue said. “If their heart’s not in it, you’re better off finding someone who wants to play with less talent.”

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