When a Student Transfers, How Do Sanctions at One School Impact Athletic Participation at the Next School?
Student athletes who are unhappy with the playing opportunities or team environment at one school often transfer to another to find a program that better fits their needs. But sometimes, student athletes change schools for another reason. They may choose—or be forced—to leave a school because of findings of wrongdoing.
In some high-profile cases, the transfer has been prompted by findings of sexual assault or harassment in violation of Title IX. Students disciplined for misconduct at one college have transferred to another and picked up their athletic career where they left off, seemingly with no consequences. This has led to public outrage and rule changes within the NCAA and colleges across the country.
So the question now is what happens to student athletes now? When they transfer are they allowed to play without restriction? Are they completely banned from participation? Or do their options fall somewhere in the middle?
Title IX rules are not the only factors affecting a transferring student’s ability to participate in a new environment. The NCAA rules provide very specific guidelines about whether a student must sit out when investigations are ongoing or after a suspension or other sanctions. These rules vary according to the circumstances, including the division of competition.
New Sexual Violence Policy from NCAA
The NCAA Board of Governors adopted policies to prevent Campus Sexual Violence in 2017 and then updated these policies in 2018, 2020, and 2021. While some of the policies affect transfer students, the implementation of those policies was delayed until the 2022-2023 school year because of COVID-19 challenges. That means the effects of the new rules are only now starting to become fully apparent.
Under the policies, school officials must officially attest each year that:
- The school’s athletic department is complying with policies for sexual violence prevention and adjudication
- Student athletes are provided with the sexual violence prevention policies and contact information for the campus Title IX Coordinator
- Student athletes and staff have been educated on sexual violence prevention
- All students (incoming, continuing, and transfer) have completed a disclosure about conduct that resulted in sanctions from a Title IX proceeding or criminal conviction for intimate partner violence, sexual violence, or serious physical assault.
- Transferring student athletes have reported any incomplete Title IX proceedings at the time of transfer
- The school has taken “reasonable steps” to confirm whether any student has been disciplined or convicted of Title IX or criminal proceedings relating to the above
- Schools that recruit student athletes or accept student athletes as transfers have implemented a written procedure to gather data that “reasonably yields information” from the transfer student’s former school about any incomplete Title IX proceedings or discipline or convictions relating to the above
This policy requires student-athletes to report their own violations (or potential violations) and if they fail to do so, they “could” face penalties and those penalties “could” include prohibition from participation in athletics. However, the penalty for failure to disclose is left to the individual school under the NCAA policy. The NCAA policy does not specify what should happen if a student does disclose sanctions for a Title IX violation or a criminal conviction for violent acts.
The policy does require schools to share information when a student applies to transfer.
School Policies Guidelines Hold the Key
The NCAA rules give schools considerable flexibility in what they decide to do after they learn of a potential or existing Title IX sexual misconduct violation. The model “Tracy Rule” adopted by some schools specifically prohibits a student from participating in athletics if they have been disciplined for serious misconduct or convicted of a crime of serious misconduct. But the Tracy Rule has not yet been widely adopted by schools.
Therefore, to determine the impact of Title IX sanctions on a transfer student’s ability to play at a different school, it is necessary to review the policies of that particular school. At places like Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania and Regis University in Colorado, which have adopted the Tracy Rule, students who have been sanctioned for serious misconduct may not practice, compete, or receive athletic financial aid unless they are granted a waiver. Serious misconduct is defined in the Tracy Rule to include crimes such as sexual assault and murder, but it also incorporates offenses traditionally considered less serious, such as stalking, harassment, and sharing of sexually explicit images.
Other colleges are taking a less stern approach. At State University of New York Brockport, for instance, a student is prohibited from playing intercollegiate athletics if they fail to disclose “material information” on their attestation form, but if they do reveal conduct that resulted in disciplinary action, they are not automatically restricted in their ability to participate in athletics. Instead, a committee made up of the Director of Athletics, the Title IX Coordinator, the Chief of University Police and the Director of Student Conduct will conduct a review and determine the student’s eligibility to participate in athletics. The policy does not make it clear whether a student is permitted to submit material explaining the proceeding or presenting arguments as to why athletic participation should be permitted, but an attorney might advise taking such measures to protect the student’s rights and opportunities.
Participation After Sanctions Not Related to Sexual Misconduct
When a student athlete faces disciplinary action for matters not related to sexual violence, schools are free to establish their own policies regarding participation in athletics for transfer students, so long as the policies comply with general NCAA standards. For sanctions related to academic failings, a school may choose to establish a strict standard requiring a student to demonstrate performance before being allowed to participate. Or the policy manual may be silent on the issue, allowing the student to participate fully so long as their current grades meet the NCAA guidelines.
As with so many eligibility questions, the answers lie within the language of a school’s particular policy guidelines.
Get Advice and Assistance After Sanctions
School disciplinary actions can have a substantial impact on a student’s life and opportunities. Even allegations of wrongdoing or informal complaints that are never investigated can have a negative impact that lasts far into a student’s future. Working with a lawyer who is familiar with school disciplinary proceedings and conduct codes can help protect the student’s rights and preserve potential benefits for the future.
At Duffy Law, we are committed to seeking justice in Title IX cases, and that means supporting complainants and respondents during and after campus proceedings. For the school, the proceeding has a definite ending, but for the students involved and their families, a decision on campus is only one step on a long and painful journey.
For a confidential discussion about the ways we can assist students as they move forward after school sanctions, contact Duffy Law LLC today.