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Can this be? The NCAA is applying common sense and fair play?

In this March 14, 2012, file photo, a player runs across the NCAA logo during practice at the NCAA tournament college basketball in Pittsburgh.
AP

SALT LAKE CITY — What is going on? The overseers of college athletics seem to be succumbing to an outbreak of common sense and fair play, and when has that ever occurred?

There’s a move underway to allow “student-athletes” to transfer to another school without sitting out a year — a get-out-of-State-U.-free card.

This follows other “revolutionary” changes in recent years such as a rule that allows athletes to receive a stipend and another one that will allow them to do endorsements and to own their likeness. Imagine such a concept — the NCAA wouldn’t own a photo of an athlete in perpetuity. It would belong to the actual athlete himself (it also should be noted that the NCAA came up with another revolutionary, common sense idea unrelated to player rights — playoffs for football! Who would’ve thought of such a thing! Well, everybody — don’t miss big eye roll here).

The bottom line: The NCAA is surrendering some of its iron-fisted control of the athletes — its money-printing machine — and is letting them eat some of the crumbs that fall off the table.

Well, the change of the transfer rule hasn’t happened yet, but if this wave of common sense continues it will become law within a year. It was recently reported by CBS Sports that in October the Big Ten Conference proposed the idea of a penalty-free, one-time transfer from one school to another, effective in 2021.

Currently, of course, athletes are required to sit out a year before they are allowed to play again (the exception is for graduate students). According to Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports, the Big Ten proposed the idea last fall before the NCAA placed a moratorium on transfer-related proposals for the 2019-20 legislative calendar.

“That is something we need to fix,” Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel told Dodd. “We need to give all young people flexibility to transfer once. If they transfer a second time, there is no waiver.”

Sports and athletes are necessarily treated differently than, say, businesses and employees and even other students. If athletes were allowed to switch teams at will — whether it was because a coach yelled at them or didn’t give them enough playing time or they simply wanted to play for a better team — it would be chaos. Sports couldn’t function. It would destroy competitive balance. It would lead to, well, the NBA. There would be no real teams, only constantly mutating groups of players. It would lead to the problem that plagues high school sports in which students transfer out of their home boundary to play for better school, creating competitive imbalance.

But an argument can be made for compromise in collegiate sports. Just as the NFL has free agency — which begins when a contract expires — college athletes should have the right to change schools when their “contract” — an athletic scholarship — expires.

Scholarships are one-year commitments that the university and athlete make to one another. After that, the school is free to release them — so why shouldn’t the athlete be able to cut ties with the school? Coaches break commitments to schools all the time and leave for more money or bigger programs. Besides, 18-year-old kids are bound to make decisions they regret, so why not give them at least one out? Look how many of them back out of verbal “commitments” they make in high school.

”I think it’s the right thing to do,” Manuel told CBS.

The NCAA, which moves at the speed of a glacier and fears all change, has traditionally resisted changes to the transfer rule as well as changes relating to remuneration. That hasn’t changed. Let’s not give the NCAA credit where it isn’t due. These changes are being driven by others and forcing the NCAA’s hand — the Ed O’Bannon court case, the California legislature’s passage of a law to pay athletes at its state universities, the Big Ten pushing for the one-time transfer waiver. NCAA officials act only when the proverbial gun is held to their heads.

Which is why Manuel told CBS, “We want to force the question. Our take in the Big Ten — my take at Michigan — would be to vote for everybody getting a one-time transfer.”

Adam Rittenberg of ESPN reported that an unnamed Big Ten athletic director supports the proposal to change the transfer rule.

“A majority of our folks are in for a one-time transfer,” the AD told Rittenberg. “You have to adjust to the times that we’re in and learn from what history has shown us.”

The current transfer restrictions apply only to five sports — football, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball and hockey. The other sports already allow one-time transfers without penalty. It stands to reason that if it works for those sports, why wouldn’t it work for other sports. The rule would allow athletes in all sports to transfer any time during their allotted five years at a school.

Another overdue change is coming soon in the ongoing college athletics makeover.