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U.S. Department of Justice joins multi-state lawsuit challenging NCAA restrictions on transfers

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The NCAA is now staring down a new legal opponent as the U.S. Department of Justice joined a lawsuit from several states on Thursday challenging NCAA transfer restrictions. At stake is whether the NCAA will be allowed to continue mandating that second-time undergraduate transfers sit out a season before participating in competition.

A U.S. District Court judge issued a temporary injunction in the case on Dec. 13, leading to immediate eligibility for dozens of second-time transfer basketball players around the country. However, the fate of the rule beyond this academic year remains up in the air, pending the outcome of the case.

The NCAA faces a tough battle with the DOJ on board and 11 states now participating in the lawsuit, which asserts the NCAA’s transfer rules are “an illegal restraint on college athletes’ ability to sell their image and likeness and control their education.” A trial date has note been set. 

“There is strength in numbers,” said Ohio attorney general Dave Yost, whose office filed the initial lawsuit. “This case would never have come to pass had many players not been sidelined by the NCAA’s arbitrary and unfair rule. We’re fighting for better competition and long-term change.”

One path to an out-of-court resolution could be for the NCAA to change the rule on its own. The NCAA Division I Board of Directors requested in late October that NCAA staff and committees consider potential modifications to the current rules, which only allow second-time undergraduate transfers immediate eligibility in select scenarios: First, a player can receive immediate eligibility if they have a physical injury or mental health condition that pushed them to transfer from a school. Second, the NCAA will consider “exigent circumstances” that could force a player to leave an institution, such as sexual assault or abuse. 

Those exceptions to the rule have led to accusations that the NCAA is arbitrarily deciding which second-time transfers meet the requirements for immediate eligibility.

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