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Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Michigan's Contractual Liability if Paulus "Transfers" to Play QB
It certainly has been a rough year for Michigan football. The team was simply handled by a then-underrated Utah, embarrassed by mid-major Toledo, all the while beset by its coach's messy divorce from his former school. The latest news from Ann Arbor is that, in spite of its recruitment of heralded quarterback Tate Forcier, the team may be led next year by Greg Paulus.
Paulus is well known as a three-year starting point guard (and fourth year bench player) for the Duke Blue Devils. While considering a move to Michigan, he is also reportedly being evaluated for an NFL contract by the Green Bay Packers. That a player's choice is between playing college football for a new school or NFL football for a pro team certainly seems to undercut the NCAA's much ballyhooed notion of amateurism. That said, were Paulus to enroll at Michigan as a "graduate student", say in the one-year M.S. in Kinesiology, NCAA rules might allow him to play one season of football.
Under the NCAA's "five-year rule," an athlete may compete in college athletics for no more than four seasons in a single sport for the first five years after graduating from high school. Paulus has no remaining basketball eligibility, but could compete in another sport for one more year. And under Rule 126.96.36.199, the "One-Time Transfer Exception," a graduate student may under some conditions use any remaining eligibility at a new institution without sitting out the year ordinarily required for college transfers.
While the team might be complying with the letter of the rule, could it be said that it would be following the rule's intent? No school has an obligation under NCAA rules to comply with the intent of an eligibility mandate; but UM may have voluntarily assumed such an obligation.
A liberalized version of Rule 188.8.131.52 was at one point overridden in part by Division I schools. The one-time transfer rule is limited by Rule 184.108.40.206.10(a), under which a player can only compete in bowl subdivision football, if transferring from an institution that offers that level of football, when the player has at least two years of football eligibility remaining.
Does Paulus meet that test? Although he has four years of football eligibility remaining, the five-year rule would cut off three of those years (even if he remained at Duke), so under the five-year rule it would seem like he has only one actual year remaining and would thus not qualify for the one-time transfer exception. However, if the 5-year rule were ignored or viewed separately from the four-years-of-eligibility rule, then I suppose he would have four years remaining.
Let's assume that, as most media coverage suggests, Paulus would in fact qualify to play for the Wolverines next year (or that he received a waiver from the NCAA). Though possibly permissible under NCAA bylaws, allowing his transfer would certainly be cynical. In addition it could potentially expose the Michigan Wolverines to a (perhaps challenging) breach of contract or fraud claim. The "mission statement" of the Michigan Athletics department contains the following provision under the theme "integrity":
If the NCAA's basic purpose is to maintain athletics as an integral part of the educational mission of universities, the intent behind any of its rules has to be interpreted in that light. For a player to select a new school after participating in top-tier athletics for four straight seasons seems contrary to the intent of the NCAA's amateurism ideal. Players at Michigan who have competed to play quarterback -- including new recruits -- might have a legitimate claim to having been the victims of fraud or breach of a representation made as part of the student-athlete contract.