Photos by Gerald Castillo
How transfer rule change could affect schools like Texas State
Deep down, Lauryn Thompson knows her lone year at VCU was good for her. She knows it was a needed experience, humbling in every way. It just wasn’t an enjoyable one.
The forward was heavily recruited coming out of Mansfield Timberview, and for good reason. Thompson started for the Lady Wolves all four years of her high school career. They went 110-7 during her final three seasons and reached the UIL 5A State Championship during her final two. As a senior, she averaged 13.1 points and 7.1 rebounds and was named the District 14-5A MVP.
Thompson estimates she received scholarship offers from around 25 different schools. One of them was Texas State. Zenarae Antoine was one of the first college coaches interested in her. Antoine visited Thompson’s house when the forward was just 16 years old.
The Bobcats couldn’t offer Thompson what she really wanted, though.
“I'd been living in Texas for a very long time,” Thompson said. “And I just told myself if I get four free years to do what I love, just take a chance and go somewhere away from home and just test it out.”
San Marcos was too close. The east coast wasn’t. Her father, Matt Thompson, played college basketball at Norfolk State. Lauryn figured she could make hooping in Virginia a family tradition and committed to the Rams.
The adjustment from being the star of her high school team to being one of two true freshmen on a roster full of more-experienced players was difficult to make for Thompson. The coaching style was different. The environment was different. And she was a 19-hour drive away from home. It was a whole new world located outside of her comfort zone.
Lauryn averaged 7.7 minutes in 16 appearances off the bench during the 2018-19 season, posting 2.6 points and 2.1 rebounds per game. By the end of the season, she knew that, for her own sake, she needed to view what options she had and entered the transfer portal.
“It was a good year for me even though it was a bad year,” Thompson said. “(It) tested me as a person and my basketball skills, as well as my mental. And it was hard but I feel like I really needed that year to really be who I am now, who I'm about to be.”
Going through her second recruitment process, Lauryn realized the number of miles away from home didn’t matter as much. She just wanted to be coached by people she trusted. She wanted to go somewhere she belonged. She wanted to go to Texas State.
Antoine hadn’t given anyone a second chance before. At the time, her philosophy was that if a recruit turned the Bobcats down, the door was shut and there was no opening it back up, no matter who came knocking.
“I felt like there needed to be some level of loyalty,” Antoine said. “We worked really hard at recruiting you, getting to know your family, spent a lot of money and time invested in you. So you made your choice. You know, I'm understanding of that, it's alright. And then let's move forward.”
Over her 10-year tenure, the head coach’s philosophy has softened. She realized that 18-year-olds don’t always know what’s going to matter most to them during their college experience. Her change of heart finalized when it came to Lauryn. She decided that, at the very least, she wanted to know if Thompson was leaving VCU for unselfish reasons.
“And this is what I mean by unselfish: sometimes young people leave because, you know, they're unhappy in the environment or with the coaching staff,” Antoine said. “And other times they leave because there's a sense of entitlement that they should be playing, that they've done everything they needed to do — or they've been asked to leave.”
After a long and honest conversation, Antoine felt that Thompson fell into the former category. Thompson soon became the first recruit Antoine took back.
Still, due to NCAA transfer policy, Thomspon had to take an academic year in residence. She could attend class, practice with the Bobcats and do all the things her teammates could do — except take the floor during games.
It didn’t impact her work ethic. Thompson wanted to learn from her mistakes at VCU. She changed her eating habits and worked out as if she was suiting up every week. She was in the best shape of her life.
But there was never any payoff. And for two full semesters, Thompson never got to truly test herself or nourish her competitive hunger. Antoine said there were “ a lot of tears” during Thompson’s time away from the game.
“It was difficult because I would have loved to be playing,” Thompson said. “And to think about the fact that I could have just come to Texas State right out of high school was just in my head all the time, too. So it was kind of eating me up knowing that I had to sit out a year that I really never had to sit out.”
There are currently three ways around the NCAA’s academic year in residence rule for transferring from one Division I or FBS four-year institution to another. One is that an athlete earns a bachelor’s degree before the end of their athletics eligibility and may go on to compete as a graduate student at another school.
Another is that the school an athlete transfers to can file a waiver on their behalf, citing a “specific, extraordinary circumstance” that exempts the athlete from sitting out.
The third is called the one-time transfer exception, which allows athletes transferring from Division II or III schools as well as Division I athletes in any sport other than baseball, men's or women's basketball, FBS football or men’s ice hockey to be immediately eligible after transferring for the first time.
Thompson did not meet the requirements for any of the three. But future transfer athletes might soon as the COVID-19 pandemic has created ripples of complexity when it comes to eligibility and caused the NCAA to reconsider some of its policies.
On Aug. 21, the NCAA announced it would allow fall-sport athletes to compete without the season counting toward their remaining years of eligibility or five-year clock. The association later did the same for winter- and spring-sport athletes. And on Dec. 16, the NCAA granted a blanket waiver, allowing all D1 transfer athletes to become immediately eligible.
The one-time exception rule remains untouched, though. In May, the NCAA D1 Council chose not to adopt a change to the waiver process that would have granted blanket approval on an athlete’s first attempt. The Council instead approved a resolution to revise the rule through “a comprehensive legislative package creating uniform, modernized rules governing eligibility after transfer for student-athletes in all sports.”
That led to a proposal in October to amend the one-time exception rule, which would have expanded it to apply to all sports. The D1 Board of Directors was scheduled to vote on the proposal during its national convention last week. Multiple media outlets reported for months that it was expected to pass.
However, the Council delayed the vote indefinitely on Monday, Jan. 11 — the second time the NCAA has effectively kicked the can down the road when it comes to allowing all athletes a one-time exception. The Council instead “adopted a resolution stating it is committed to modernizing its rules.”
One of the main factors keeping the NCAA from passing the legislation is pushback by D1 coaches across the sports that the rule change would affect. The consensus concern is that low- and mid-major programs would do the grunt work of recruiting and developing productive athletes and that those athletes would go on to transfer to high majors for the opportunity to perform on a bigger stage without the fear of an academic year in residence.
Todd Berry, the executive director of the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA), told Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated in February that D1 coaches have shown “unanimous” opposition to the idea at each of the past three AFCA conventions and that the NCAA’s decision to consider a change “shocked” him.
“I know, I have an idea,” former Miami football coach Mark Richt tweeted on Feb. 18. “You recruit and develop players and when I think they’re good enough I will poach them from your roster! Welcome to what the new normal will look like in college football!”
“I would be 100 percent for the rule if I was selfish and greedy,” Tennessee head men’s basketball coach Rick Barnes told the Washington Post in May. “It won’t change the number of kids I lose to transfer, but it will change how many kids transfer from mid-majors because power schools will poach their players nonstop. It already goes on because of graduate transfers and all the waivers that are allowed, but if you make every single transfer easy, it will happen all the time.”
Those worries are valid. Former Texas State guard Nijal Pearson is a prime example of it.
Pearson was overlooked coming out of Beaumont Central despite averaging 18.5 points, 9.0 assists and 7.0 rebounds a game as a senior. He remembers only getting offers from three or four schools at the max, none of them from high majors.
He committed to Texas State and started in all 133 games he played in as a Bobcat. He was named to the All-Sun Belt Conference Third Team as a sophomore and rose to the First Team as a junior and senior. By the end of his career, he was the program’s all-time leading scorer with 2,122 points and the Sun Belt’s 2019-20 Male Student-Athlete of the Year.
Pearson likely could’ve cracked a high major’s rotation as an upperclassman. After graduating from Texas State, Pearson signed with Chorale Roanne, a team in the top-tier French league, LNB Pro A — playing for a high major might’ve improved his professional prospects.
But the idea of not playing for a whole year scared him away from the thought
“Actually, I never considered (transferring) due to the fact that I would've had to sit out,” Pearson said. “With the (proposed one-time exception) transfer rule … I'm not gonna say I would have, but it's likely a chance that I would've transferred.
“My time at Texas State was great, I regret nothing. But just to maximize myself as a player without sitting a year out, I think it would have been a very smart decision for me to transfer if the new rule was in place.”
The coaches' competitive balance concerns only look at one side of the equation, though. While schools like Texas State run the risk of losing their best players due to the proposed one-time exception rule, they may also end up adding their best players because of it.
Cheyenne Huskey’s bags were packed. She just couldn’t bring herself to take them home.
On the court, the setter was helping the Florida volleyball program sustain its decades-long run of excellence. But her experience off the court was a disaster.
Huskey wanted to be a nurse or a physical therapist someday and committed to the Gators in part because of their medical program. She realized after the fact that pre-med classes and volleyball don’t mix and had to settle for a general studies degree with minors in sociology and psychology.
She also soon realized she didn’t mix well with the coaching staff, either.
“The coaching situation was not necessarily my favorite thing,” Huskey said. “I feel like at a big D1 like that, whenever they recruit you, it's all happy-go-lucky. Like, everything is perfect and rainbows and butterflies. But once I got there, it kind of all changed for me. I felt like I was working 10 times harder than every other player.”
Huskey played in just 13 sets as a freshman in 2016 as Florida went 26-7 overall, reaching the second round of the NCAA tournament. She was ready to leave then. Her parents convinced her to stay for another year. “Maybe it’ll get better,” they told her.
It got worse. Huskey had one foot out the door as the 2017 season began. She was getting a lot more playing time, but that just meant drawing more ire from the coaches, leading to more stress. She confided in teammates she trusted that she was likely going to transfer soon.
She thought she’d reached a boiling point in October and loaded up her belongings. But the Gators were 10-0 by then, with wins over No. 1 Texas, No. 5 Nebraska, No. 16 North Carolina, No. 19 Florida State and No. 21 Michigan State — clearly poised to make a deep postseason run. Huskey feared her departure would ruin the team’s chemistry, which would be unfair to her teammates.
She felt stuck. The 900-mile distance between Gainesville and her hometown of Columbus didn’t help. The only relief she ever felt was during matches, when it was just her and the sport she loved to play.
“I was unhappy,” Huskey said. “To be honest, I was at a depression stage and I was going to therapy for it. And it was hard for me to let go of it because of the fact that they were so successful and I liked being on a successful, high-playing team.”
When Florida reached the Final Four of the NCAA tournament, Huskey knew she needed to arrange a meeting with her coaches to let them know her plans to transfer. Throughout the entire weekend in Kansas City, Missouri, she fretted over where and when the meeting should take place.
The Gators fell to Nebraska in the national championship on Dec. 16, 3-1. Huskey texted her coaches after the match that they needed to sit down and talk. She didn’t get a response until late the next day.
The reason for the meeting surprised her head coach, Mary Wise. She had no idea Huskey wanted to leave.
“The meeting didn't go too well,” Huskey said. “It was very aggressive, let's just say that. Some things were said that, you know, you wouldn't hope anybody, any coach, would say to your player. But I chose that.”
Being a women’s volleyball player, Huskey was granted a one-time exception, meaning she would be eligible to play immediately wherever she decided to transfer to. She wanted to be closer to home but also wanted a more genuine connection with her coaches.
Cheyenne’s sisters, Elise Otwell and Brandy Huskey, both played volleyball at UTSA and had played against Texas State on multiple occasions. Cheyenne’s dad, Keith Huskey, was an AAU coach and had known Bobcats head volleyball coach Karen Chisum for years. Cheyenne’s familiarity with the program, as well as the maroon and gold’s 25-10 record during the 2017 campaign, led her to schedule a visit with Texas State during the holiday break. She also planned to visit with Baylor the day after.
Huskey was up-front with Chisum and assistant coaches Sean Huiet and Tracy Smith during her visit. She told them about how depressed she was at Florida and that she just wanted to be free to play without the same kind of pressure. They told her it wouldn’t be a problem. She told them about her plans to go into nursing school after her volleyball career. They said they could help her schedule courses that would go toward it.
It was a natural fit. Huskey canceled her Baylor visit that night and committed to Texas State the next day.
“This stands out to me,” Chisum said. “She said driving to San Marcos from Columbus and seeing the cornfields and seeing some boots and some hats, she knew she was back home. You know, she was just a small-town, kind of country kid. And that was not in Florida. She missed that part of it.”
The junior was recruited to be a setter for the Bobcats. But when Megan Porter suffered a torn ACL during the third match of the 2018 season against LSU on Aug. 25, Chisum chose to move 6-foot-2 Huskey to outside hitter, which she hadn’t played since high school. She ended up staying at the position for the rest of her career.
Huskey dominated the competition and was twice selected to the All-Sun Belt First Team. She averaged 3.35 kills per frame while playing in 234 sets across 67 seven matches. Texas State won back-to-back conference regular season and tournament titles, the program’s first since joining the Sun Belt, and reached the NCAA tournament in 2018 and 2019.
The 2018 postseason run was especially significant for the Bobcats — they knocked off Rice, 3-1, on Nov. 29 in Austin to reach the second round of the NCAA tournament for the first time. Huskey had a career-high 23 kills in the win over the Owls.
She had finally found her place.
“I felt like I could express myself more. It felt more of like a family to me. Not that, you know, Florida wasn't a family to me,” Huskey said. “I was just a lot more free (at Texas State). I didn't have any stress, I didn't have any stuff put on my shoulders to worry about.”
Chisum realized the impact that Cheyenne’s transfer had on her mental health at a spring tournament at Baylor on March 24, 2018.
“And at the end of the day, (Keith) came over, put his arm around me, he says, ‘Coach, you don't know how happy her mom and I are to look at her and see how content and pleased and happy she is,’” Chisum said. “She was unhappy the last two years and as a father, you want your kid to be happy. And she's happy again.’”
Texas State is no stranger to the transfer portal. Of the 172 athletes listed on the Bobcats’ current baseball, football and men’s and women’s basketball teams, 57 transferred to the university from either two-year or four-year schools, making up over one-third of the group.
Transfer athletes tend to make big impacts when suiting up for the Bobcats, especially those that come from other D1 and FBS schools.
Texas State’s waiver requests were all denied for former Memphis quarterback Brady McBride, former Oklahoma State running back Jahmyl Jeter, former Wake Forest wide receiver Waydale Jones and former Arkansas offensive lineman Silas Robinson. McBride became the team’s starter behind center in 2020 after sitting out the 2019 season, throwing for 1,925 yards with 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions as a redshirt sophomore. Jeter had to sit out the first two games of the season before an appeal was granted on his waiver and the sophomore ended up running for 329 yards and three touchdowns on 47 carries, including a 135-yard performance against Appalachian State on Nov. 7.
Tucker Redden missed the 2019 baseball season after transferring from Houston. The redshirt senior started at catcher in 12 of the 15 games he played in 2020, batting for .275 with seven RBIs and posting a .992 fielding percentage.
Thompson’s started in all nine games of the 2020-21 season for the women’s basketball team, averaging 10.6 points and 6.6 rebounds. She had a breakout 25-point, eight-rebound game on Jan. 1 in her Sun Belt debut against Louisiana. She’ll play in her 10th game with the team on Friday when they take on Louisiana-Monroe inside Strahan Arena at 4 p.m.
“It's funny to think, my goal was simply just to play when I came to Texas State,” Thompson said.
The NCAA likely won’t vote on the one-time exception change until after it has determined its new rules on name, image and likeness (NIL) rights for athletes. In May, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that the NCAA’s current NIL policies were anticompetitive under federal antitrust laws. The NCAA has appealed the decision and the case will now be heard by the Supreme Court, with a decision expected to be reached by the end of June.
Multiple states passed bills that allowed for athletes to make money off their NIL, and many more legislatures, including the U.S. Congress, are moving in that direction as well. In addition to the one-time exception proposal, the NCAA chose to delay a vote on changing its NIL rules, citing “several external factors, including recent correspondence with the U.S. Department of Justice.”
Athletes will be more incentivized to transfer if the NCAA ultimately alters its one-time exception rule. Some might be homegrown talents like Nijal Pearson who want to test themselves at the highest levels of their sports. But there will be others like Huskey, who want to take a step back.
The unknown impacts of the possible change leave some coaches a little uneasy.
“There's mixed emotions on it. Gonna have to wait to see how it all plays out, determining on my feelings on it a little bit,” Texas State head baseball coach Steven Trout said. “You know, we have a great track record of keeping our guys and I think our guys are happy here. And I think that that makes it even more important — that the way you treat your guys is so important, that they love playing for you and love being part of the program.”
Others think the new rule could truly benefit athletes across the country and see the potential for a new recruiting avenue.
“I'm completely fine with it. And the reason why I say that is because, I guess coming from an AAU background, you come into it understanding that guys are gonna make decisions. And sometimes it may not be the most popular ones. And things will find a way to work themselves out at the end,” interim head men’s basketball coach Terrence Johnson said. “I mean, these guys are not property. As much as we like to think that they're our players, they have the power of choice. It's God-given. It's your will, it's your right.”
“I've always been an advocate for it. I know a lot of my colleagues aren't,” Antoine said. “If you go into it with your eyes wide open for men's basketball, women's basketball, football and baseball it affects and we take a look at some of our counterparts and have a conversation with them to try to understand what that looks like, I think that can help us get to a closer place.”