Typically, players who transfer from one Division I-A (FBS, whatever) school to another have to sit out a season.
However, there is a rule in place that allows players to move to a different school once they have graduated if they have remaining eligibility and the new school offers a graduate program the old one doesn't.
In Masoli's case, he had already graduated from Oregon, and he enrolled in the parks and recreation graduate program at Ole Miss.
There's a catch, though.
Masoli only wanted to transfer after he was kicked off Oregon's team for disciplinary reasons. That caught the eye of the NCAA, which saw an abuse of the system happening and decided to stop it.
"The waiver exists to provide relief to student-athletes who transfer for academic reasons to pursue graduate studies, not to avoid disciplinary measures at the previous university," the NCAA wrote in its decision.
This makes sense, because allowing Masoli to play immediately would be a garbage application of a well-intentioned rule (Greg Paulus used it last year to play at Syracuse). FanHouse colleague Clay Travis opines.
Rule otherwise and effectively the transfer loophole rule is expanded to an even greater degree -- graduate in three years from a university and you can immediately play a fourth year at any institution provided you aren't serving time in jail. Read in this light, the NCAA's ruling requires that the transfer rule not exist as a means to avoid an existing punishment levied at a previous university. For most objective readers, that reasoning makes sense. The intent of the rule matters, and Masoli's situation was not within that intent.
But, and here's the rub, that limiting language is not actually in the transfer rule. So does the NCAA exist to formally apply the rules or to functionally apply the rules? And here you could start a war with lawyers. Form vs. function, the Supreme Court's Antonin Scalia vs. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, what is the job of a person or judicial body when it comes to applying a set of rules?
Ultimately, the NCAA has the power to functionally apply the rules -- which is why it has to grant the waiver in the first place. A player may receive a transfer waiver from the general rule that requires a player to sit out a year before playing, but he isn't guaranteed one. Ole Miss wants a rubber stamp on every graduate transfer -- at least in this case, I suspect it would feel differently if Masoli was trying to get eligible at, say, Mississippi State -- while the NCAA is insisting on the right to examine the circumstances surrounding the transfer.
Believe it or not, the NCAA did something right.
ESPN's Ivan Maisel disagrees.
Ole Miss maintains that Masoli fit the criteria of the waiver rule as written. The NCAA noted that the rule is academic in nature, and Masoli isn’t transferring for academic reasons. The gist of the ruling: If Masoli isn’t eligible at Oregon this year, he shouldn’t be eligible anywhere. Since when does the NCAA take a decision made by one school and apply it to all others?
It's proof that it all depends on how you look at things. Maisel is looking at it as a "the NCAA is applying Oregon's standard to another school," while Travis is looking at the big picture.
The rule is an academic one. The idea here is not to give Jeremiah Masoli or anyone else a second chance after they burn a bridge at a different school. The idea isn't to give Houston Nutt a quarterback when his so-so starter leaves early for NFL riches -- and goes undrafted. The idea isn't to allow players to continue playing wherever they want while they pursue a bogus academic goal that is nothing but a sham to continue playing football.
I have to side with the NCAA, which is rare for me. They didn't want a well-meaning rule to be abused by greedy players and greedier coaches.
I have to say I'm fine with that.