Brock Hoffman appeared to have an open-and-shut NCAA eligibility case last year. The two-year starter on the offensive line at Coastal Carolina had transferred to Virginia Tech to be closer to home, where his mother was recovering from brain surgeries.
Hoffman, his family and coaches were stunned when the NCAA denied his initial request. But that first sting was minor compared to what his family described as a nightmare of working with the governing body of college sports during the appeal process.
"It was exhausting," said Hoffman's father, Brian. "The communication was so inconsistent, it was mind-boggling."
Brock Hoffman's appeal was denied and he sat out the 2019 season.
It now is likely future athletes in Hoffman's position won't have to make an argument to get the chance to transfer and play immediately. In fact, they won't need any reason at all.
The NCAA is expected to pass a one-time transfer waiver for athletes in football, men's and women's basketball, baseball and ice hockey, the only sports that don't already have that policy, for the 2021-22 school year. In fact, the change likely would have been in place for the 2020 school year had the spread of COVID-19 not relegated it to a distant backburner.
The legislation would allow any athlete to transfer and compete immediately instead of sitting out a season, as is the case under the current system. It's just the latest shift that moves more power from coaches and schools to the athletes themselves.
"It was frustrating seeing cases across the country get passed and seeing mine not," Brock Hoffman said. "One hundred percent I'm in support of the rule change. And I think my case kind of laid the groundwork for that."
But the change — a proposal will be voted on at the NCAA's January 2021 convention — isn't just a byproduct of athletes speaking out. It could end up becoming a driving force behind more change, another tool in the rapidly expanding set at athletes' disposal.
Allowing athletes to transfer one time at their discretion shifts power to the athletes in a way high-profile college football and basketball programs haven't had to deal with before.
Unhappy with your coach's policies about social media? You can transfer anywhere and play immediately. Uncomfortable with your university's stances on political issues? You can transfer anywhere and play immediately.
According to an NCAA database, 4.6 percent of FBS college football players transferred from one four-year school to another in 2019, the highest rate since data collection began in 2004.
Nicholas Clark is a member of the NCAA's Division I Working Group on Transfers. The defensive back at Coastal Carolina from 2014-2017 was appointed as a former athlete. Clark said he's "optimistic" the NCAA will pass the rule change.
"Student-athletes want to play. They want to have that exemption," he said. "They want to be treated like their counterparts. … The student-athlete voice is as strong as it's ever been. That does have a huge impact on voting and a huge impact on the association. We're mindful of all of these things."
The question is, how much does giving college athletes the freedom to transfer freely shift the balance of power from the NCAA, schools and coaches to the players and what will that mean?
It's a topic North Carolina coach Mack Brown said he's discussed with his assistants, who've wondered if they'll have to change the way they coach knowing that a major obstacle to an athlete leaving the program would be removed.
"Our coaches have asked that question," said the Hall of Famer, who led Texas to the 2005 national championship. "I said, No. 1 you recruit the kids that want to be here. You recruit the kids that love this place. You recruit the kids who fit who we are as coaches, and then they won't want to transfer. That's the key. If somebody wants to transfer, I don't want them to stay."