Bryce Watts, a football player at Virginia Tech last season, announced his decision to transfer to North Carolina on Sunday.
Under the old transfer rules, that would have been a problem for Watts.
Under the new transfer rules, that’s not a problem for the cornerback who started 12 games as a sophomore for the Hokies. He has to sit out the 2019 season and will have two seasons of eligibility left with the Tar Heels.
The ACC, with similar rules to other “Power 5” conferences, would previously have docked Watts a year of eligibility for staying within the conference. And during the year Watts had to sit out, he would not have been eligible to receive a scholarship from UNC. He would have had to pay his own way until he was eligible in 2020.
But the ACC in February followed the NCAA’s lead and softened its hard-line stance on undergraduate transfers. Last summer, the NCAA changed its transfer rules, notably with the creation of the “transfer portal.”
Instead of needing permission from the school, an athlete can now declare their intention to transfer. Their name then goes in a database, or the “portal,” to notify other schools of their availability.
That significant change was adopted by the NCAA last October. Four months later, the ACC also changed its rules for undergraduate transfers within the conference and did away with the restrictive parameters. The schools approved the changes but there was no public announcement of the decision.
Graduate transfers have had the ability to transfer within the conference, notably basketball player Cam Johnson went from Pittsburgh to UNC before the 2017-18 season.
There have been a handful of other grad transfers within the ACC in football and basketball since the grad-transfer rule (athletes who have their undergraduate degree and are pursuing a graduate degree can play immediately, without sitting out a year) was adopted in 2011.
But the movement of undergrad transfers within the ACC had been rare because the repercussions were so punitive. Watts is one of the first to benefit from the rule change but others could follow. Louisville quarterback Jordan Travis transferred to Florida State in December.
Watts had 24 tackles and an interception in 12 games for Virginia Tech last season. He had one interception and played in 13 games as a true freshman in 2017.