NCAA Divisions I and II mean “unlimitedFA.” An unlimited Free Agent (UPFA) is unrestricted, free to join any team, and they receive no compensation for their past teams or performances in the prior season. A UFA in the NCAA may start meeting with various teams as soon as the draft of the next season rolls around, and they are not restricted in what teams they may sign with. Once a player is added to an NFL roster, he becomes a member of that team. A UFA may sign a contract for the off season, but is generally not under contract through the entire year.
NCAA Divisions I and II mean players can sign contracts for the whole year. Again, these contracts are for the entire year, not just for one season. The contracts for Division I and II athletes are set forth in Article 10 of the NCAA Constitution and are referred to as the RFA and RFAs respectively. NCAA Divisions I and II do have minor differences in terms of how the UFA/RFA agreement is set forth. Generally, though, the rules are similar to the minor differences in Major League Baseball.
A standard NBA RFA contract gives the player a rights to a one-year “poke-out” contract that is for an approximate amount of league minimum salary (e.g., a five-year deal for a player making around six million dollars). Teams may actually sign a player to a one-year deal after the player has been RFA for two years. However, no team is allowed to keep a player on their roster longer than two years even if he has been given an offer in excess of two years’ salary. For the NBA, this would be termed a “poke out” and is generally not allowed. A typical college athlete getting a “poke out” is usually only done if he is going straight from high school to the pros, at which point he is offered a long-term contract, not a one-year deal.
As an interesting aside, NBA players who are RFA usually do not receive as high a signing bonus (usually anywhere from half of a million dollars to two million dollars) as college players who are signed one-year deals. Two years is the norm here, and teams are usually willing to take less money in order to secure top talent. This often results in mid-tier players being let go by NBA teams after one season because they were not offered a long-term contract, only a one-year deal. Most often, however, a player returns to college and immediately signs a long-term contract once he becomes eligible.
An NCAA rule called the “transition rule” applies here. Once a player signs a one-year deal and graduates, his rights become available for a two-year contract. If he signs a two-year deal and returns to college, then he is eligible for unrestricted free agency following his junior season. The NCAA now allows transfers from one school to another during that second year of eligibility, though the amount is technically half of what it was in the previous rules.
Some quick math: An average college player today receives a signing bonus of roughly seven hundred thousand dollars. This works out to about twenty-five thousand dollars per year, which is a hefty pay-out considering that most Division I players make less than one-thousand dollars per year. However, a guy with an elite skill set making six figures could easily get five or six times that (give or take a car payment) by going to instead of attending school. This scenario is why it is so common for top prospects to go from one division to another, making thousands of dollars in the process. Very few go from one school to the next, so chances are if you’re reading this you have already been offered a six-figure contract!