Tight end Matt Robbert scores during Saturday's win over Brown. Robbert is one of the players who will continue playing elsewhere. Credit: Lexi Woodcock / Cornell Athletics

ITHACA, N.Y.—At least 11 Cornell University football players have announced their plans to transfer away from the team, according to social media posts from each of them over the past week. The announcements come with four games remaining in the season for the team, which has played to a 3-3 record so far.

Matthew Jensen, assistant director of athletic communications at Cornell, speculated the timing of the players’ announcements is likely so they can signal to other teams they want to continue playing elsewhere, with a few games left to generate interest with their play and potentially raise their stock.

Jensen said in an interview the players made their decisions to transfer because of the Ivy League’s eligibility rules barring graduate students from participating in athletics. The transferring athletes are all seniors set to graduate in May 2024. 

The current list of players transferring includes: cornerback Anthony Chideme-Alfaro, safety Brody Kidwell, offensive lineman Micah Sahakian, linebacker Connor Henderson, linebacker Noah Taylor, quarterback Luke Duby, tight end Matt Robbert, linebacker/safety Rasean Thomas, offensive lineman Onome Kessington, defensive back Paul Lewis III, and tight end/defensive end Emmanuel Adebi

The Ithaca Voice has not heard back from several requests for comment sent to players via social media. 

Players are still eligible to play after entering the transfer portal, though they will be ineligible to play in the Ivy League once they receive their undergraduate degrees, even if they have remaining athletic eligibility.

The Big Red were still able to beat Brown University 36-14 last weekend behind 330 passing yards from quarterback Jameson Wang and three field goals from Jackson Kennedy. One of Wang’s two touchdowns went to Robbert, the team’s starting tight end, who is transferring. Another player who announced his departure, Paul Lewis III, returned an interception for a touchdown. 

Official transfers are not allowed until Nov. 20, when the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision opens its transfer window after the regular season ends. Players in the Ivy League can play for their school until that day, even if they have already announced their intent to transfer. The Ivy League does not participate in the FCS playoffs. 

Jensen said this policy drives student-athletes to transfer to other teams that do not bar graduate students from participating. The Ivy League conference is the only one in the nation with this policy. 

It remains to be seen if other Ivy League programs will see a similarly inflated number of departures this year. The transfer portal is not public, but reports show only a handful of football transfers announced from other Ivy League schools compared to Cornell’s 11. 

This follows a year, though, in which just eight athletes transferred from Cornell, compared to 23 from Harvard University and 20 from the University of Pennsylvania, shown in the below report from May 2023.  

The Ivy League also does not allow athletic redshirts, another method that can be used elsewhere to preserve years of athletic eligibility if a player participates in less than a certain number of games during a season. During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the Ivy League allowed a one-time waiver for players to play while graduate students because regulations to lessen the spread of infections forced the cancellation of both fall and winter seasons but the policy was not extended further

Jensen said that means this year’s roster includes not only players who are graduating after the traditional four years, but also several that have used the extra year of eligibility provided by the COVID-19 waiver. It amounts to about two classes of players graduating at once, he said. 

“The number seems so inflated and may continue to grow because the athletes are finishing out their degrees this year as COVID eligibility begins to expire,” Jensen said. “The transfer portal is a way for student-athletes who are out of Ivy League eligibility to continue playing their sport while pursuing a grad degree.”

Matt Butler is the Editor in Chief of The Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.org.