Originally written on Pitt Blather  |  Last updated 10/27/14
This might be the last year for the graduate transfer rule. Or any transfer that would allow players to be immediately eligible to play right away. At least if the college basketball coaches have their way. But if the members of the National Association of Basketball Coaches board of directors get their way, all transfers will have to sit out a year, regardless of their issue. There was apparently only one dissenting vote when the group met last week to discuss the issue and suggest to the NCAA a change. The “transfer free agency” that has overrun college basketball is a direct result of waivers and loopholes that were added to the books a few years ago with good intentions but have netted mixed results. Of the two most controversial waivers, one allows players to play immediately if they have an ill relative within 100 miles of their home. The other — the one being taken advantage of more and more this spring — allows players to graduate early and seek a master’s degree not offered at their present institution. Working against the college basketball coaches is that the rules they oppose also apply to all other NCAA sports, so it may not be the easiest thing for them to get changed. But it is nothing new for the NABC to seek to protect their own interests first. If you recall, there used to be a longer window for underclassmen to decide if they wanted to turn pro. They had a chance to go to some workouts after the semester ended. Get feedback from the NBA about their potential placement in the draft and make a truly informed decision about their future. The coaches hated that. Oh, they would publicly support their player. Talk of how they understood how important and big a decision it was. How diligent they were looking at the issue, and how the player was keeping them involved. But behind the aegis of the NABC and privately they seethed. They hated that they didn’t know their roster for next season until late May (or sometimes right before the draft in June). How they didn’t know if they had an extra scholarship to offer another kid in April. Basically, how unfair it was to them to be at the mercy of one of their player’s decision about his future. How selfish of those players. Forget the hypocrisy of the coaching carousel system that lets them jump to another job whenever they feel like it, no matter the promises and verbal assurances they have given their players. So, the coaches pushed to get a change to the draft declaration period. One that gives players only a couple weeks to decide after the end of the NCAA Tournament. No matter that the players now don’t get a chance to get feedback since the NBA season would still be taking place. Not to mention the kids still have to go to class and worry about finals. All for their own benefit. Well, now the transfer options are their next target. Specifically allowing for certain circumstances  where a player doesn’t have to sit a year. Why? Because the players and coaches are putting it to use. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, an NABC board member, wasn’t at the meeting last week in Indianapolis but weighed in on the subject when reached this week. “We’ve just got into an area of unintended consequences,” Boeheim said. “The rule was for if a kid really wanted a different academic program. Now it has gotten to be a strictly playing situation.” The waiver to allow a player to be closer to a relative has also been abused. The question is does the player want to be closer to his relative and actually help with transportation to treatments, be there to comfort, etc.? Or does he really just want to play in a new location or for a different coach? “I’ve always felt that if you want to be with the person who is sick, it never made sense to me that you wouldn’t just want to be with that person,” Boeheim said. “Now people are telling the kids, ‘Just transfer and you’ll get eligible. … We’ll figure something out and get you eligible to play.’ I don’t think that’s a good thing.” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, who is on the board, made national news a year ago when he blocked a transfer by Jarrod Uthoff to rival Iowa (Ryan and UW eventually relented, allowing Uthoff to sit out the standard one year). On the postgraduate issue, Ryan makes his position quite clear. “I positively believe a fifth-year guy should not be able to play right away,” Ryan said. “All they’re doing is looking at curriculum, finding a program that a school doesn’t have. Are they really trying to get a master’s degree? Or is it, ‘Maybe my team isn’t as good and we lost a lot and I want to be in the NCAA tournament next year and …’ There’s a market out there for this. You take guys through summer school and give them every academic advantage and then they graduate and then they can just go to another school.” Ryan went on to say that this abuse of the waiver “isn’t what college athletics was meant to be. How about the guy leaving his teammates and the coaching staff that developed him?” Bo Ryan is really a bit of an ass. An excellent coach, but a selfish ass. To him it is all about how the players get all the “benefits.” Academic assistance. Summer school. The benefit of all that coaching. Forget that it was the coaches themselves that pushed for those things — for their own benefit. They wanted the academic help for the players to keep them eligible. The summer school to keep them on campus and out of trouble; plus the academic eligibility. The coaching staff that put all that effort into teaching him — even if that is their frickin’ job as coaches. All those things are now “perks” that the player is receiving. To me the graduate transfer rule is the least objectionable thing in the realm of transfers. These are kids who have more than fulfilled their academic requirements. They’ve actually managed to earn their degree. You know, the whole “student” part of the student-athlete. They are essentially getting a reward of being able to make a choice of where they want to finish playing college ball. If they think they can perform on a bigger stage (Josh Davis, Tarik Black) or clash with the coach (DeAndre Kane) or see their minutes going down and hurting their potential future as a pro (Mike Moser), then they let them have that opportunity. But not for the coaches. They can’t have that. Then the players actually have some measure of control. Plus it means that coaches have to do the distasteful thing for recruiting older, (hopefully) wiser kids. It means poaching players from their fellow coaches. Also, it hurts the coach’s public perception and possibly their job security. Transfers are (to some extent, correctly) viewed as a symptom of a program in trouble. Seeing players transfer — and worse, having success elsewhere — looks like a coach is struggling to keep his own talent. School presidents and ADs may be more inclined to take a closer look at what is happening in the basketball program. More pressure comes on the coach. The NABC and individual coaches don’t actually hate the idea of the kids getting some measure of freedom. But this is, once more, about the coaches own interests being put first. It isn’t about the players. It isn’t about the college game. It is about their interests and what they think is best for them. And anything that takes control from them. Anything that could hurt their job security. Well, it is something they don’t want. Look for the attempt to change the rule to come in some form discussing fairness and how this is in the best interest of the kids. Not at all about coaches seeking to make sure they keep those seniors on the team at their discretion. Boeheim, who warned that coaches don’t need to come off as “anti-player,” acknowledged that it’s a complex issue. Yet this “complex issue” for which the NABC wants a blanket rule of if you transfer, you sit a year. Period. That’s some nuanced thought on a complex issue. The only good news, is that the prospects for the NABC getting their way isn’t clear. While college basketball may be feeling most of the impact, it is applicable across all NCAA sports. Meaning the prospects for fiddling with the transfer rule even more is questionable. In college football, the impact has been much smaller. Only a handful of noticeable transfers, like Russel Wilson and Dan O’Brien going to Wisconsin in consecutive years and Greg Paulus at Syracuse come to mind. Overall, in college football, the rule impact has been fairly positive an minor. Probably similar in other sports. Add in the fact that the NCAA is under non-stop fire for their policies that seem to be more about controlling and restricting the “student-athlete” instead of helping them, and I wonder how much stomach the NCAA would have to support passing new rules that are furthering that perception.
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