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Basketball Coaches Float Graduate Transfer Changes

At a meeting of the National Association of Basketball Coaches and the Ethics Committee, coaches addressed the graduate transfer exception and waiver. Because it creates a type of “free agency”, coaches are now looking for a solution:

The committee discussed a sixth year as a solution for fifth-year seniors who graduate and want to play immediately. One coach said that would mean a two-year commitment (and two years of a scholarship) for a player to compete for one season.

The rule would say something to the effect of that if a player graduates and decides to transfer, he will have a year added to his five-year clock. When the Leadership Council subcommittee was looking at big changes to the transfer model in the winter, that was part of the proposal; that athletes who were not eligible to play immediately upon transfer would have their clocks extended so they can use their full eligibility.

This is not designed to slow or smooth out graduate transfers. It is designed to prevent them:

Would coaches do that? Would they invest two seasons and two years of a scholarship for one player for one year? The answer is probably not, just as has been the case for the free agency of the fifth-year player. Graduating and being eligible to transfer immediately is critical for even the one-year players. It doesn’t happen if that doesn’t occur.

It is important to know why we are at where we are at with the graduate transfer rule. A coach (or more accurately someone in the athletic department) has the power to prevent a student-athlete who has graduate from transferring and playing immediately. They can deny permission to contact, deny use of the one-time transfer exception, or refuse to support a waiver.

But the public backlash is so great that coaches either choose not to exercise their power to frustrate a transfer or they are unable to make it stick when they do. The coaches’ proposed solution is to prevent graduate transfers for everyone. Similar ideas are well received: see for instance the public support for a “no waivers” transfer rule or the lack of outrage over intraconference transfer penalties.

That creates an odd set of competing ideas. Many are pushing for athletes to have more freedom in transferring, just like regular students who are rarely burdened by their previous school when they leave. But at the same time, another group, including many of the same people, support legislation which essentially allows more schools to interfere with a transfer. If an athlete graduates from Duke, wants to transfer to UCLA, and both UCLA and Duke are ok with this, why should USC, North Carolina, or any other school have a say in it?

If the idea comes out of the NABC and becomes a piece of legislation, it will likely get an academic rationale; a sixth year and attending the new school for two years gets athletes a graduate degree. But aside from not making sense (an athlete who wants a graduate degree will not be allowed to stay at their current school and redshirt again), it also misses the point of the graduate transfer exception.

The entire thrust of a number of NCAA rules is towards getting athletes bachelors degrees. After that, the NCAA enforces far less stringent requirements. Students who have graduated must only be enrolled full-time and pass 6 hours each semester to be eligible. No GPA requirements, no percentage of degree rules, not even annual credit hour requirements. Athletes who transfer are just asked to take on an extra challenge in exchange for not sitting out: enroll in a graduate program instead of a second undergrad degree.

The other issue that is not addressed by the coaches’s idea is cutting players. While frowned upon, basketball coaches have a lot more leeway than football coaches to run off players. But many objections drop away when an athlete has already graduated. The school has met their obligation to the athlete, so they can cut him. Under the current rules though, at least he can transfer more easily. Under the NABC’s idea, he would find his transfer options limited, if not eliminated, on top of the lack of sympathy that he can no longer play at his current school.

The current system of graduate transfers works fine. Perhaps there should not be an additional waiver for athletes who have already transferred twice or permission to contact can be tweaked. But the basic arrangement is solid. Athletes who have graduated playing for coaches who do not want them can leave and play immediately. If the coaches wants to keep the player, he can try, but will have a fight on his hands. And in the end, most of the disputes will be ended like disputes should be ended: two adults sitting down and hashing out an agreement.

Are you ready for the NEXT STEP!