Padding the Stats: A Look at College Basketball's 'Transfer Epidemic'
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Padding the Stats: A Look at College Basketball’s ‘Transfer Epidemic’

April 28, 2017

Welcome back to Padding the Stats, your weekly look into whatever happens to be bouncing around my skull. This week, that happens to be basketball once again.

“Transfer” has become something of a naughty word around college basketball these days. The list of transfers surpassed 700 names last season and is still growing this year as the offseason rolls on.

Nebraska fans probably don’t want to hear that word either after seeing four players leave the program since the 2016-17 season came to an end.

Transferring has such a negative stigma attached to it by many in the college basketball world, but why is that? And why are all transfers so often lumped together? Players transfer for many different reasons, and many of them aren’t as simple as “not wanting to compete.”

Tai Webster is a great example of a player persevering through adversity, staying the course and eventual growing into an all-conference caliber player. He certainly deserves all the credit he has received. But players who don’t follow that same path don’t automatically deserved to be looked down on.

The “get off my lawn” perspective is that kids these days are afraid of competition and want everything handed to them. As soon as they don’t get a starting spot, they pack up their stuff and head out of town.

That is certainly a situation that plays out, but there are far more legitimate reasons that players transfer as well. Sometimes, mid-major players feel like they’ve accomplished everything they can at that level and want to challenge themselves at the highest level of college basketball. Sometimes family matters make it important for players to transfer closer to home.

And sometimes, the current situation just isn’t a good fit for the player. Whether that be style of play, coach-player relationships or even the school itself, it can be difficult to get an accurate read of a situation while going through the recruiting process. Sometimes coaches make mistakes as well. Evaluating high school players is not an easy task, and occasionally coaches will offer a player who just never pans out after he arrives on campus. Should that player always ride the bench his entire college career (these guys only have four years, after all) in the hopes that things click for him and the depth chart opens up one day like it did for Webster?

There are a lot of reasons players transfer, and oftentimes it’s for the better. Nick Fuller is a perfect example of this. Fuller simply wasn’t a regular rotation player for a Big Ten team. Fuller gave everything he had to the program, earned his degree and transferred to South Dakota so that he could play a more prominent role for a mid-major team. That was a win for all sides as it also opened up another scholarship for Nebraska to use (granted, the subsequent transfers lessened the importance of that open scholarship in this case).

Coaches – many of whom are very well compensated – have the ability to leave their school when offered a better opportunity with just a contract buy-out as a consequence. Regular students can transfer schools freely as well. Most student-athletes already have to pay a price when they choose to transfer, so why must many fans and media attach a negative stigma to it as well?

I realize that deregulating transfers and letting players go wherever they want with no sit-out penalty would be a disaster, but in general I’m in favor of letting kids try to find happiness.

The flip side of losing players to the transfer market is that it provides a new avenue to build a team, one that Tim Miles has taken advantage of to a great degree. His 2014 NCAA Tournament team was built around Terran Petteway and Walter Pitchford, two transfers. Since then, he’s brought in the likes of Moses Abraham, Andrew White III, Anton Gill, Isaac Copeland, James Palmer Jr. and Duby Okeke to supplement what he’s done on the high school recruiting trail. For every player a team may lose, there is probably another out on the market to replace him with.

That’s just the way of the world in the current college basketball landscape. It is not inherently bad, nor is it good. It is not an “epidemic” that needs to be fixed. It’s just the way it is and it is not going to change any time soon.

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