Padding the Stats: Transfer Freedom a Massive
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Padding the Stats: Transfer Freedom a Massive, But Needed, Change

February 19, 2020

The collegiate sports landscape could be in the process of undergoing a massive change, and I couldn’t be more excited about it.

On Tuesday, the NCAA announced that the Transfer Waiver Working Group is considering the concept of a one-time free transfer for all student-athletes that meet certain requirements. If adopted by the Division I council, it would allow student-athletes to transfer without having to sit out a year.

“The current system is unsustainable. Working group members believe it’s time to bring our transfer rules more in line with today’s college landscape,” said working group chair Jon Steinbrecher, commissioner of the Mid-American Conference. “This concept provides a uniform approach that is understandable, predictable and objective. Most importantly, it benefits students.”

Currently, only student-athletes that compete in baseball, basketball, football and men’s ice hockey have to sit out a year if they transfer. If the new rule gets passed, student-athletes would be able to play right away so long as they get a transfer release form their previous school, leave while academically eligible, maintain academic progress at the new school and depart while not under disciplinary suspension.

Steinbrecher is absolutely right—the current system is unsustainable. The only way for scholarship athletes to earn immediate eligibility, outside of graduate transfers, is to go through the NCAA’s waiver process, and the NCAA clearly doesn’t have the manpower to keep up with all the appeals that flood the office. On top of that, it seems—at least on the outside looking in—that there’s little rhyme or reason as to who gets waivers and who doesn’t.

All three local Division I basketball schools were affected by unsuccessful waiver appeals this season. 

Shamiel Stevenson began his college career at Pitt under Coach Kevin Stallings who got fired after Stevenson’s freshman season. The 6-foot-6 forward didn’t fit with new coach Jeff Capel and transferred to Nevada after the first semester, where he sat out the rest of the year. Then Nevada’s coach, Eric Musselman, left to take the head job at Arkansas before Stevenson ever got to play for him. So he transferred again and picked Nebraska.

The Huskers tried to get Stevenson a waiver to play right away but the NCAA denied the appeal—three times. Even worse, the process lasted into the third week of the season. Thinking they had a good case, Nebraska and Stevenson prepared as if he’d be able to play this year. With Nebraska’s lack of depth, struggle to rebound the ball and inconsistent shooting, Stevenson likely could have played a big role on this year’s team. If the new rule was in place, he’d have been able to play all year—along with Nebraska’s other two transfers, Dalano Banton and Derrick Walker.

Year one for Fred Hoiberg would have looked quite a bit different than it does right now.

Creighton and Omaha were victims to the waiver process as well as they both have shallow benches and players sitting out this season that seemed to have good cases for immediate eligibility.

I’ll be grateful to see the waiver process become a much less significant part of following college basketball and football moving forward if this rule passes.

I’m staunchly pro-player in most of these discussions about student-athletes versus the NCAA and this is no exception, but I also understand the pushback. Coaches’ jobs—particularly those at lower levels—would become more difficult. It’s hard to build and sustain a program knowing that anybody on your roster could leave at any moment. That being said, we’re already seeing a ridiculously massive amount of transfers every year as it is even with the sit-out rule in place as a deterrent. How much different will it really be?

I saw former football coach and current analyst Mark Richt share his opinion about the news on Twitter.

First of all, that already happens to a certain degree. 

Secondly, coaches overachieve at their level all the time and parlay that success into a better job with the only deterrent in most cases being a buyout, something that isn’t really a problem for coaches and the schools that hire them. Why shouldn’t players—the ones who are actually out on the field or court that fans pay to watch play—be able to do the same thing if that’s what they wish?

If it’s a player’s dream to play at the highest level of the sport and he or she either falls through the cracks from an evaluation standpoint or is something of a late bloomer and ends up at a smaller school, should that player be stuck there? Is it the player’s fault the higher-level coaches got it wrong initially?

Thirdly, it’s on the coach to build a relationship with his players and establish a culture within the program that makes the players want to stick around. A good player isn’t likely to leave a great situation, and the best programs in the country only have so many spots available. Alabama football already gets all the talent it wants; does Nick Saban really need to go raid the rosters of lower-level schools?

The “poaching” goes both ways, too. Every year there are countless players that end up not working out at high-major schools that could thrive by dropping down to play at a mid-major level. Coaches chase players off all the time so they can use the scholarship on someone else. Many of those players get waivers, but why not simplify it and just make all those players eligible wherever they end up?

There are certainly some things the committee needs to study and iron out before this new transfer system goes into effect (the goal is to have it ready for the 2020-21 season). One thing those skeptical about the change are worried about is coaches and boosters offering incentives to players under the table to convince them to transfer to their school, but I frankly don’t care all that much about it. The blue bloods already enjoy all the advantages anyway and nothing’s going to change that.

Props to the Big Ten for getting the ball rolling on this, and I’m glad the NCAA appears to be strongly considering it. The NCAA needs to continue to adapt and grow and this is a good start towards giving student-athletes more of what they deserve.

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