Photo by Aaron Babcock
Nebraska Football

Padding the Stats: Huskers Riding the Wave

May 27, 2020
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Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos joined Greg Sharpe on Tuesday for his monthly appearance on Sports Nightly, and while much of the discussion focused on the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, Moos also touched on a topic that was just recently tabled: a one-time blanket transfer waiver for immediate eligibility.

Momentum for the rule change has seemed to ebb and flow over the last few months, but the NCAA Division I Council decided last week to push the vote back until the NCAA convention in January, meaning all non-grad transfers will officially need a waiver to play in the 2020-21 season.

The NCAA loves kicking the can down the road, but it seems like they really do intend to pass this in January and open up the transfer process even more starting with the 2021-22 academic year.

Moos has voiced his opposition to loosening the transfer rules in the past, but on Tuesday, he said he’s undergone a change of heart after further consideration.

“I was very strictly opposed to it, Greg, myself,” Moos told Sharpe. “I’ve come around to a one-time transfer being acceptable. I believe that they should be able to compete right away, consistent in all sports. I say this because sometimes there’s a coaching change. A student-athlete may have chosen the school because he or she really felt their talents fit a certain coach and a certain style. I know people like to say, ‘Well, you chose a school and not a coach,’ and that’s really great to say, but that’s not always the case. 

“Sometimes, maybe a quarterback is recruited and sees that they’re not going to see much playing time and maybe would be better-fitted at a different place. And when the dust all settles, we’re really in this for the student-athletes and their experience.”

I’ve long been in favor of more freedom for players and I’ve been happy to see this change building momentum. Moos laid out two of the reasons why including the biggest one in my mind — a coaching change.

A coach’s freedom to take another job with little penalty (a buy-out that the new school pays for isn’t close to comparable to a player having to sit out a year) has been rehashed time and time again, and with good reason. Like Moos said, committing to a school just isn’t realistic. A university is a building (or rather, a large campus of buildings); it’s the people that create the environment. A new coach can change things drastically for a player.

Yet the NCAA tends to not grant waivers for players who enter the transfer portal because of a coaching change, unless there’s evidence of the new coach pushing a player out (and even then it’s not close to 100%). Heck, we saw plenty of that last spring when Fred Hoiberg arrived and almost completely flipped the roster. Amir Harris, Brady Heiman and Karrington Davis all received waivers after Hoiberg, well, urged them to look elsewhere (though Heiman chose to redshirt anyway).

So when it’s the new coach’s decision, it’s OK for players to play right away but when the player makes the initial move, he has to pay a price? I will never understand that kind of double-standard.

As for Moos’ second example, college athletes have a very finite amount of time to play the sport they love. Choosing to look elsewhere when you have very little chance of winning a starting job isn’t necessarily “running from competition” as so many detractors try to label it. At a position like quarterback, unless here’s an injury a team is typically only going to play one outside of garbage time. At a certain point, a player would be doing a disservice to himself if his dream is to start he’s not likely to accomplish ha in his current program. 

Noah Vedral was one of the most competitive high school athletes I’ve ever covered, and I knew him mostly through his second sport, basketball. He wasn’t running away from anything when he decided to transfer to Rutgers; he just saw the writing on the wall. He came back to Lincoln because he dreamed of playing for the Huskers, and after accomplishing that goal, he set his sights on his next dream — being a starting quarterback. 

As great of a relationship as Vedral had with Scott Frost, Adrian Martinez is the coach’s guy and Vedral was robbed of the opportunity to change that when spring ball went away. He did what was best for him and Nebraska should be just fine. Fortunately, Vedral took care of business in the classroom and earned his degree, so he didn’t have to mess around with waivers or a redshirt year. Others in a similar situation aren’t so lucky.

I lay all this out to give props to Moos for looking past his initial bias — he’s been in college athletics a long time and is very used to how things have always been done — to evaluate the situation further and evolve his thinking. Or at least that’s what he’s saying publicly.

And that’s my main point here — the voice of the athletic department is speaking out in favor of players. That can only help Nebraska’s reputation and image among prospective student-athletes. The same is true for the name, image and likeness discussions circulating the collegiate sports world. Not only has Nebraska voiced its support of such a change, it preemptively partnered with Opendorse to create a program designed to help student-athletes navigate the post-NIL landscape once the rule passes.

It can be really easy for university officials and coaches to put their feet in their mouths. We’ve certainly seen plenty examples of that during the COVID-19 pandemic. But all you’re going to accomplish by trying to fight against an oncoming wave is making yourself look foolish.

Like Moos said, they’re supposed to be in this for the student-athletes. Nebraska’s done a good job of backing that up recently in certain respects.

 
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