TransferGate: The State of College Basketball


Imagine you are a straight-A high school growing up in Spokane. Both of your parents graduated from WSU, many of your high school classmates and good friends are planning on going to college in Pullman, and your sports-crazed uncle is an avid Coug fan (a miserable existence I realize). So, after much recruiting by family and friends, you agree to attend Washington State University. Perhaps you go with reservations because you just wanted to please everyone or perhaps you actually thought it would be a good fit.

But, after you arrive on campus, you realize there is something not right. It is too small and too remote for your tastes. Academically, it is not as challenging as you would like. Maybe you decided to change your major and that degree isn’t available at WSU. Maybe you just realize that the place you always wanted to go was the University of Washington. You realize the big city life of Seattle more fits your style, you want to graduate from an institution with a much higher academic reputation, and you’ve always had a thing for purple and gold. So, you decide after your freshman year to transfer to UW. After UW admissions accepts you, you transfer without any issues and arrive on campus to finish your degree.

Sounds fair doesn’t it?

Now imagine if you were a college basketball player. The rules are quite different when it comes to college athletics. The pressures of recruiting can be just as difficult, probably more so. Not only do you have a myriad of college coaches trying to convince you to go to their university, you also have the pressure of family and friends. Some are looking out for your best interests, while others have selfish reasons to direct you in a certain way.

While the average college-bound student has to figure out what is best from an academic standpoint, as well as, location, size of the university, and cost. The college athlete has all of this to consider (minus cost), plus which program gives them the best opportunity to play meaningful minutes and how well they mesh with the coaching staff and other players. Once you commit to a program and then decide after a few months that the fit was not right for you, your options are much more limited than they are for the average college student.

First of all, no matter what the reason, you must sit out a year wherever you transfer within Division I. There are some good reasons for that rule. You do not want players becoming essentially mercinaries willing to sell their services to the highest bidder each year. You want players to think carefully before making a rash decision to transfer and getting themselves into a worse situation than they started. Sitting out a year will make that player really think about whether that is the best thing for them, for they really only get one shot to make it right.

But, what if circumstances change within a program? What if the coaches who recruited you are fired or leave to another program and suddenly what seemed like a good fit is no longer one? Maybe your style of play does not fit with the new coaches’ style? You might go from a starter to a barely used substitute over night. Why is it right that the coaches can seemingly come and go without any consequences, but the players are held to a higher standard with the choices of having to sit out a year or risk their future athletic success?

The general rule for all of the conferences is that you can not transfer within a conference at all or with the Pac-12 you must sit out two years instead of one. Again, the reasons are understandable. You do not want coaches within a conference attempting to poach each other’s players. You want to build comradie and respect within the conference. But, what happened with Jarrod Uthoff and Bo Ryan at Wisconsin is absolutely rediculous. Not only did Bo Ryan refuse to allow Jarrod Uthoff to transfer within the Big Ten, he also said Uthoff could not go to any ACC school or Marquette, Florida, or his “hometown” Iowa State. 25 schools were on Bo Ryan’s banned list.

Bo Ryan’s explanation for this list of schools was that they could potentially be future opponents and he wouldn’t want to have to face Uthoff in the future. Since Wisconsin plays Marquette every year, has a home-and-home scheduled with Florida, and the Big Ten-ACC challenge is still in effect the Badgers could still potentially play any of those 12 (or soon 14) teams. So, that leads to the obvious question, what’s next? Ban every Division I school? I mean, who knows, Wisconsin could “potentially” play any of the other 344 schools at some point in Uthoff’s career, whether it is in non-conference play or in the NCAA tournament. As for Iowa State of the Big 12? That just seemed to be spiteful.

I wonder if the NCAA would allow that kind of transfer-ban escalation? Can a coach potentially ban a player from tranferring anywhere?

I question a system in which coaches feel free to move from school to school to make millions of dollars, leaving all of their recruited players behind, and yet the players have no recourse to find their own best fit situation. To me, if a coach leaves a program, either because they were fired or sought out a payday, then the players should be free to transfer without penalty. Why should a university be able to fire a coach still under contract, but have the ability to keep the players left behind. Perhaps Athletic Directors would not be so quick to pull the trigger if they thought they could lose their entire team as well.

Or, if you are going to enforce a system in which players must sit out a year if they transfer, then maybe they should do that with college coaches as well.

When a college coach signs a contract for 7 years, shouldn’t there be some sort of expectation they will be there for that long. Wouldn’t it be nice for a high school student to know with a basic level of certainty that the coach they are choosing to play for will be there for their college career? When coaches are fired there is usually a buy-out clause that allows that coach to recieve a certain percentage of their pay if they are fired before the contract expires. That is there to protect the coaches. I think that is fair. But, where is the protection for the student-athlete whose college scholarship is only year-to-year?

When a coach leaves early, there is usually a buyout clause that forces the coach to pay the university to get out of the contract. But, there is really no penalty to the coaches since the other hiring university will usually pay that penalty. Thus, it is virtually a no-lose situation for the coaches out there. Yet, again where is the protection for the player whose college scholarship is not guarunteed for their entire 4 or 5 year career?

Why not have a coach have to sit out a year if they decide to transfer before their contracts expire? Hey Frank Martin, how about you sit out a year under coaching-transfer rules before you take over at South Carolina? It only seems fair for Kansas State players who thought you would stay until your contract expired in 2014 and to the fans who were left in the dust because you sought a payday at South Carolina. But, for a current Kansas State player who may want to look for a better fit elsewhere? Sorry, you’ll need to sit out a year, and based on the precedent being sent by Bo Ryan, you may not be able to attend the university you think is the best fit for you.

There is a lot broken in college athletics. I am not in favor of paying the student-athletes as employees. However, I do think that college athletes should have more of the same freedoms that the rest of their student body on campus has. They should be allowed to move around to get their degree in the program that best meets their needs and in the location they want to spend their time in.