One of the most controversial rules in the college game these days is the graduate transfer exception.
It works like this: if a player finishes his undergraduate degree with eligibility remaining, he is allowed to transfer to a different school without sitting out a season to enroll in a graduate program that’s not offered at his previous institution.
The thinking is that, since these kids are supposed to be STUDENT-athletes, if they have a chance to get a graduate degree in a field of their choosing, the NCAA shouldn’t stand in the way of that because it could cost the kid their final year of eligibility.
The problem is that the rule gets abused. Players that have redshirted a season use the rule not as a means of finding a better graduate program, but instead using it to try and find a better basketball program to spend a year at. Think Brandon Wood transferring to Michigan State from Valpo, or Julius Mays going from Wright State to Kentucky.
But the exception isn’t a bad thing, and this weekend we got a perfect example of that.
Antonio Barton followed his brother Will from Baltimore to Memphis to play his college ball, but where Will was a five-star recruit that every coach in the country wanted, Antonio was a three-star point guard that was in the same recruiting class as Joe Jackson. There wasn’t much expected of the smaller Barton, and most viewed his recruitment as a package deal. If you want Will, you have to take Antonio, too.
But as Jackson struggled through his freshman campaign, Barton emerged as a quality back court piece, averaging 8.2 points and 1.7 assists in his first season with the Tigers. His numbers have dropped since then, but that has everything to due with the development of Jackson and Chris Crawford and the addition of Geron Johnson. After struggling through an injury-plagued junior year, Barton made the decision to transfer out of Memphis once he realized he would be able to graduate.
He ended up committing to Tennessee on Sunday, and while the Vols are one of Memphis’ biggest rivals, it couldn’t possibly be a more perfect fit for Barton.
Tennessee has a ton of talent on their roster this season. Jarnell Stokes is one of the better big men in the SEC, and he may not even be the best big man on the roster when Jeronne Maymon is healthy. Throw in Jordan McRae, who had a breakout junior campaign, and talented incoming freshman Robert Hubbs on the wing, and the Vols had a ton of pieces for Cuonzo Martin to work with.
The problem? Trae Golden got the boot earlier this month, and he was the only point guard Tennessee had on their roster. Barton will slide in and take over that role.
Here’s the question: is Barton a point guard?
We know he can really shoot the ball, and we know that he is a defensive stopper. Both of those traits, particularly his defensive skills, will let him fit in well with Martin. But Tennessee also needs him to be a guy that can run offense, get the Vols into their sets and create off the bounce at the end of a clock.
Jackson, Crawford and Johnson played that role at Memphis while Barton was there. Does that mean that Barton just hasn’t shown what he can do, or is it a sign of what he can’t do?
Regardless, Barton’s presence turns Tennessee back a top 25 team.
And if he proves that he can truly be a point guard, the Vols might end up pushing Florida for that second spot in the SEC race.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.