The transfer process for Division I student-athletes is one of the most hotly-contested debates in college sports. Every time there’s a coach or school that tries to impede a player’s ability to transfer to the school of his or her choice, there’s a public outcry. It used to be only the most draconian of restrictions drew public ire, but these days, that bar seems to be lowering.
There are certainly exceptions, but the college sports world – especially those without a stake in the system itself – seems to be moving toward more player freedom.
Now, the system itself may be moving further in that direction quicker than seemed possible.
There is a proposal “being solicited among (NCAA) members for feedback” that would allow players to transfer and play immediately once in their career, according to a report from 247 Sports’ Andrew Slater.
Players looking to transfer would need to meet a minimum GPA in order to qualify for immediate eligibility and any subsequent transfers would require a sit-out year, according to the report.
It’s obvious that should this proposal become rule, it would introduce potential chaos into a college basketball ecosystem that already is much maligned to what many call a “transfer culture.” It’s often derisively called “free agency,” but that could truly turn out to be reality in this scenario.
It’s also probably the fairest proposal out there short of cutting players in on the revenue sports like hoops and football generate.
The arguments for (mostly) unfettered player movement haven’t changed over the years. Coaches can change jobs with impunity and leave players behind with little recourse that doesn’t include sitting out. There’s inequity built into the amateur model that makes transfer restrictions in theory and practice especially harsh and punitive relative to the action.
Yes, if these rules are changed to allow players to move without penalty, things will get wild. They’ll get difficult. It will be chaotic
Those are all arguments against instituting such a free-for-all, but where that argument loses the thread, at least to me, is that they’ll be wild, difficult and chaotic for the people profiting from the system. This undoubtedly will cause major headaches for head coaches, assistant coaches, support staff and athletic departments. Those people, though, are already getting paid. And the people it will cause the most pain for – head coaches and athletic directors – are being compensated the most handsomely. Those salaries right now are buoyed by the fact the labor – players – aren’t paid. Having to juggle complex issues with a lot of moving parts and players with increased leverage doesn’t seem to be an out of line ask for coaches making millions of dollars. Or the ones “settling” for hundreds of thousands at the mid- and low-major level.
There’s no doubt that enacting a rule like this will lead to unintended consequences. All decisions do. There will be more tampering and icky ethical issues that come from this, in all likelihood. But, again, those participating in such behavior are likely to be those who are profiting from basketball and the players who play it. Restricting players’ options to rein in the behavior of coaches and recruiters is bad policy. If coaches don’t like whatever seedy stuff happens in their profession because of this rule, they could always blow the whistle.
Should this rule ever be enacted, it will be world-changing for college basketball. It’ll probably (almost certainly) be a boon for the schools up the food chain who can attract better players looking for better situations. Only in college sports would that type of upward mobility be derided rather than celebrated. And if such a change makes things tougher for the powers that be, that, as they say, is what the money is for.