Upon reading a tweet from ESPN’s Matt Schick citing a NCAA official being “95 percent certain” transfer reform allowing immediate eligibility is on the horizon, many involved with high-level intercollegiate sports likely went one of two places, depending on one’s background. Either it’s “about dang time” or “it’s going to eviscerate the game we know and love.”
I spoke w/ an NCAA official this week who was “95% certain” transfers will soon be allowed to play immediately in basketball & football. Could be a one-time freebie, plus grad transfer option. So in theory, a student-athlete could play for three different schools w/o sitting out.
— Matt Schick (@ESPN_Schick) January 17, 2018
There’s a lot of key nuance that will have to be sorted, but ultimately, both those sentiments could be correct.
Currently in the division one realm, athletes who have transferred schools must sit out an entire season unless they have already graduated or meet the standards for certain exceptions. While it serves as a deterrent from mass chaos, the transfer market continues to grow year after year.
The fear is that allowing immediate eligibility will relinquish any semblance of control on the mass exodus in the sports of football and basketball. As Schick noted, players could possibly get away with playing for three schools in four years. Mid-major programs would be decimated and become half-hearted athletic endeavors that serve as feeders for the power-five programs. Minor tiffs about playing time or something miscellaneous and players are, right or wrong, out the door. Part of what makes fandom is connection to the players and programs. With massive and/or consistent roster turnover, some of that would be lost.
Scout’s Evan Daniels wrote a piece when rumors on reform first resurfaced. It echoed a lot of the common fears from coaches who believe it would spell doom.
Things may not get as nuts as some like Indiana head coach Archie Miller forecasts, but it could be a messy shakeup.
If this resolution comes to pass, it would have to find some new sort of control. A potential solution one reporter put on twitter was a limited transfer window. Athletes could only choose to hop schools in April, after the basketball and football seasons, for example. A solution I like is just reducing the time athletes must sit out to one semester in basketball and half a season in football. Possibly inserting some academic stipulations could be appealing as well, but it would certainly just incentivize many to “play school” rather than get an education.
Those who see this as some sort of salvation operate under the presumption that the current system violates athlete’s rights. They point to the fact coaches can, and often do, get new jobs without repercussion. They also often lose their jobs. For the athletes who often commit to the coach and his program over the institution, they’re unfairly stuck. They’re also supposed to be student-athletes, “student” coming first. If regular students transfer with no strings attached (I could head to Amherst and join their student paper with ease), how can the NCAA limit them? Lastly, the big bugaboo of paying athletes outside of scholarships adds to the narrative that these athletes are already persecuted enough. They have an opportunity to better themselves in their eyes and they should be allowed to chase that without barrier.
I see both sides. I don’t like to see anyone’s individual freedoms restricted. Here at UConn, Sid Wilson was a St. John’s summer school student for two weeks before realizing it wasn’t for him. The fact he wanted to change and now can’t play for a year is nonsense. Cases like his are the evergreen problem of the NCAA.
On the other side, I do feel like when an athlete signs with a school they are making a commitment. In professional sports, where coaches also move around and get fired plenty, athletes are restricted by the contracts they sign, even if they are unhappy and in a bad spot. Obviously, they are getting paid and often have representation through agents to work towards a resolution; I know its not apples to apples.
But if we don’t even let the pros jump around, it’s hard to say the same for college. Competitive balance is important. Part of the appeal of college sports is the little guy, the small success stories. Under these new transfer rules, that won’t happen. I firmly believe allowing immediate eligibility will tear up the lower levels (newsflash this currently includes UConn). There will be an incredible amount player movement, an amount that I believe will be egregious, be damaging to the sport and encourage bad actors to manipulate any purity left in the college sphere. A total free-for-all is dangerous.
Yet every time I see the NCAA make a cold-hearted decision I cringe. When the coach ups and leaves without saying a word for a better job without saying word I am infuriated. I respect the goal of individuals to pursue what they think is best for themselves.
It’s a real conundrum, and I’m glad the NCAA and its movers-and-shakers are going to be having the conversations. As Schick pointed out, this seems like this happening soon. Of course, the NCAA is going to put regulations and place. They’re going to try to create a system they think is fair for all parties. Hopefully, they will find such a system. But time and again the NCAA has proved to be incompetent. No matter what they decide, change is change and in this instance, who’s truly on the winning and losing ends is going to be ambiguous.
Matt Barresi is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.