Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Self against the idea of ‘free agency’ as NCAA explores changes to transfer rules

Kansas head coach Bill Self talks with media members following the NCAA selection show on Sunday, March 12, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks received a number one seed in the Midwest Regional and will play the winner of the NC Central and UC Davis First Four game in Tulsa.

Kansas head coach Bill Self talks with media members following the NCAA selection show on Sunday, March 12, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks received a number one seed in the Midwest Regional and will play the winner of the NC Central and UC Davis First Four game in Tulsa.


As the Kansas men’s basketball team prepares to jump into a season during which three Jayhawks will sit out and two others finally will play after transferring in, landing athletes via the transfer route appears to be on the brink of becoming easier.

That’s the general feeling around college athletics these days with the NCAA considering rule changes that would allow athletes to leave a school one year and become eligible to play at their new school the next.

No waiver required. No graduate transfer loop holes. Just good, old-fashioned here today and gone tomorrow governing that will no longer require players to sit out a year after transferring.

While that certainly seems like a good setup for the athletes themselves — particularly those who become disgruntled with their situations or who fall victim to unexpected changes at their school of choice — it’s not exactly a scenario college coaches are looking forward to.

“If we open this up, where it’s free agency, it’s going to change everything about our sport, which will be bad,” Kansas basketball coach Bill Self said recently. “That part will be bad.”

The idea of loosening the rules associated with transfers first surfaced in June, when the NCAA formed the Division I Council Transfer Working Group that sought feedback designed “to create the best outcomes for both student-athletes and schools involved in the transfer process.”

Permission to contact student-athletes, ethical recruiting practices and the academic impact on transfers were among the biggest issues that came up, and Self said he, too, had concerns.

“I don’t know how anybody would think it would be a good thing to recruit kids from other programs and even programs that you play against on a regular basis,” Self said. “If you’re an engineering student at Kansas and you want to go to Missouri, you just go. And certainly there’s been rules to prohibit that in sports. So, depending on how this all plays out, there’s going to be a lot of changes in our sport. A lot.”

In each of the areas that were red-flagged, quality dialogue and extensive brainstorming led to several suggested fixes.

For example, the group suggested that harsher penalties be levied against coaches who break recruiting rules and that all sports should follow the same transfer rules.

Perhaps the most significant suggestion that came from the group’s examination of transfer practices was the idea that a student-athlete’s ability to transfer be tied to his or her academic standing. In short, better students would get more freedom to transfer, while those who perform poorly in the classroom could face greater restrictions.

“As you look at the transfer world, where everyone starts to panic is the ability to play right away,” South Dakota State athletic director Justin Sell told The Associated Press. Sell also headed up the transfer council. “But we’re really looking at it from an academic perspective.”

Sell emphasized that the goal of the group was not to make transferring easier and create chaos, but to ensure that the NCAA was on “the right path” and striving to “create positive stories of graduation when a kid transfers.”

None of the feedback has led to any changes and many believe that actual reform could still be years away.

An already-existing aspect of transfer rules that also has been discussed recently is the immediate eligibility of graduate transfers or “hired guns,” as Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby recently called them while voicing his concerns.

With that route becoming more common, Self’s Jayhawks have benefited from the postgraduate rules, most recently with the now-departed Jack Whitman from William & Mary and, before that, with Memphis forward Tarik Black, who came to KU after graduating from Memphis and was immediately eligible to play during the 2013-14 season.

Graduate transfers have gone out the door, too, with former KU forward Dwight Coleby leaving for Western Kentucky this offseason after graduating in May.

“There’s no question we thought that was bad,” said Self of the graduate transfer rule, speaking for college coaches across the country. “But that looks like the good part moving forward, if they allow kids to transfer from school to school whenever they want to.”


Brett McCabe 5 years, 2 months ago

Players should have the same rights as all of the paid executives in the sport. If that creates chaos, so be it. Double standards are never good for anyone, and hypocrisy is not a good foundational value for an organization.

Interesting that the Big 12 commissioner thinks that a kid who has graduated shouldn't be allowed to go his/her own way. It's ludicrous.

If the P5 conferences want to get serious about things, then this is how you do it:

  1. All P5 conferences declare that they will self-police under their own guidelines.
  2. All scholarships count for 3 years against the scholarship limit. (This eliminates the OAD athlete from college athletics.) Special exceptions could be defined and allowed (family matters, illness, etc.)
  3. The cooperative P5 conferences agree to not accept transfers under the three year term from any other P5 members.
  4. Kids get an exception if their coach leaves. If the coach departs, the kid is a free-agent.

This still allows a kid to transfer out of the P5 (to Memphis, WSU, Big East, etc.) if his coach lied to him during recruiting, the coach takes another job or the kid is unhappy. The P5 could also recruit some additional conferences, but leave several so that the kids has at least 50 or 60 choices.

What's fair is fair. And this isn't exactly fair, but it's much better than what we have now and it will help prevent chaos.

Joe Ross 5 years, 2 months ago

How does this eliminate chaos?

If NCAA scholarships count three years against the scholarship limit, this does NOT eliminate the OAD athlete. The age-limit mandate is an NBA rule. Suppose blue-chip recruit Joe Phenom signs at the University of Kansas. He accepts a schollie that counts against Kansas for 3 years but he leaves after 1. You're gonna tank programs across the board, eliminate blue-blood programs almost altogether, and make college basketball boring because good programs are recruiting dummies...all in one fell swoop.

Conferences policing themselves??? Individual schools have trouble doing that!!! So what you're going to create is a system now where schools, conferences, and the NCAA can ALL punish individual schools. No way...

Robert Brock 5 years, 2 months ago

I don't think that all student-athletes should have to sit out a year after transferring no matter what. No exceptions.

Joe Joseph 5 years, 2 months ago

It's on administrators for not building clauses into more contracts that require head coaches to pay some sort of penalty for breaking their contracts and bolting for other schools. Such penalties should be commonplace. Would it prevent coaches from leaving? Of course not. It would, however, lend some equity to the players who are penalized for transferring.

A big part of me believes that if a University is truly going to commit to a student-athlete - and pay his/her tuition, room & board, stipend, etc. - then there should be some sort of reciprocal commitment. Like a contract. Maybe a full year of sitting out isn't the answer, but there has to be something. Brett makes great points.

Lawrence McGlinn 5 years, 2 months ago

I agree with Robert, unless, of course, coaches have to sit out a year when they transfer....ha. I also think the OAD rule is ludicrous. Let them try the draft out of high school. If they are not drafted they can come to school for 3 years, similar to collegiate baseball. Universities should hold an additional year of scholarship for the athletes to finish school after they flame out in the D league, or wherever.

Benny Armstrong 5 years, 2 months ago

Reading Self's comments and the responses above, I have some concerns about moving to a system where student-athletes are allowed to transfer and play immediately that would have to be sorted out before feeling totally comfortable with it (because my opinion totally matters to the powers that be). I understand that coaches do this regularly without penalty, but I think applying those same standards to the student-athletes opens the game up to preventable issues that if addressed could help everyone and make the game better.

I think a good starting point would be some sort of limit on when these free transfers could occur, similar to the transfer window in soccer. I think if the individual is in good standing academically, you should allow a transfer without penalty once the academic year concludes in May/June, however transferring during the school year regardless of academic standing should carry some form of penalty with it.

If we allow a player to transfer after the season starts and be immediately eligible to participate in games, I worry that we open up to situations where schools intentionally keep a scholarship open to shop around for players to make a tourney push like MLB teams do to make a run for the playoffs. In cases involving those types of transfers, I think it is fair to force that player to sit for the remainder of the current season and be eligible at the start of the next year, sort of like if Sam Cunliffe were to be eligible in October rather than January. This prevents coaches from poaching players for immediate gain, and also provides some sort of incentive for the individual to think through if they actually want to make the move.

Building off that last point, one of the issues not addressed in the article or the comments which I think is glossed over in this entire discussion is the fact that there are so many individuals who don't fully think through this decision and wind up frustrated and regretting their choice. We don't put enough accountability on the individual for picking that school/program and I think moving to this sort of situation gives kids the easy way out by not making them think through things, especially if they know they can change their minds without facing any sort of consequences. This isn't to say there aren't special circumstances like coaches getting fired before they start at a school or family illnesses, but those should be exceptions, not the norm.

Hopefully we can reach some sort of reasonable improvements to the transfer process, but I don't feel supremely optimistic when the NCAA is involved.

Dale Rogers 5 years, 2 months ago

In my opinion, players "contract" with the school who in turn pays for their education, housing, and other things. The school gets the player's participation on the team.

I don't like the idea of just letting anyone transfer at any time without penalty UNLESS something significant changes, like a head coach change.

I'd be in favor of allowing the no-penalty transfer IF the head coach in charge when the player committed is no longer in that position at that school. Even then, I'd expect the player to specify, "stay or transfer" and if he chooses to stay, then the new head coach is the one he is now committed to and a transfer would require the one-year penalty as today.

I suppose there will be all kinds of opinions. This one is mine.

Steve Grimm 5 years, 2 months ago

I agree that students should be granted more freedom to move to different schools. As it stands today, it is wholly unfair.
- A coach can leave any time, but all his recruits are now stuck.
- A coach "oversells" a promise to start the kid who commits only to never really have had a chance to start.
- A kid thinks the school plays the style he thinks he will be good in only to find the styles don't match. - etc.

At the same time, I can see some pretty nasty recruiting tricks happening where one school recruits a kid right out from under another rival school by promising him the moon, but really just to disrupt the rival.

So, here's some thoughts:

1) If a head coach is fired or leaves for any reason, all student-players immediately become "free agents" without restriction of sitting out a year.

2) If a student-player wishes to transfer out of a program, he must declare the intent publicly before any other school can talk to him. Prior to that, the student-player is untouchable by any other school.

3) He can only declare after a season and a certain amount of time prior to the beginning of allowable pre-season practices begin.

4) If the student-player transfers to another school in the same conference, he must sit out a year. Otherwise, he can play the next season. This is to protect against direct rivalry shenanigans.

5) If any school is caught recruiting a student-player from another school who has not declared intent to transfer, that school loses scholarships and is banned for receiving ANY transfers for at least two years.

6) If a student quits a program entirely, he must sit out a year before playing for another school.

Something like that.

I agree that coaches need to depend on who is going to be on their roster. To do that, there has to be a time when the roster is locked down.

But the kids need to have better freedoms to move should circumstances change or the school isn't what they thought it would be.

I don't think grades should come into play for any of this any more than it does for an engineering student.

Marius Rowlanski 5 years, 2 months ago

I don't agree completely but you made some really strong points and actual common sense.

Tracey Graham 5 years, 2 months ago

Coaches are able to move from one job to another without having to take a year off. Players should be given the same right to go from one school to another without having to sit out a year. I don't now what this has to do with academics or graduating. The player is still going to have to go to class to be eligible. And, in general, your credits from one school transfer to your new school.Occasionally a course won't be accepted as counting towards the credits needed to graduated, but it's pretty rare.

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