Friday, July 12, 2019


Matt Tait: What if college basketball followed the NBA’s free agency model?

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) gets physical with Vermont forward Ra Kpedi (15) during the first half, Monday, Nov. 12, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) gets physical with Vermont forward Ra Kpedi (15) during the first half, Monday, Nov. 12, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.


Imagine a world in which KU big man Udoka Azubuike left for North Carolina, Devon Dotson jumped ship to Texas and Michigan State point guard Cassius Winston wound up at Villanova for his senior season.

Now imagine that Duke point guard Tre Jones left for Kentucky, Kentucky point guard Ashtan Hagans bolted to Memphis, Baylor big man Tristan Clark landed at Duke and LSU guard Javonte Smart headed for Gonzaga.

What you’ve just read is a small, fictional glimpse at college basketball’s version of what the NBA recently went through during what can only be described as the wildest offseason in league history.

Seventeen of the 24 players who appeared in the NBA All-Star Game as recently as 2017 now have new teams, with many leaving their old clubs via free agency and a handful being traded or forcing their way out.

Wild stuff.

And while scholarship commitments and transfer rules keep that type of craziness from infiltrating college basketball, the NCAA transfer trend has started to boil over in recent years and has been called by some the college version of free agency.

According to a study conducted by the NCAA, more than 700 transfers made the move to another Division I basketball program before the 2018-19 season. That number has been on a steady climb during each of the past five or six seasons.

Of all the sports offered at four-year, Division I universities, men’s basketball, at 13%, had the fourth-highest transfer rate during the 2016-17 school year, behind women’s beach volleyball, men’s soccer and men’s tennis.

In fact, according to recent NCAA research of its major revenue sports from 2004-17, men’s basketball consistently had the highest transfer activity, with moves in football (FBS and FCS) and baseball either staying steady or dropping, while women’s basketball also increased during that time.

Forget the shoes, the moves, the gear or the music, college basketball players, perhaps subconsciously, appear to be imitating their professional role models with more regularity than ever in leaving one opportunity for the next.

The NCAA today even has in a starring role the famed transfer portal, an online data base designed to make the process cleaner, clearer and easier for all.

Although some argue that college athletes should be given complete freedom to transfer and retain eligibility from school to school, year to year, no one should want to see a system that allows that.

Not all, of course, but so many of these transfer-type decisions are rooted in emotion, often made in the heat of the moment after a rough stretch of limited playing time or a bad week at practice.

Too much time goes into the student-athletes’ recruitments, with official and unofficial visits, pros and cons lists, long talks with family members, high school coaches and friends and sometimes as many as three, four or five cuts to one’s list of finalists.

It’s hard to justify one bad week, or even a bad month, overriding decisions that were made from that type of attention to detail.

And that’s why the college game should never allow players to move from team to team as freely as the professional ranks do.

There was a time, not long ago, when the George Bretts, John Elways and Derek Jeters of the world played for and stayed with one team throughout their pro careers. And it was glorious. No Instagram videos of jerseys being burned by bitter fans. No leaving a contender and joining a crappy club just because the price was right. And, most importantly, no need for fans to guard their hearts when picking their favorite players to root for or for their kids to look up to.

That era no longer exists in the pro ranks, but it can and should still be a thing at the college level.

College basketball’s one-and-done rule has thrown a wrench into those plans, with players like Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Kelly Oubre, Josh Jackson and others barely getting to say hello to the adoring Kansas fan base before moving on.

But with the NBA expected to get rid of the one-and-done rule in the near future, therein allowing players to skip college altogether, the future of college basketball programs, even at powerhouse programs like Kansas, Duke and Kentucky, once again will be built on multi-year players.

As intrigued as I am about the upcoming NBA season — which should be absolutely nuts, by the way — I’ll take that type of continuity over watching a player under contract for four years and $200 million move from team to team with such ease.


Joe Joseph 3 years, 2 months ago

Just wondering what the basis is for saying that “most” decisions are made “in the moment” and after a “bad week” at practice.”

Pure speculation?

Joe Joseph 3 years, 2 months ago

It just seems a bit dismissive and unfair to the many (I would contend most) athletes who did not make those decisions lightly.

Dane Pratt 3 years, 2 months ago

Take it a step further and start allowing trading of student athletes.

p.s. Would have posted earlier but it took all day to scroll down to the bottom of the page.

Matt Tait 3 years, 2 months ago

Sorry for the scrolling issue. We’re not happy with it either and are working on getting it fixed.

In the meantime, if you’re on your phone or iPad, make sure you’re using the mobile site and it’s not a problem.


We WILL get the desktop issue fixed though. As soon as possible.

Thanks for your patience!

John Strayer 3 years, 2 months ago

Does anyone test this crap before it gets pushed out? I damn near scrolled for 2 minutes just to get where the comments are...and then have them pushed down further because something injected 10 more ads to the end of the damn page.

I hope the paper is making a lot of money of this ad BS...because its about to drive this reader way....

Jeff Coffman 3 years, 2 months ago

Technically doesn't high school to college operate as a pure free agency. Then once signed there is a one year contract with a team option meaning every 2 years a player can move.

Blake Brown 3 years, 2 months ago

The days of an allegiance to one team/ franchise has been over for some time and the owners are to blame as it became a TOTAL business many moons ago and stars were dealt away without any sympathy or concern other than their own pocket book. Now, we see the same consciousness in college sports only its the players who have bolted as their role model, the NBA, shows them how to do it. I'm looking forward to the multi-year players era. I`m also looking forward to not having to jump back and forth on this thread to complete a comment. Very rude.

Gary McCullough 3 years, 2 months ago

There is an easy way to get rid of the NCAA "free agency" problem: guaranteed 4-year scholarships. Presently, coaches only offer scholarships for a year at a time so athletes that don't live up to expectations can lose their scholarships, re: Kentucky under Calipari. If coaches can no longer yank a scholarship, and athletes can no longer transfer, the two will have to learn to live and thrive together.

Andy Godwin 3 years, 2 months ago

College is for students who have superior athletic abilities to warrant a scholarship. The NBA, NFL, MLB, etc. can decide how they want to run their businesses and quit interfering with the college system. If a kid can make a living playing sports then they should have the opportunity to pursue. However, there continues to be more and more athletes wanted to be paid with fewer expanded openings. Just watch the NBA summer league. Matt do a story about how many actually get paid to play this coming season (G league, oversees, NBA), because there are a number of Jayhawks looking for a job. Better have something to fall back on because the vast majority of college players will never make a career and living playing professional sports.

Stuart Corder 3 years, 2 months ago

As a devout OKC Thunder fan, I witnessed my entire franchise explode in less than a weak due to the whims of a free agent (Kawhi Leonard), which pulled strings to have top three MVP candidate last year Paul George - one year removed from signing a 4 year extension w/ OKC - demand a trade.

Followed by Westbrook, THE OKC THUNDER FRANCHISE, also making an exit as he’s now had 3x future Hall of Famer leave OKC for a coast or to retire. - Durant - Melo - PG13

These high school and NCAA kids see their role models make decisions based on selfishness and pride. The NBA is all about ego and “power”, and that was KU’s problem last year with Vick and Grimes and Lawson all believing they are already in the NBA.

No emphasis on teamwork or achievements. No regard for the loyal fan bases that pay those salaries (they’ll get paid anywhere).

Barry Weiss 3 years, 2 months ago

I really like the college game the way it is now and hope the NCAA does not jack it up with penalties to schools like KU, allowing too many transfer etc. I think there is enough competition now and it does not need to be watered down to the point where ever college has a team that can compete with everyone. It took the blue bloods a long time to develop their tradition, history and desirability that makes kids want to go there. No need for the NCAA to put a dent in that. Let's go Late Night!

John Strayer 3 years, 2 months ago

Personally...I like the college game as it was 20 years ago. I really did like watching and cheering for a player for 4 years. Know...after the 1 to 2 years they spend at KU they disappear for me...because I cannot stand to watch the NBA.

Dale Stringer 3 years, 2 months ago

Well, if we are talking silly stuff like free agency, let's go all the it way and make DI and DII team pairs. Each DI school has their DII school (a.k.a. G-League) that they can swap players around with. Should probably limit the transfer to the between semesters though still make it look like learning still counts for something. Let them practice together in the summer. The DI coach can then pick the ones he was to start the season with. Then change out a couple DII studs for those that are under-performing.

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