MORGANTOWN — It’s not easy to keep up with the NCAA these days for two main reasons. First, there’s an abundance of groups, committees, task forces and the like. Second, many of them are doing good and smart things.
All of that leads to this: The NCAA’s Division I Council Transfer Group is trying to modernize the transfer process, a practice that’s morphed into an industry in recent years. Twelve percent of Division I athletes in the 2015-16 year were transfers from two- or four-year schools, and since transferring has become so popular, we’ve seen schools and coaches try to control it.
That’s not good, because it takes power from student-athletes who don’t have very much to begin with, but that’s been permissible because of the way the rules exist. Those rules may now be changing, which is good, and there’s a Big 12 bent to all of this.
Obviously, there’s West Virginia, which is looking like college football’s Ellis Island and a port to fresh starts and second chances. Should everyone arrive and enroll, the Mountaineers will count 24 transfers from a junior college or a Football Bowl Subdivision college on scholarship for the 2017 season. That’s 28 percent of the 85 scholarships, and while there’s nothing wrong with it, it nevertheless shows how schools can use transfers to build and even rebuild rosters.
You can then understand why there’s some concern and why the NCAA is now involved.
WVU has been lauded for landing graduate transfers, but this can bug schools that develop players for four years and lose them for six months at another school. There are complaints that these are not genuine transactions and a player isn’t invested in academics as much as athletics.
The Transfer Group has suggested counting a player’s scholarship for two years, which will force schools to be choosy, as well as adding graduate transfers to the Academic Progress Report, which tracks a school’s ability to retain eligible players.
This should have WVU’s attention. It’s close to the minimum 930 score in the APR. Dipping below costs you postseason eligibility, and graduate transfers don’t always stay in school, especially if they go to the NFL. WVU had one graduate transfer last year and has one this year. If those players counted for two scholarships, that would limit recruiting as well as welcoming transfers.
It’s not solely about the Mountaineers. Last month, a Kansas State receiver chose to transfer, which meant he asked to be released from his scholarship with the school. He turned in a list of 35 schools he wanted to go to, and the Wildcats declined to approve any school on the list, a list that had no Big 12 teams or future K-State opponents. There was no justification. The receiver could still go to any of those 35 schools but not on scholarship.
Eventually, K-State capitulated. The receiver transferred to Appalachian State, a Sun Belt Conference school in North Carolina that seemingly threatened the Wildcats, never mind the receiver is from Charlotte and his father played at Appalachian State.
It was a terrible look for Kansas State, but it’s not unique. It happens. That doesn’t mean it should continue to happen, and the Transfer Group is interested in removing a school’s ability to control a transfer that way. The idea proposes a player simply transfers wherever he wants, and a school or a head coach can’t be selective, which is to say vindictive.
It won’t be popular, but the NCAA wants it, and we know this because of one sentence from a Transfer Group press release: “They want to know if others in the membership feel the same way.” In short, the group wants to see what Division I schools will stand up and oppose a student-athlete’s freedom, which really won’t be popular. We can safely assume a dissenting school will have that position used against it in recruiting.
This would also accelerate the transfer process, another privilege student-athletes find manipulated when a school deliberates before approving transfer destinations. Sometimes a player hits the open market later than expected and doesn’t find as many opportunities as there were before, because all schools race to acquire good players and fill roster spots.
That competition can lead people around the rules. A player isn’t supposed to talk to a school he’d like to transfer to until after he’s been released from his scholarship with his current school. LSU had an offensive lineman who chose to transfer, and LSU approved all but one of his potential destinations. The Tigers would not approve TCU because they reportedly believed the Horned Frogs contacted the player before that was allowed.
This is not unique. It happens. And that again does not mean it should happen. The Transfer Group is interested in heavier penalties for making contact earlier than the rules allow, but that’s always going to be hard to police just because players and schools have intermediaries and innovative ways to prevent a paper trail.
Just let players transfer where they want without the original school’s approval. It keeps schools and coaches from controlling a player’s life after he leaves. It stops schools from meddling before rules allow. It gives the NCAA one less thing to worry about and one more thing to be proud of.