• Wendell Barnhouse

Love and Transfers

Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove,” a classic film released in 1964, was a satirical black

comedy about Cold War tension and the specter of nuclear holocaust. It’s subtitle: “How I

Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.”

Those 10 words should be adopted/adapted to counter the NCAA’s recent decision to

change its policy for student-athletes who transfer. Instead of having to sit out a year

(the staid, official NCAA term: “year in residence”), they now have a one-time

opportunity to transfer and be immediately eligible at their new school. (Cue Dr. Peter

Vinkman: “Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!”)

This rule change is either the “beginning of the end” for sports like college basketball or

the “wild, wild west” in terms of free agency (gasp) and fluctuating rosters. It’s not the

former and if, it’s the latter, deal with it. The rule’s impact won’t be known for years and

now it’s all knee-jerk reactions, pearl clutching and hand wringing.

Proposed motto: “How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Freedom for

Student-Athletes.”

The new transfer rule and the impending legislation regarding name/image/likeness

profits will be massive changes for college sports. Those changes are overdue. The

NCAA’s perverse term “student-athlete” is a label used to emphasize the academic and

amateur aspects of the College Sports Industrial Complex. The appropriate term is

“indentured-athlete” because student-athletes are deprived the same rights and

freedoms as student non-athletes.

Some of the overseers, though, still can’t see that the workers should be shackled.

"It's awful ...," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said on a recent Zoom call with reporters. "I

talked to a friend of mine yesterday and he lost his three best players and he just signed

five guys out of the (transfer) portal. He said to me 'It's like putting an AAU team

together.'… Basically, we have free agency so free agency is free agency. Guys go

wherever they want."

And that’s a problem for coaches who… go wherever they want?

There is little doubt that before the first block/charge call is incorrectly whistled next

season there will be unprecedented player movement and roster chaos. The new rule

combines with a one-year exception, necessitated by the pandemic, allowing every

athlete the option for a do-over season in 2021-22. Those who stay, those who go and

those who arrive will create a massive game of musical roster spots.

“I don’t think it’s good for college basketball, but it’s good for the student-athletes, and

that’s what we’re all here for,” Villanova coach Jay Wright told the New York Post about

the new NCAA transfer rule. “We’ll all adjust. It’s going to make it a little messier.”


There are 76 schools in the Power Six college basketball conferences (ACC, SEC, Big

Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Big East) and all but three haven’t had at least one player

enter his name in the transfer portal. As of May, about 1,500 players had entered the

portal. Last year, about 1,100 players “portaled.” It is estimated that 25% of players on

rosters of the 350 Division I schools will enter the portal. Those who choose that route

can return to their original school – if there’s still a roster spot.

“It does feel like there is total chaos right now within college basketball,” Connecticut

coach Dan Hurley told The Hartford Courant. “With the rule, on top of the COVID extra

year of eligibility, it’s kind of like the perfect storm of chaos. In a different time, success

in college basketball was about program building and player and personal development

and continuity. Now, it feels a lot more like free agency or programs that are just putting

together a one-year team.”

Attorney Tom Mars has spent the last few years representing college athletes in their

battles over NCAA eligibility/transfer issues.

"Everyone knows there was never any legitimate rationale for the rule other than a

concern about roster management," he told CBSSports.com. "As much as some head

coaches may complain about that, they'll adjust and figure it out. After all, they wouldn't

be getting paid millions of dollars a year if these jobs were easy."

The “year in residence” rule was an intentional impediment to prevent football and

basketball players from switching schools willy nilly. That theory ignored the idea that

every 18-year-old who could earn a scholarship also had the wisdom and maturity to

make a correct crucial life decision.

It wasn’t that long ago that those who transferred once wore a scarlet “T” – they were

unhappy, lazy, ne’er-do-wells, not good enough. Transfers are now accepted and

welcomed by coaches who want to, you know, win. The Final Four teams had eight

starters who were transfers.

Will there be unintended consequences/problems involving the new transfer rule? Of

course. Here are just a few:

The transfer portal is non-public and available only to players and coaches. The

NCAA announced a draconian Big Brother proposal to monitor IP addresses to

prevent coaches from sharing their portal passwords with those damn dirty,

pesky journalists who Tweet about who has entered the portal.

“Tampering” – directly wooing players on scholarship at other schools – is illegal.

Coaches have mastered the back door play by using intermediaries to contact

players to gauge their interest in transferring. Venerable ESPN analyst Dick

Vitale Tweeted that several coaches have claimed there is “widespread

tampering” occurring. We can expect another three to five pages of lawyer-ese

rules will be added to the already bloated NCAA Manual.


Will the programs in the six power conferences raid lower-level schools for their

best players? Of course. But there will players seeking more playing time who

are at the big-time Division I schools who will transfer “down” to grow their

careers.

The “borderline” high school recruit might suffer. The high-level players will sign a

scholarship for their (as of now) one year in college. But most coaches will

choose to sign a “known” college player in the transfer portal instead of an

unproven high school player who might need a year or two of development.

The Titanic didn’t have enough lifeboats. Players in the transfer portal are likely

to collide with the iceberg of no available scholarships. Coaches will point to

those who are left out, but the freedom to decide to transfer carries the same risk

as choosing your original school. Life’s tough. (And those coaches who ask “what

about the kids” rarely hesitated to block waiver requests when those “kids”

wanted to transfer in the old system.)

The NCAA caved on the one-time transfer rule for the same reason it will cave on

NIL legislation – it can’t win those cases in court. And “one-time” transfers are

likely to become “multi-time” transfers. Hardship waivers will still be granted, and

graduate transfers will still exist. If the NCAA tries to curb the transfer trend by

scuttling those current rules, it will face legal challenges it probably won’t win.

Before the turn of the century, you could find plenty of college football administrators

who claimed a post-season playoff was a doomsday plan. One thing – as things tend to

do – led to another. The Bowl Championship Series evolved into the current four-team

College Football Playoff and that will eventually expand beyond four teams. The post-

season has not ruined the sport or diluted interest in the regular season.

Nearly 35 years ago when the NCAA implemented the 3-point shot, there were Old

School coaches who caterwauled about a gimmick that would cheapen, if not destroy,

the integrity of the sport. Well, we’re still waiting for that.

"There was nothing wrong with the old rule, but everybody was in a big hurry to change

it and this is what we have," Iowa’s McCaffery said. "Rules change, laws change, we

adjust. It's going to be a different look for pretty much everybody."


Yes. Even the “student-athletes.”