Coach questions grad transfer rule

Vernon Adams. passed for 658 yards and six touchdowns against Montana State the past two seasons, leading Eastern Washington to a victory each time.

Still, Bobcats coach Rob Ash is disappointed to see Adams transfer from the Big Sky to the Pac-12 and wants Football Championship Subdivision coaches to push to change the rule that allows the dynamic quarterback to play for Oregon next season.

"We're Division I like the other level," Ash said in a telephone interview. "Our guys need to start and finish at the same school. We cannot be perceived as a farm system or Triple-A ballclub or anything like that."

"We're Division I like the other level. Our guys need to start and finish at the same school. [FCS programs] cannot be perceived as a farm system or Triple-A ballclub or anything like that. ... As FCS coaches, we need to lobby now to get this rule changed."
Rob Ash, Montana State coach, on the graduate transfer rule

Adams signed a grant-in-aid agreement with Oregon this week, hoping to take advantage of an NCAA rule that allows athletes who have graduated to switch schools and be immediately eligible to play. Most transfers must sit out a season.

The rule was put in place to allow athletes to pursue graduate degrees that were not offered at their schools, but it has turned into college football free agency.

"I'm really opposed to this rule the way it's starting to be manipulated by FBS schools," said Ash, who has never had a losing record in eight seasons at Montana State. "As FCS coaches, we need to lobby now to get this rule changed. It's going to be potentially a very difficult, bad situation for FCS with really good players that we recruit, we develop, being tempted to move on for that fifth and final year."

Ash said he spoke to Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin about the graduate transfer issue earlier this week and that he hopes the Big Sky coaches can work with the conference office to develop a proposal for an NCAA rule change.

"It's not what the rule is intended for," Baldwin said. "... Ultimately we feel like, you know what, we were also the ones who developed him from a level where obviously out of high school he wasn't at that level."

Big Sky commissioner Doug Fullerton said that might not be necessary. He expects all transfer rules to be examined and reformed as the NCAA moves to become more "student-athlete-centric."

Fullerton agreed the grad transfer rule has morphed into something it was not intended to be. Adams, who is on track to graduate from Eastern Washington by the summer, could spend one semester at Oregon and then leave to pursue a professional football career.

Fullerton said he constantly hears concerns from within his conference about the Big Sky and FCS turning into a farm system for FBS schools with more resources, especially those in Power 5 conferences. But he understands why proponents of the rule would say an athlete who has graduated has earned the right to move freely.

"I think there is some legitimacy to the argument that if I came here, I play, I gave you seven days' work every week and I graduated on time, I've done what you've asked me to do," he said.

While Eastern Washington has not stood in Adams' way, school officials have made it clear they are not happy with a rule that let their opening opponent next season poach their All-American.

"We wish Vernon the best in his future endeavors and thank him for all that he has done for Eastern," athletic director Bill Chaves said in a statement. "The chance for him to pursue this opportunity is certainly a unique one given the fifth-year transfer rule. We are not sure that this was the actual intent of the legislation when it was approved, but it is the rule currently in place that we and potentially other schools have to adhere to. We will continue to work through the process of this transfer based on the rule as it stands now."

The graduate transfer rule also doesn't sit well with many at the FBS level.

"It smacks of hired gun, for one thing," Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said. "There typically are no good academic reasons for the transfer."

Transfer rules are not an area in which the Big 12 and the rest of the Power 5 can make autonomous legislation. Bowlsby said the directive from the NCAA steering committee that put the new autonomy structure in place was for transfer reform to be undertaken within the next two years.

Until it happens, Ash hopes Oregon hasn't started a trend.

He said he was confident Adams will be able to make a successful transition to FBS and that most top FCS teams have players who could do the same.

"We have a lot of guys at FCS that got missed in the recruiting process, developed late," Ash said. "They're still Division I guys. Got a lot of guys that have gone on to the NFL from our level. I think every top program has a couple and most of us would have four or five at least every year that could play on FBS teams."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.