College basketball has been plagued by the transfer bug. It is turning into an epidemic.
You used to see a handful of transfers each year. The number of transfers has tripled in the past 10 years. This year alone, more than 500 players have opted to switch uniforms from one Division I school to another. That's the size of a small phone book.
More and more players are turning into Marco Polos. They've gone exploring for greener pastures, seeking more playing time, a greater role, leaving because a coach moved on, or heading closer to home. The list of schools losing or gaining players has been incredible.
The latest trend is student-athletes switching schools for their final year of eligibility. In 2006, the NCAA passed the graduate transfer rule, which allowed players who graduated to transfer and become eligible immediately as long as the school they were going to had a graduate program that their old school didn't offer. Well, you know and I know this rule is being abused. It's not so much about education. It's about playing basketball.
It feels as if coaches have to go out and re-recruit players who are suddenly on the open market. These players can be difference-makers, such as USC leading scorer Byron Wesley going to Gonzaga and UNLV leading scorer Bryce DeJean Jones heading to Iowa State. Both will be eligible for the 2014-15 season.
The Cyclones benefited from the rule last season, when DeAndre Kane left Marshall for Ames and helped his team make the Sweet 16. Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg is simply playing within the rules, getting help at a pretty late date.
In the bigger transfer picture, some kids go looking for instant gratification and leave for a bigger role. Some are junior college stars looking for that high-major scholarship. And some are recent graduates who have one year of eligibility left and are looking for one last shot at the glory with a higher-profile program.
Transfers have had a major impact in recent years. Louisville's Luke Hancock, a transfer from George Mason, was selected Most Outstanding Player in the 2013 Final Four when Louisville defeated Michigan to win the national championship. In the 2014 Big Dance, there were only two transfers in the rotation of Final Four teams -- sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith of Florida, who arrived from Virginia Tech, and UConn guard Lasan Kromah, a fifth-year senior from George Washington -- but prime-time programs are dipping into smaller programs to fill gaps in their lineup.
Junior point guard T.J. McConnell, who started his career at Duquesne, helped Arizona spend most of the season ranked No. 1. Sophomore forward Rodney Hood, a Mississippi State transfer, averaged 16.1 PPG for Duke and surfaced as a potential NBA first-round pick. Dayton's surprise run to the Elite Eight was fueled by Jordan Sibert, a senior transfer from Ohio State.
When I was coaching at the University of Detroit in the 1970s, we had more time to evaluate players and there was no early signing period, so coaches knew more about the players they were signing. There also was less emphasis on immediate success because kids weren't leaving early. Back then, most players who transferred left for smaller programs closer to home to get more PT.
Now, Top 25 coaches are recruiting transfers the way they recruit prize high school prospects, targeting once highly recruited prospects who are unhappy. A decade ago, elite programs like Florida rarely ventured into transfer recruiting. But in the past six years, Gators coach Billy Donovan has welcomed former blue-chippers such as Finney-Smith, Vernon Macklin from Georgetown, Mike Rosario from Rutgers, and most recently, Alex Murphy from Duke.
Look, I get it. A coach leaves, he goes to a new school and gets a financial booster plus all the goodies-- a beautiful new car, a country club membership. And the kid wants the same option. As it stands right now, if a kid wants out, he has to get a release or he has to sit out a year. I have my own feelings on that.
If a school grants a kid a release because the coach sees the player isn't going to play for him and it would be best for him to go elsewhere, that kid should be able to play right away. Now, if a coach feels a kid is vital to a team and doesn't want to lose him, I think he should have to sit.
I know several coaches are upset with what is going on now. I have heard mid-major coaches scream when some high-major programs were poaching the players the mid-major had developed.
I wish this wasn't an issue plaguing the sport I love.