Free agency would change college basketball forever

If free agency finds college basketball, the ball will be in the players' court and the game might never be the same. Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

Free agency could be coming to college sports.

Well, it wouldn't exactly be free agency, according to the lawyer in charge of two cases that could become a game-changer in college athletics, one that would enable players to transfer without having to sit a year.

"Free transferring is more appropriate," said Steve Berman, the managing partner at Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro and lead attorney of a case involving a pair of ex-college football players against the NCAA.

Whatever the terminology you wish to utilize, it would create a significant impact throughout the world of college athletics.

"If kids are allowed to transfer without sitting out, college basketball will never be the same," Arizona coach Sean Miller said "Whatever the number is of kids transferring this year, 700 or so, I think you can double that."

One of Berman's clients, former Northern Illinois punter Peter Deppe, visited Iowa during the fall semester of 2015 and was told by the staff he could have a scholarship only if he was eligible to play at the start of the 2016 campaign. However, the Hawkeyes weren't willing to wait a year for him to transfer and become eligible, so Deppe wasn't able to make the move. Deppe ultimately decided to give up football and is currently enrolled at Kettering University, majoring in engineering.

"I just hope my case can make a change for other student-athletes wanting to transfer," Deppe told ESPN. "Unfortunately, the NCAA makes the process a nightmare and confusing."

While the overwhelming belief of the college basketball coaching fraternity is that players being able to transfer without having to sit a year is imminent, NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy told ESPN he isn't ready to go that far.

"I am confident we will be victorious in these cases," Remy told ESPN. "If they win, we wouldn't be able to have the rule anymore.'

Berman told ESPN that the NCAA moved to dismiss the case, but he is optimistic it will move forward in federal court in Indianapolis. He is just as confident they will ultimately come out with a favorable ruling.

"I'm surprised more people haven't woken up and realized the impact and the implications this case could have," Berman added.

Many college basketball coaches are well-aware and aren't thrilled with the prospect of what they deem as looming free agency.

"College basketball will turn into the wild, wild West," one head coach told ESPN.

The transfer rate has increased over the past decade -- from 250 or so back in the 2008 to approximately 700 the past couple of years. Part of the up-tick is due to the graduate transfer rule. A record 125 Division 1 players took advantage this year. Another aspect is societal, where players are changing high schools more frequently and also summer league programs instead of fighting through adversity.

Many coaches contacted by ESPN fear that last year's number could rise to well over 1,000 if kids don't have to sit a year and you'll see coaches literally recruiting kids who aren't getting minutes in the handshake line following games.

"It'll be no-holds barred," another high-major head coach told ESPN. "The tampering will be out of control."

Two of the most powerful coaches in the game agree on what the next step should be in changing the transfer rules, and it's not complete freedom for players.

"The thing that should happen is if a coach leaves, a kid should be allowed to transfer and play right away," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski told ESPN. "That's what the coach can do. Before taking the leap that you may want to take, I'd look at that."

"It isn't good for the kids to be able to move without penalty," Kentucky coach John Calipari added. "If a coach leaves, they should all be able to leave and play right away. What are you going to do if a kid chooses to leave in December and join another program?"

Berman said the intent of the lawsuit is not to be able to change schools during the academic year and be able to play immediately. The intent is to avoid sitting a full academic year before being eligible.

National Association of Basketball Coaches president Jeff Jones, also the head coach at Old Dominion, said there has been plenty of discussion recently about whether the one-year transfer residency will be a thing of the past.

"As some have said, and I'd agree, if it gets to free agency, that would be a scary thing for college athletics," Jones said. "Hopefully there can be a solution that is not restrictive to student-athletes."

In the meantime, we wait and see whether a former punter from Northern Illinois can change the landscape of college sports.