Solving the transfer question is easy: Let them play

The NCAA is hearing discussions on making transfers immediately eligible. Just don't expect it to actually happen. AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

Depending upon whom you listen to, there is a perpetual crisis in college basketball, and one that is worsening by the day. According to the doomsday predictors, there is an "epidemic" of transfers in this culture of "immediate gratification," "entitlement," "selfishness" and turning tail from adversity and personal growth. In other words, these spoiled, entitled, needlessly empowered players don't want to stick it out when they are momentarily unhappy and renege on a solemn commitment to leave their highly paid coaches and administrators in the lurch while they selfishly seek out something better for themselves.


Step back from the ridiculous rhetoric in the transfer debate and go to the very foundation upon which this entire industry is said to be built. What does NCAA president Mark Emmert say every time the thought of athlete compensation is broached? He says, quite simply, "These are STUDENTS," as if stating that simple phrase is dispositive of the issue. The NCAA says in word and deed that athletes are "students that just happen to be athletes" and "athletes are students to be treated like any other student." Furthermore, the NCAA is quick to state that athletes are NOT employees. They are unpaid, amateur STUDENTS. That is the bedrock principle of the NCAA, and this analysis doesn't even approach any of the NCAA's "student-athlete welfare" rhetoric.

Well, if it is true that we are talking about students being treated like any other students, the NCAA's transfer policy should be quite simple. Any athlete should be allowed to transfer at any time and accept all allowable aid from any school that will have him or her. The transferring athlete should be eligible to play immediately upon his or her full-time enrollment at the beginning of the next semester or quarter leading to the next full season after the transfer. There you go. Done.

That is what the NCAA announced Tuesday, that it had begun to seek "member input" on changing its transfer rule and possibly allowing immediate eligibility for students who meet certain academic benchmarks. Additionally, the proposals include increasing penalties for tampering with potential transfers, offering full aid to postgraduate transfers and eliminating a school's power to OK or veto a transfer's list of desired transfer destinations.

So, for a basketball player, if he or she were to transfer in April after the conclusion of the season, that player could receive aid immediately upon the transfer and would be eligible to play immediately at the start of the next season. If the player were to transfer in November, he or she could receive aid immediately and would be eligible to play immediately at the start of the next season. (Now, a player transferring in November would not be eligible to play until after the first semester or quarter of the following season.)

Of course, some fool will say, "What, do you want them to be able to transfer at halftime and play for the opponent in the second half?" Of course, that is a ridiculous notion. The player would be eligible to play the very next season.

Given the rhetoric of the NCAA and its member institutions, there is no legitimate reason to restrict player transfers. None. I mean, what are we really talking about here? A student is leaving one school to attend another and participate in an extracurricular activity. That happens with non-athlete students all the time. In addition, the NCAA says that college athletics is just an avocation, which means it is a hobby. No other student is limited in where he or she can transfer, and there is no industrywide prohibition on immediate participation in any extracurricular activity or hobby (and there is no restriction on non-athlete students earning their fair market value in their chosen field, either, but we will keep this to transfer policy). Why should athletes be treated any differently from non-athlete students when transferring?

The answer, of course, is money and control. Athletes are considered assets of the university, and assets that lead to the generation of revenue. These assets also contribute to the job security and financial well-being of the coaches, and coaches wish to have as much control as possible over those assets. Transfer restrictions are designed to discourage transfers, if not to block them. Those transfer restrictions, including having to sit out a season before being eligible to play, are nothing more than a noncompete provision unilaterally imposed upon an unpaid, amateur student. Noncompete provisions are for employees and are negotiated at arm's length.

Don't be fooled by all of the doomsday projections. (This is what Baylor's Scott Drew told ESPN.com on Wednesday: "It would be the worst rule ever. It would be the wild, Wild West. Coaches don't agree on everything. On this, I think we'd be unanimous.") The game will not suffer if athletes are immediately eligible any more than it has suffered from graduate transfers (which is zero). The doomsday predictions are based upon the views of coaches and administrators, who are self-interested and ignore their own rhetoric and principles. Players don't choose a school out of college with the intention of leaving, and they transfer for myriad reasons. It is not all about an entitled player getting more shots or being featured as an NBA prospect or having too many people "in their ear." This is not an "epidemic," either. There are 351 Division I schools; we are going to have transfers. Due to scholarship limits, there are not sufficient spots available for transfers to be an epidemic. "Poaching" is not a legitimate concern, as you cannot poach an unpaid, amateur, non-employee student. But if the NCAA wishes to have unenforceable ethics rules for coaches, go ahead. Knock yourself out.

The reasons to restrict player movement are unpersuasive. Whether the justification is competitive balance, year in residence, or "commitment to teammates," there is no legitimate reason to limit where a player can attend school and play. Competitive balance is not affected by transfers, as evidenced by vastly different transfer rules for different NCAA sports. Only a few NCAA sports require a transferring player to sit out a year. If competitive balance is so important, why aren't transfer rules the same for every sport? Plus, isn't it odd how valuable players are when discussing transfer policy? When discussing player compensation, players are said to be expendable and not worth anything. Why the difference? The "year in residence" requirement in certain sports is patently absurd.

(This is how the NCAA defines "year in residence": If you transfer from a four-year college to an NCAA school, you must complete one academic year in residence at the new school before you can play for or receive travel expenses from the new school, unless you qualify for a transfer exception or waiver.)

The idea that players in certain sports require a year in residence while others do not is laughably inconsistent, as is a required year in residence for a transferring player when all incoming freshmen are eligible immediately. Lastly, coaches and administrators restricting transfers due to the "commitment made to teammates," whether within the same conference or not, utterly fails the laugh test. So, players should be discouraged from transferring due to commitment, but paid coaches under contract can bolt their commitment any time they choose and run out on the commitment to the players they recruited?

Think about this one: Isn't it funny that coaches are OK with a transfer policy change to allow immediate eligibility for all players whose coach has been fired? So, it's OK for players to transfer and play immediately if it makes a school think twice about firing a coach but not when the player wishes to leave for his or her own reasons.

This isn't difficult. If this is really about unpaid, amateur students being treated like any other students, then the transfer policy is simple. Athletes should be able to transfer at will at any time, and immediately accept full aid elsewhere, and be eligible to play immediately upon full-time enrollment at the beginning of the quarter or semester of the next full season. Of course, this is all just talk, because the NCAA will not change its ridiculous, unjustifiable transfer policies anytime soon. The "membership input" being sought will skew toward athletes as employee-assets rather than students. It is all just talk.