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A Saner Solution to Basketball’s Transfer Problems

These days, the surest way to sully your name in college basketball is to restrict players from contacting other institutions when they want to transfer out of your program. Coaches at Saint Joseph’s, Maryland, and Wisconsin have all suffered publicity blows in recent months after their institutions limited certain athletes from freely talking to other teams, keeping them from earning scholarships elsewhere.

Last week Southern Illinois even took the unusual step of publicizing an athlete’s grade-point average as evidence of why he shouldn’t be allowed to leave. (The Salukis require players to have a 2.6 GPA to transfer so it doesn’t harm the team’s Academic Progress Rate. The player in question, Treg Setty, has a 2.5.)

Critics question why athletes aren’t granted the same freedom as coaches, who can move in and out of programs without penalty. Players, on the other hand, often aren’t allowed to transfer within their conference or to certain teams, and they usually miss a year of eligibility for making a move.

According to the NCAA’s “permission to contact” rule, athletes looking to transfer must receive the permission of their current institution before they can speak to other programs or be recruited by other teams. If players get the green light, and they satisfy progress-toward-degree requirements at their current college, they may be eligible to receive athletic aid from a different program.

The situation is much different in Division III, where the players themselves have the power to dictate when other Division III institutions may speak to them.

Given the negative publicity many top programs have faced this year, that approach may be a better one for Division I, says Brad Barnes, an assistant compliance director at Texas A&M.

Barnes likens the transfer turnstile to divorce, saying that players and programs that can’t work out their differences should just be allowed to go their separate ways.

He still believes in restrictions–athletes have playbook secrets, after all–but he thinks programs would do themselves a favor by letting go of players more readily.

“In my personal opinion, when you consider the public-relations damage to the institution and the coach and the AD, it would behoove the NCAA membership to have a serious conversation about where we want to go with this rule, which to a degree has become a liability,” he says.

Barnes recently asked someone at the NCAA for a legislative history of the rule–Bylaw 13.1.1.3–trying to understand why it was created and when it was last reviewed.

It bothers him that some people in the media have misinterpreted the regulation. “People unfortunately think the rule can prevent an athlete from transferring,” he says. In reality, athletes can leave whenever they want–they just can’t accept a scholarship at another four-year NCAA or NAIA institution, or receive assistance in the admissions process, without their own program granting a release.

Although Barnes likes Division III’s self-release model, he doesn’t see Division I colleges adopting it anytime soon.

“This is a rule that’s deeply entrenched in the culture of NCAA schools, for better or worse,” he says. “I don’t know what’s going to change that.”

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