Proposed transfer rule could bring NCAA ‘free-agency frenzy’

On the surface, the proposed new transfer rule makes sense. It would give student-athletes more power, allowing them one transfer without having to sit out a year, as rules currently stipulate unless a player is granted a waiver or is a graduate.

I’m in favor of giving players more control. Right now, coaches have basically all of it. They make all the money and can leave a job whenever they please. They can pull scholarships if a better player comes available.

But this isn’t the right way to go about it, since it would so clearly benefit high-major programs and would put mid- and low-majors at even more of a disadvantage. Already, the Big Ten and ACC have publicly supported the rule that would go into effect for football, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball and hockey, hardly a surprise since it would benefit leagues like theirs.

For now, the NCAA says it is merely a “concept under consideration” by the Transfer Waiver Working Group that could be adopted by the Division I Council. The working group has to make a formal recommendation to the council during its April 23-25 meeting, at which point the council can vote on the proposed changes.

I spoke to three coaches, one from each level, and they were all in agreement that the potential rule would have a negative impact on the sport. Already, it’s hard for smaller schools to keep their best players. Transferring up has become a trend that seems to be increasing every year.

Mark Emmert
NCAA President Mark EmmertAP

The high-major coach said it would create “total chaos” and described the rule as “horrendous” if it goes through. The low-major coach said it would equate to a “free-agency frenzy.” The mid-major coach was more diplomatic, but even he said it will allow power-conference schools the opportunity to rebuild faster.

It is not uncommon, the low-major coach said, for players with eligibility left who are set to graduate from his program or others within his league to be getting calls from higher-level coaches in-season. This would only heighten such tampering, since all players would be free to go as they please.

“You end up selling your soul to the players because you want them to stick around,” the low-major coach said. “If you have a good player as a freshman, you’ve got to almost treat him like he’s a star, as opposed to continuing to hold him accountable for his play. Your hands are kind of tied.”

Added the high-major coach: “If someone from Duke gets hurt in the summer, they can get a guy from Oakland who can fill in.”

There is a solution, though, a way to give players more power without handicapping the little guy. If a coach gets fired or leaves, all his players can transfer without sitting. If a player is run off — meaning he was recruited over and there isn’t a scholarship left for him — he doesn’t have to sit. Create iron-clad guidelines that would benefit the player, without creating a free-for-all.

Already, there is a sense among those in the sport that there are too many transfers. This rule would only exacerbate the problem, increase it exponentially. Everyone loves March Madness because of the underdog, the chance for David to slay Goliath. This rule would force David to fight with one arm behind his back.

Trouble at the top

When Saturday began, three of the nation’s top four-ranked teams — No. 1 Baylor, No. 2 Gonzaga and No. 4 San Diego State — had won a combined 68 straight games. By the end of the day, all three had lost. It was just the latest example of this wacky season that is expected to produce a wild March. Baylor falling to No. 3 Kansas wasn’t a shock, but the other two were major upsets. San Diego State lost to a UNLV team that started the day 14-14 and was a 14-point underdog. Gonzaga didn’t just lose to No. 23 BYU — the Zags were overwhelmed, knocked off 91-78, their 40-game regular-season West Coast Conference winning streak coming to an end.

The impact for SDSU and Gonzaga could be significant. Baylor will still be a No. 1 seed barring a collapse. San Diego State and Gonzaga, though, could drop one seed line due to limited résumés coming from mid-major conferences and now will both be battling it out to be the No. 2 in the West Region. That would be more preferential, ironically, than being the final No. 1 seed and winding up in the East. It seems like an easier path to reach the Final Four for the two powers, staying close to home and playing in the regional in Los Angeles, instead of having to fly cross-country to New York City.

Chris Mack
Louisville coach Chris MackAP

Game of the Week

No. 11 Louisville at No. 8 Florida State, Monday 7 p.m.

The winner remains alive to win the ACC while the loser is likely done. The teams are tied with Duke in the loss column and this will be the last time any of the big three faces each other. Louisville responded to a nightmarish week by manhandling Syracuse and North Carolina at home, but this will obviously be different, going to Tallahassee to face the Seminoles, who have won six of their past seven games. The lone loss? A road setback at Duke.


1: Kansas, Baylor, Maryland, Gonzaga

2: Florida State, San Diego State, Dayton, Duke,

3: Louisville, Auburn, Creighton, Seton Hall

4: Oregon, Villanova, Kentucky, Michigan

Stock Watch

Up: Udoka Azubuike

The game of the year, a showdown pitting No. 1 Baylor against No. 3 Kansas, became a showcase for the most dominant big man in the country. The 7-foot Azubuike owned the Jayhawks’ victory, scoring 23 points, 19 rebounds and blocking three shots, further illustrating how important he will be in March. Remember, his season ended in early January last year due to a torn ligament in his right hand, ruining Kansas’ title hopes. Without him, Bill Self’s team was ousted on the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. With him, it might be the favorite to cut down the nets in early April.

Up: Ed Cooley

There were consecutive losses to Penn, Long Beach State and College of Charleston. A road setback at Northwestern, the worst team in the Big Ten. The only tournament Providence seemed it could qualify for was the Big East Tournament. But Cooley, the Providence coach, refused to let a poor non-conference season define this group. Instead, the Friars rebounded once the easiest part of their schedule was over and sit all alone in fourth place in the Big East, firmly in the NCAA Tournament hunt, after knocking off No. 19 Marquette on Saturday for their seventh Quadrant 1 win.

Udoka Azubuike
Udoka AzubuikeAP

Down: Syracuse

Barring a stunning run to the ACC Tournament title, Syracuse will miss the NCAA Tournament for the third time in six years. The three years the Orange made it, they were an eight seed or lower. It is the worst stretch in coach Jim Boeheim’s Hall of Fame career. Even in a decidedly down year in the ACC, the Orange couldn’t rise above the mediocrity. Their best win is over on-the-bubble Virginia and there is no guarantee next year will be better. While Boeheim could return most of this group, the ACC will be better — it can’t be worse — and unless fringe top-100 recruit Kadary Richmond makes an immediate impact or a major transfer comes aboard, it’s hard to envision a significant step forward.

Down: Atlantic 10

It wasn’t so long ago, the conference looked like it could get four teams into the tournament. Now, only Dayton is assured of a bid. VCU has crumbled, losing four straight games. Rhode Island just lost to barely over-.500 Davidson. Richmond fell to St. Bonaventure. URI still seems to be safely in, thanks to a NET rating of 36 and non-conference wins over Providence and Alabama. VCU is all but done when it comes to at-large consideration and Richmond, squarely on the bubble, can’t afford any more missteps.

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