April is always a fascinating month for college basketball. The National Title game starts off the month, and then people immediately forget about college hoops in favor of NBA or MLB interests. Which is probably a good thing, because the month of April showcases the underbelly of college basketball about as well as anything.
As happens every year, April sees the closing of the recruiting process, the heavy movement of coaches from program to program, the declaration of underclassmen to the NBA draft, and the opening of the transfer process. This week, it’s been the transfer process that has grabbed the headlines, and as normal with college basketball, it’s for all the wrong (and indefensible) reasons.
If you want a fuller rundown, check out Rob Dauster at CBT, who does a good job taking a measured approach to things. I’m not feeling anywhere near as charitable as Rob was, however.
The NCAA head office likes to present themselves as the supposed advocacy arm for student-athletes. Yet it’s the NCAA’s own rules that ridiculously restrict STUDENTS (who cares if they’re athletes?) from exercising the rights that every other student has — namely, the right to go to a different institution of higher learning of their choosing without penalty. We’ve seen these cases for as long as I can remember — whether it’s Phil Martelli refusing to allow Todd O’Brien to transfer, or whether it’s Bo Ryan restricting Jarrod Uthoff from a wholly arbitrary list of schools, or whether it’s 1990 Bob Knight refusing to allow Lawrence Funderburke to transfer to a Division I school. There are plenty of reasons why these transfer restrictions take place, whether it’s vindictiveness, greed, avoiding giving a potential opponent a strategic advantage. None of the reasons justify the restrictions.
The utter, brazen hypocrisy of the NCAA’s member institutions continues to amaze, even when grim familiarity with these tactics should dull the reaction. Every other member of the athletics complex in college sports — administrator, coach, student manager — is free to leave their job and take a position elsewhere, without penalty. Yet the basketball or football player who finds themselves at a school they don’t like, or playing for a coach who they don’t mesh well with, or who is simply homesick, finds their future college choice left in the hands of an unaccountable athletic department who absolutely does not have the best interests of the athlete at heart. And of course, even after the the athlete is granted a transfer through the divine grace of the athletic department, they still have to wait a full year before getting a chance to resume their short collegiate athletic career.
Does anyone really support this rule? I read some responses from media and fans saying, “Well, if we didn’t have transfer rules, we’d have active recruiting of other team’s players all the time, and we don’t want that.” Right, because that doesn’t already happen today. Even if it does, why is this necessarily a bad thing, and why would it necessarily become an epidemic? Happy players who are getting playing time and enjoy their school aren’t going anywhere. Just like regular students, college athletes aren’t going to just randomly leave their school — there’s going to be a good reason for them doing so. And frankly, why is that anyone’s business but the athlete’s? Shouldn’t the athlete be given the same power that their coach and athletic director and fellow student is given in determining what is the best situation for them?
It’s remarkable but unsurprising that college presidents and administrators are perfectly fine with allowing members of their student body to have their liberties restricted to this degree. No one who follows college sports closely should be surprised by this. But where are the advocates for college athletes pointing out the unfairness of this process? Where are the media, who have consistently punted their responsibility to hold presidents and schools accountable for these and other practices? And where is the integrity of the coaches, many of whom puff themselves up by talking about how much they care for “kids”, yet act like petty tyrants when those “kids” suddenly want a change of scene?