BYU football coach Kalani Sitake, in a slightly different context, had it right nearly three years ago, long before the NCAA, spurred by the Big Ten and the ACC and various other administrators, started seriously considering what they are considering now — allowing student-athletes in football and basketball to transfer from one school to another, free of penalty, at least on a one-time basis.
Sitake said back before its time: “If people want to transfer, we will release them. The last thing I want is a player who doesn’t want to be here. So why would any other coach want that? To me, it’s pretty easy. If a kid doesn’t want to be a part of your program, let him go somewhere so he can have a great experience and do well, and then you can bring in someone else who wants to be a part of your team.”
This appears to be a troubling idea to some people, especially coaches and others, too, who fear that allowing players to move, without incentivizing them to stay by way of penalty, will create an uncontrollable scenario — a scene out of the wild, wild West — where athletes are poached willy-nilly by other coaches, and in which the recruiting will never end, causing them difficult inconveniences.
Dissenters, some of them, couch it in a different, more honorable manner, saying they are concerned about graduation rates and the good of the student-athletes themselves, that the smartest thing some players do is stick it out where they are, regardless of their individual hardships.
But there is little doubt that giving all college athletes this option not only would standardize what is now a mess of a situation, where under “normal” circumstances an athlete has to sit out to transfer to a different Division I school, unless he graduates first or receives a special waiver to immediately be eligible elsewhere, it also benefits the student-athletes themselves. It gives them flexibility and power that they presently do not have, in a system that is set up to favor institutions over individuals.
Considering how much money these kids generate for coaches, schools, administrators, conferences, the NCAA, in large measure everybody but themselves, that bit of a nod is reasonable, no matter the concerns, disruptions and inconveniences that license might cause.
Nobody off the field or the court — coaches in particular — wants to relinquish the right for those coaches to immediately leave a program behind, after asking for the players to sacrifice, to bust their humps, to do what’s best for the team, to be unselfish, to play for the name on the front of the uniform, not on the back, to win, all so the coaches can get multi-million-dollar pay raises by jumping to better jobs someplace else.
At present, and in the past, the standard has been much higher for teenaged recruits out of high school who sign to go to a school with only limited knowledge of what they’re in store for once they arrive, what opportunities they will receive, what relationships they will have with assistants and head coaches, what the real environment will be like.
If they find that they made a mistake, that a specific program is not right for them — a determination that too often is incorrectly labeled by insiders and outsiders alike as selfish or opportunistic or undisciplined or ambitious or otherwise lame and weak — they should properly be given ground to fulfill their athletic and academic goals elsewhere.
The notion that a student-athlete, once he or she signed at a school, had to stay in a program or sit out a year, and in some cases in some conferences for two years, all while a coach, if he so desired, could run that athlete off his team without penalty on account of scholarships being awarded as one-year-at-a-time deals is not just unfair, it’s dirty and hypocritical.
The pendulum swinging back in favor of the athletes is just, even if it causes some institutional headaches.
You’ve heard the apocalyptic fears:
Such a change will turn lesser programs into proving grounds, into minor leagues for major programs that will swoop in and rob the lessers of their players, the players the big boys missed on the first recruitment around; those lesser programs, and bigger ones, too, will have to re-recruit their own players every year to keep them in place; high school recruits will be hurt, going without opportunities at preferred schools because those schools are now looking to load up on seasoned athletes at other colleges; graduation rates will suffer because players will be jumping all over the place; a coach’s control over his players will be limited because those players could tell the coach to shove it, with an option to bolt.
Nick Saban told ESPN: “I don’t know how you manage a roster once this goes into effect. I can’t manage our roster now. Last season, we had eight seniors on our team. We had seven guys go out for the draft and three graduate transfers or guys that ended up transferring. So, instead of having 18 seniors, you’ve got eight. You really have a three-year program at a place like [Alabama]. I’m not necessarily saying it’s going to hurt our program because we’ll do a hell of a job recruiting players leaving other places to come here. But is that good for college football?”
Saban’s comment seems as much a threat as it is a concern. Look out, Utah, and everybody else, here comes the Crimson Tide to take your guys!
Under the new proposal, that would, in fact, happen. But not to the extent where college football and basketball will be bumped into pandemonium, into an unworkable condition where it will become much more chaotic than it already is.
You think if, say, Zack Moss was having great success, a great college career at Utah, that he would automatically jump at a chance to play at, say, USC? That kind of transfer entails a whole lot more than simply packing bags and heading off. And those same complications exist for G5 athletes who might be recruited by bigger programs, but to what end? Jordan Love wasn’t leaving Utah State for a sweeter college deal elsewhere because he was proving himself to NFL scouts right where he was.
Jon Steinbrecher, commissioner of the MAC and the head of the NCAA Division I waiver working group, the committee considering the new concept, knows there are some difficulties involved with the potential change, but he figures they’re worth dealing with.
He said more than a third of all college students transfer at least once, and the current rule has put enormous pressure on the waiver process that was designed for extenuating circumstances. He did not say the process has been flawed, uneven and, in some cases, unfair, but that is true, too, one athlete’s motivation being evaluated as acceptable for transfer, where another’s has not. Either way, he said the status quo is not sustainable.
The new one-time transfer rule “provides a uniform approach,” he said, “that is understandable, predictable and objective. Most importantly, it benefits students.”
Well, hallelujah. An NCAA concept coming that would make life a bit more difficult for institutions, and give student-athletes the freedom they should have. There is a god, after all, and his name isn’t Mark Emmert.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.