College Basketball Transfers: The Anatomy of a Fake Epidemic

Transferring is a raw deal for college athletes. They have to sit out a full year, unless they get a waiver. The school needs to “release” the athlete in order to transfer to the school of his choice. Of course, schools can arbitrarily block a transfer if choose. Yes, an athlete can transfer to a school where he has been blocked, but he cannot receive a scholarship for one academic year.

Despite an unfair system for athletes, a few college coaches have flipped the narrative. Somehow, they want us to believe player transfers is an “epidemic” which must be addressed. Most people roll their eyes at coaches looking for a shoulder to cry on.

Then there’s Rustin Dodd, from the Kansas City Star. Apparently, he’s sympathetic to the coaches’ plight. He writes about the “Rise in transfers creates a college basketball ‘poaching’ season.” Rudd relies mostly on Barry Hinson, head men’s basketball coach at Southern Illinois, who is “happy to have the ear of the suits in Indianapolis.” Hinson hopes the NCAA will institute stricter rules to stem the tide of transfers. Of course, that means making NCAA transfer rules even more unfair than they already are.

The “transfer problem” as framed by Rustin Dodd:

After yearly transfer figures held steady in the 10-percent range for most of the past decade, college basketball has seen a moderate increase in the last two off-seasons: Close to 11 percent of Division I basketball players transferred in the past two off-seasons, with more than 400 players changing schools each season.

A 10 percent spike is an epidemic? So, what explains this less-than-drastic increase? Perhaps these young men are looking for better situations, as if there’s something wrong with that. Maybe some are impatient. Or maybe coaches are encouraging underperforming players to give up their scholarships and transfer. Or perhaps the NCAA membership is relaxing its draconian barriers to transferring by granting more waivers.

And for those who think NCAA rules treat all athletes equally, keep in mind, the requirement to sit out a year only applies to football, basketball and men’s hockey.

Is a 10% transfer rate a high number? Well, the transfer rate for all students is about 33%!

And what about turnover among college basketball coaches? There are currently 340 NCAA Division Men’s basketball teams. This past offseason, there were 42 college basketball coaching changes. Last year, there were 50 coaching changes. In other words, the “transfer rate” for coaches the last two years is 12.3% and 14.7%, respectively. Some were fired, some assistants moved up, but many were “poached” by bigger programs…just like players. The typical narrative when a popular coach takes a better job: We’re sorry he’s leaving, but we don’t begrudge him for taking care of his family. College players just aren’t as effective at this PR game.

USA Today writer Dan Wolken tweeted his thoughts on Rudd’s piece:

Here is Rudd’s payoff pitch, which demonstrates he has no clue about what he’s writing…

Springtime has turned into college basketball’s version of free agency, with the list of transfers turning into unofficial waiver wire.

Free agency is a term associated with labor. As NCAA president Mark Emmert constantly likes to remind us, college athletes are students, not employees. In fact, that is his go-to argument why student-athletes cannot be compensated. Let’s review: They are not employees. They are not compensated. They are on one-year scholarships. But they should be treated like professional athletes were during the “reserve clause” era. Bowie Kuhn would be proud.

Then there is John Calipari, who this week granted Kyle Wilter his true freedom to choose.

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Marc Isenberg

Marc Isenberg

Nationally-recognized athlete advocate for high school, college and pro athletes. A national columnist for Basketball Times, Marc is a frequent speaker at elite basketball camps and athletic programs and teams, including UCLA, RbkU and the Orlando Magic. In 2012, Marc, with Nolan Smith of the Portland Trail Blazers, founded Hoops Family , an organization devoted to educating and mentoring basketball players—and advocating on their behalf.