NCAA still searching for answers to fix transfer troubles
HOUSTON >> Oklahoma forward Ryan Spangler had a no-drama transfer.
Spangler spent his freshman year at Gonazaga, but wanted to play closer to his hometown of Ardmore, Oklahoma. After talking to Bulldogs coach Mark Few, he ended up at OU.
Simple as that. Now Spangler is a senior playing in the Final Four on Saturday against Villanova. In the other semifinal, guard Michael Gbinije, who had transferred from Duke to Syracuse after his freshman year with no hassle, leads the Orange against North Carolina.
If only all transfers were so simple.
This is the time of year when the NCAA transfer rules — or the lack thereof — end up drawing lots of attention as college basketball and football players decide to move. Plenty of it ends up reflecting poorly on coaches and schools that have either limited where a player can transfer or blocked an athlete from leaving altogether.
College sports leaders have been talking about reforming transfer policies to bring some uniformity to the process and maybe cut down on the bad publicity that almost inevitably follows when a player's movement is restricted.
So far it's been all talk and no action, though NCAA President Mark Emmert said there is a "deep sense of urgency."
"The issue of transfer rules, whether it's for undergraduates or graduates, is one of the most hotly debated and discussed, I think, in sport right now, whether it's football or basketball," Emmert said during his Final Four news conference this week. "The challenge is it's really hard to figure out a right way to resolve this issue."
NCAA rules require college football and basketball players to sit out a season, losing a year of eligibility, when they transfer to a school within the same division of competition. Student-athletes who graduated are allowed to transfer without sitting out, a rule that has created de facto free agency that most administrators would like to change. But priorities are different at different levels of Division I.
"Everybody's got opinions," Emmert said. "But the membership is addressing them."
According to the NCAA, a third of all college students transfer. Exact figures on what percentage of college basketball players will transfer during their careers are not available, but the NCAA does know that 40 percent leave their schools in the first two years, and most of those are transferring. Across all sports, the transfer rates are lower than one in three.
Still, it seems that player movement, especially in college basketball, is on the rise. ESPN.com has tracked transferring college basketball players for almost 10 years and in that time that number of players it has listed has risen from about 200 to more than 700 last year.
"We have such a massive number of kids that transfer nowadays because of everybody wanting instant gratification," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said Friday. "Coaches in some way have been blamed for that. We have absolutely nothing to do with it. It's the want and need of instant gratification. The culture we have, if things don't work out, just leave and go somewhere else."
Conferences often have rules prohibiting players from transferring within the league.
"Maybe that's a good restriction," Spangler said. "Your coaches don't want to face you all the time."
Coaches often add to that, prohibiting players from transferring to schools that they are scheduled to play in upcoming seasons. That's when things can get awkward, even contentious.
Michigan coach John Beilein was the latest to face public backlash for putting additional limitations on where two transferring players — Spike Albrecht and Ricky Doyle — could go. At first they were not allowed to transfer within the Big Ten or to a school on Michigan's schedule over the next two seasons.
On Friday, Michigan announced that the only restrictions the players would face would be from Big Ten rules. Albrecht, as a graduate transfer, will need a conference approval to transfer within the Big Ten. Doyle would have to sit out a season and lose an additional year of eligibility if he transfers within the conference.
Williams said he has only had eight players transfer in his 28 years as a head coach and put restrictions on none.
Villanova coach Jay Wright and Oklahoma's Lon Kruger said they don't have any set policies regarding transfers, taking them on a case-by-case basis. Wright said he was not ready to say whether standardized NCAA rules regarding transfer limitations would be the right fit, but added "players do have the right to choose where they want to play, just like we all as coaches have the right to go where we want to coach."
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.