Panic over Proposed Transfer Rule Is Understandable Yet Unnecessary

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistFebruary 27, 2020

Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields warms up for the team's NCAA college football game against Wisconsin for the Big Ten championship Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Michael Conroy/Associated Press

When the NCAA announced it's considering an expanded waiver process to allow one-time transfers, most reactions were positive. In an environment where coaches hold nearly exclusive control, athletes may finally have a little power while actually being treated like the students they are.

"The current system is unsustainable. Working group members believe it's time to bring our transfer rules more in line with today's college landscape," group chair and MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said. "This concept provides a uniform approach that is understandable, predictable and objective. Most importantly, it benefits students."

The short version of the expected proposal is players who are academically eligible with no disciplinary issues can transfer freely to another school and play for their new team immediately, provided they receive a release from the previous school and maintain eligibility at the new one.

If approved, that would be allowed once.

Many followers of college sports consider this a long overdue step. Coaches and administrators can move without penalty, as can non-athlete students. So can athletes in every other NCAA sport aside from football, baseball, basketball and men's ice hockey.

Despite this effort to create consistency within college athletics, some have acted as if the sky is falling.

"This will be the death of college basketball," said one head coach of a Top 25 basketball team, per Jeff Goodman of Stadium.

The same sentiment applies to college football. Coaches have decried players hitting the transfer portal at the first sign of adversity. What if the player is making a decision too quickly and it's ultimately a mistake?

Others have suggested one-time transfers will create free agency, which will destroy the integrity of the games. Zach Braziller of the New York Post cited anonymous coaches who called the idea "horrendous" and said it would create "total chaos."

The NCAA has essentially operated under this standard: Student-athletes are athletes when they're trying to be like other students, but they're students when they're trying to be athletes.

Want to transfer like the hundreds of thousands of your peers who do annually? It'll cost you athletically! Want to earn an income like millions of other college students? Nope, you'll destroy the wholesome nature of this billion-dollar industry!

Look, the negative reactions are understandable. This isn't to suggest the expected proposal is perfect.

The chief concern is tampering, something that already happens in college athletics. More of those secret, back-channel conversations will happen with the one-time transfer. Steinbrecher acknowledged as much in the initial release, noting potential penalties will be discussed.

Additionally, non-power conference programs are preparing for the reality they could lose a star player. Those decisionsoften referred to as a transfer upwill happen occasionally, for sure.

But if players are outperforming their current situation, good for them! Coaches do the same, but their exit leaves the roster at the mercy of the next hire's philosophy.

When academics aren't a concern, why prevent an athlete from embracing a challenge or better matching his strengths? Nicole Auerbach of The Athletic said the working group found there is no data to support the idea the current rule is academically beneficial.

Aren't they students first, after all?

Besides, a non-power programon averageaccepts more transfers than a power-conference school. Alabama or Clemson or Ohio State might poach a star player here and there, but they'll still be focused on signing elite high school talent.

The arguments also seem to forget a Coastal Carolina or Ball State or San Jose State suddenly has greater opportunities. Increased freedom of movement will allow non-power schools immediate access and offer greater appeal to a higher level of available talent, who no longer must drop to the FCS to avoid sitting a year.

Most importantly: Happy people aren't looking to leave.

Just because someone is a star player doesn't mean he's desperate to transfer. Every coachat any levelwill say some version of "the key to a successful program is creating an environment in which people want to be." And that bond can be much stronger than the possibility of a starting spot at a bigger school.

Yes, the larger the roster, the more complicated that process can be. It's also part of the job description.

In some cases, a player will be determined to leave. Even before a one-time transfer rule is official, that much is already clear. Unlike in the past, though, players will have an opportunity to reassess their situation and determine what's best for their future.

That decision might look like a mistake in a few years, sure. Coaches have the responsibility of providing education within those conversations and then leaving the choice to the player.

The conclusion won't always be right. However, to prevent an athlete from having that choice has always been wrong. It's only appropriate for the rule to change.

Change is coming to college athletics, but this billion-dollar business will adapt, survive and continue to thrive.

                  

Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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