Degrees of Disagreement

NCAA transfer regulations create conflicting opinions

It’s no longer about the one-and-dones, but instead, the fours-and-transfers.

The NCAA no longer revolves around student-athletes drafted after their freshman year but instead focuses on graduate student-athlete transfers. The graduate transfer rule allows players who have received at least a bachelor’s degree to transfer without sitting out a year and pursue their master’s. The same rule does not apply to undergraduate transfers who are forced to sit out the season following their transfer.

Players who transfer because their original university does not offer their desired major, however, can play immediately after transferring because the concern academic rather than athletic.

Five years after its inception, issues still linger with the rule. Some perceive an unfair discrepancy between student-athlete classifications and the dissuading of transfers.

“I think you have to have something like that [rule], just because it would be chaos if you had guys jumping around,” football head coach Willie Fritz said. “You know, you tell kids this over and over and over again, they need to sign for the university more than anything else …”

Graduate transfers can play immediately, and coaches can coach immediately, so the controversy arises in the perceived hypocrisy with undergraduate players.

“When you have to sit out a year it brings some stability to things,” men’s basketball assistant head coach Doug Stewart said. ” … If you make the decision to transfer you have to be in deep with your thoughts cause you’re not going to be putting on a uniform for a year.”

From 2011 to 2015, the number of graduate transfers in men’s sports tripled and nearly doubled in women’s sports with the largest impact being in men’s basketball, according to NCAA data.

The graduate transfer rule was designed to ensure that players who lost a year due to a redshirt year or medical issue could maintain eligibility and continue their studies, but the spike in graduate transfers is not a positive for the NCAA’s academic goals.

The NCAA data released in 2014 found only 47 percent of women’s basketball graduate transfers get their degree. Other sports perform at a lower rank. 32 percent of men’s basketball graduate transfers get their master’s degree and only 24 percent of graduate football transfers.

“The intent of the rule is not the true practice of the rule,” Northwestern University head football coach Pat Fitzgerald said in a Chicago Tribune article.

Florida State men’s basketball head coach Leonard Hamilton said he finds fault in the transfer system in relation to degree achievement.

“I’m not really sure that I am 100 percent with the process as it is now …” Hamilton said. “I would like to see some more thought given to how we can create a scenario that does not negatively encourage kids to leave their school and encourage them to get their master’s degree.”

For the select few schools that consistently lose players to professional drafts, the graduate transfer rule proves beneficial. The rule allows the team the opportunity to fill a hole on the roster in the short-term but does not affect future recruiting classes. For schools in the NCAA not achieving at the highest level, there is worry that star players will be recruited elsewhere if they graduate and still have eligibility.

“I think in terms of the schools who are losing players, like if you redshirt a guy to develop him and all of a sudden, while the guys developed a lot, he graduates early and decides to go to a different school, that’s a tough feeling for the school losing the player after the year they invested in redshirting him,” Stewart said.

From the perspective of an academically-minded player, this opportunity is seen as advantageous, because their scholarship can carry over into their post-graduate studies.

“I wanted to graduate early because of the whole graduate school,” graduate offensive lineman Hunter Knighton said. “The ability to have someone pay for that with scholarship. So I knew I always wanted to get done with my undergrad as soon as possible.”

Transferring as a graduate also gives veteran student-athletes a chance to go through the recruiting process over again with a greater knowledge of the system and a focus on their own needs. For Knighton, this meant he could get straight to the point with the coaching staff at any school he was interested in.

“You kinda just know how everything works now. You know coaches will call you and that it doesn’t really mean anything until they actually say ‘we have a spot,'” Knighton said. “… I was just more upfront with coaches this time around. I know how it works, and I know how the game is played and if it works out, it works out. Just don’t keep playing with me.”

From joining a new team, acclimating to a new coaching style and pushing themselves more academically in graduate programs, these transfers have to eliminate old habits and adjust to the new athletic climate. Coaching staffs also adjust to the dynamic a graduate transfer brings.

“It’s an interesting situation with a graduate transfer as someone who comes in with experience and can help you right away without having to sit out at all,” Stewart said. “They bring a lot of value and help you plug a hole sometimes, but sometimes you can get a guy that comes in and is a big difference maker.”

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