Kansas Freshman’s Early Transfer Adds Another Layer of Drama to Offseason Transfer Craze

Posted by Chris Johnson on August 22nd, 2012

Christopher Johnson is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.

The volume of conversation on transfers and the culture surrounding the widespread practice has dominated this college basketball offseason. A rash of in-season moves first prompted the discussion, but a public transfer power struggle elevated the dialogue to national headlines. The heated April saga involving former Wisconsin guard Jared Uthoff and head coach Bo Ryan, in which Ryan was demonized for restricting Uthoff’s potential landing destinations and interrogated on America’s most popular national sports talk radio show, brought the issue to a head and seemed to pivot the axis of public opinion in favor of the player. Ryan was painted as an unrelenting tyrant with little concern for his player’s best wishes while the ultimate outcome – Uthoff ended up transferring to Iowa, his home state – was roundly cheered as a momentous victory for Uthoff. The topic gained more steam when SI.com’s Luke Winn penned an informative piece on the transfer epidemic that brought to light the recent rise in players jumping to better teams and conferences, what he calls “up-transfers.” Whereas most players typically switch schools to find more playing time,  better academic opportunity or a more favorable location, “up-transfers” move for competitive reasons in a bid to showcase their talents on a more prominent level. By Winn’s definition – up-transfers go “from a mid-major to a major”, “from a less-decorated major to a recent national champ,” or “from an off-the-map school to an elite mid-major” – there are 25 “up-transfers” with eligibility to play next season, several of whom could have conference and national championship implications.

The early departure of Doyle raises the question of whether the NCAA needs to impose tighter controls on transfer timing (Photo credit: Mike Yoder/KUsports.com).

The “up-transfer” distinction provided some qualitative clarity for the transfer trend. It also made absolute sense: With an increase in transfers that affect national brand-name programs, fans are bound to catch word of player movement in greater frequency. But it was only after laying eyes on this NCAA Q & A that the scope of college hoop transfers truly hit home. Among other interesting transfer-related queries, the interview revealed that “40 percent of men’s basketball student-athletes will not be competing at their original school by the end of their sophomore year.” That’s a startlingly high number. To no surprise, NCAA is looking into the matter: vice president of academic and membership affairs Kevin Lennon recently told ESPN’s Dana O’Neil that the NCAA is seeking ways to improve the transfer policy. There are several factors to consider here. The NCAA wants a system where players have ample opportunity to better their situations, whether for basketball purposes or an academic change of heart or some combination therein. The concern is that loose regulation will encourage players to switch schools and destabilize the coach-player relationship by enabling a quick get-away if players aren’t content with their current location. It’s a precarious balancing act that requires respecting players’ abilities to change schools – particularly as it applies to the undergraduate hardship waivers that allow players to change locations based on extenuating circumstances such as ill family members or financial distress – while preventing a borderless interschool infrastructure with little or no deterrence for transfers.

It may take years before a consensus is reached on new legislation. In the meantime, we’re left trying to decide what’s best for the college hoops transfer landscape. As a case study, I’m delving into freshman Milton Doyle and his decision to leave Kansas on the eve of fall semester classes. From a timing perspective, the move came as at least a minor surprise. But without knowing where Doyle’s next destination will be or why he chose this extremely early exit route in the first place – “It’s nothing about the school or the coaches or the team,” Doyle’s mom, Lisa Green, told Kansas’ athletic department – it’s hard to draw too many conclusions. That said, the departure is puzzling on several grounds. Why would Doyle leave at this early juncture, just two months after his arrival in Lawrence and prior to practice even beginning? And why, after having experienced a similar situation when he de-committed from Florida International in April, would he choose to relive the last-minute school search process? Until he finds a new home and/or offers a reason for leaving, you can’t fault Doyle for his decision. What I can draw from our limited base of circumstantial knowledge is that a defection as sudden as Doyle’s, while not particularly damning to the Jayhawks’ chances in 2012-13, could potentially leave a coach and his program in hot water, with no speedy recourse to address the personnel loss. Most coaches aren’t prepared to adjust for scholarship players leaving at any point in their four-year careers (aside from those who choose to leave early for the NBA), never mind ones that bolt on the precipice of preseason practice. The timing could present season-altering problems and force coaches to scramble for ways to atone for the unexpected loss.

The implementation of transfer window limitations seems like a stretch. Players often move when unanticipated obstacles arise, and not as the result of a long and premeditated process. Restricting transfer mobility to a specific time period seems unfair. Not every player transfers for the same reason, so a uniform policy would be missing the point. Players who have legitimate claims to switching teams, at whatever time of the year, shouldn’t lose their privilege because of other players who abused the leniency of the system to maneuver their way to better teams and conferences. Over-permissive legislation isn’t the answer, either; the NCAA must find a healthy medium. The structure should hinge on the fundamental principle that transfers will be ruled on a case-by-case basis. While time-consuming and potentially onerous for NCAA membership, each case requires special attention. It’s the only fair way to iron out frauds while granting access to credible causes. Gathering a comprehensive base of information is a good starting point. NCAA leaders can use that to judge the viability of each case. Of course, the organization has treated transfers this way for years, but here we are, stuck in a cloudy mess of transfer controversy. Players have and will continue to find loopholes and exploit them to their benefit, which makes implementing the right policy a precarious endeavor. The NCAA may never find a transfer cure-all. The best we can hope for is a better-tamed transfer environment, where players have the leeway to pursue their life goals at another institution but are held to the baseline expectation that choosing a four-year college is a binding decision.

Chris Johnson (290 Posts)

My name is Chris Johnson and I'm a national columnist here at RTC, the co-founder of Northwestern sports site Insidenu.com and a freelance contributor to SI.com.

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