Is Coach K’s ‘no exception’ suggestion for transfers a good one?

Posted by Chris Johnson on September 17th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

In a college basketball offseason that gave us P.J. Hairston’s rather odd fascination with rental cars, Brad Stevens’ sudden move to the NBA, and not much else to talk or write about, institutional issues do a pretty good job filling in the gaps. The number one topic this summer, other than the larger debate on amateurism – which is more a college sports issue writ large, baked in with Johnny Manziel controversy, than strictly a college basketball issue – has been transfer waivers, and the perplexing nuances therein. The practice of allowing players to switch schools without sitting out a season before regaining eligibility has come under intense scrutiny of late thanks to a couple of baffling cases. The first involved FIU’s Rakeem Buckles, whose petition to follow former FIU coach Rick Pitino to Minnesota, and escape the postseason ban placed on the Panthers due to low academic progress rate scores registered during the regrettable Isaiah Thomas era, and be eligible to play immediately was flatly denied by the NCAA. The denial was puzzling on several fronts, most notably the inability to reconcile the NCAA’s decision with FIU’s academic-related postseason ineligibility, a condition that has typically lead to favorable transfer rulings in the past – including just this summer, when Malik Smith, a former FIU teammate, was granted a waiver to play right away at Minnesota. Then there was the Kerwin Okoro case, which was resolved last Friday, when the NCAA granted the Iowa State transfer the right to play this season at his new home (Rutgers) after losing his New York-stationed father and brother over a two-month span last winter.

The NCAA's decision to grant Okoro immediate eligibility was long overdue (AP Photo).

The NCAA’s decision to grant Okoro immediate eligibility was long overdue (AP Photo).

The decision to allow Okoro to play immediately seemed like an obvious decision. Of course, two family deaths in an abbreviated time period meets the standard of hardship the NCAA must assess before granting immediate eligibility. But the fact the organization needed this long to clear Okoro, and actually went as far as to deny his request in the first place, is a perfect distillation of the cognitive dissonance that modern transfer culture, unwittingly or no, inspires. It’s gotten so bad, that arguably the most powerful voice in college basketball – and one of the most powerful among all levels of basketball, full stop – wants a wholesale restructuring of the way transfer cases are adjudicated. Instead of allowing the NCAA to function in this sort of uncomfortable moral arbiter role, drawing distinctions on the severity of the different hardship cases that pass through its office, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski wants every case to be treated the exact same way: “no exceptions“.

He spoke with ESPN’s Dana O’Neill Monday:

“There should be no exceptions,” Krzyzewski told ESPN.com. “Everybody should have to sit out, that includes a fifth-year player, just to make it equal. I think it’s a farce, really.”

It’s not just hardship waivers Krzyzewski wants to be evaluated on an equal, no exceptions plane; he wants fifth-year graduate transfers subsumed under the same rule of law. You can’t blame him, or anyone else, for having this opinion: the NCAA’s decisions have grown so seemingly inconsistent, and are so difficult to predict, that a uniform policy may feel like the most viable option at this point. While there are some cases, like Okoro’s, that genuinely merit the NCAA’s special consideration for an expedited return to basketball (without the typical holdover year), the hardship waiver clause is susceptible to players streamlining team-switches merely for the sake of competitive benefit. It’s a loophole waiting to be exploited, essentially, and asking the NCAA to comb out the pretenders while accounting for those changing locations to help alleviate a truly taxing situation is a flawed system. That’s why people like Krzyzewski want to eliminate the possibility for exploitation or, conversely, wrongfully harsh verdicts. The system needs tweaks, repairs, substantive changes, and maybe Krzyzewski’s suggestion is, in lieu of more detailed exemption-permissive guidelines, the best possible solution.

I’m just not sure I agree.

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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One Response to “Is Coach K’s ‘no exception’ suggestion for transfers a good one?”

  1. Jerry Hollingsworth says:

    Transfer rules do not need to be altered. They need to be eliminated. The NLI is just another method to exploit players (I almost keyed “students” but we know that is farcical.)

    If The Ferret wants indentured servants, too bad for him.

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