Reply All: A Reader Rebuttal To Our Transfer Recommendations

December 15th, 2017 | by Jeffrey Wyshner
Reply All: A Reader Rebuttal To Our Transfer Recommendations


Ed. Note: This article was written in response to our previous post, “It’s Time To Change Transfer Limitations,” originally published on December 6th. It has been published in it’s entirety. 

Last week, CollegeAD published an opinion piece on it being time to change the transfer regulations.  That piece, unlike much of the conversation about making changes in college athletics, did a worthy job of trying to improve the transfer rules from both sides.  Is it possible in this era of partisan politics, “I’m right and you’re wrong,” and “I win, you lose,” that a system can be made better for both sides?   Certainly, but not without looking beyond the simplest layer.  We need to understand the many ripples affecting student-athletes, coaches, and athletic departments that come with a change to something as significant as transfer regulations.  This article is going to talk about those ripples in detail, but if you consider yourself well-versed in those effects yet see change to transfer regulations inevitable or desirable, then please consider skipping to the final two paragraphs where two recommendations (one from last week’s editorial by Matthew Monte and one of my own) could help to make transfer deregulation more of a win-win proposition!

The benefits for student-athletes of making it easier to transfer between schools are commonly understood and discussed.  Let student-athletes go where they want without restrictions and without sitting out a year.  For the student-athlete, that would seemingly put him or her in the best possible position.  Give student-athletes the same opportunity they had when they were coming out of high school…find a place where you want to go that wants you and all is good.  If it was your 19- or 20-year-old son or daughter, isn’t that what you would want for him or her?  Doesn’t an adult working somewhere have that freedom to look for a new opportunity and to make that jump?  Don’t the coaches of these programs have that ability?  Why shouldn’t a college athlete?  What could possibly go wrong?

First and foremost, make transferring easy and quick, and you will threaten the level of competitive balance we now have.  Why are top programs and top coaches successful year-after-year?  Because when it comes to recruiting, certain schools get to recruit the blue chips and certain schools get excited about talking with the 3-stars.  Good scouting, good coaching and, most importantly, the uncertainty of predicting how a 17-year-old is going to do playing college ball against bigger, stronger, and faster opponents helps us to have SOME competitive balance.

If you allow for liberal transfer rules, then it is going to be open shopping season on the best players at the smaller or lesser known schools.  Why should a top football coach take a chance on a high school junior/senior when they can just wait until after the players have developed for 1 or 2 years and shown themselves to be more talented than was seen in high school and now bring that player to their program to play in front of 100,000 fans and tons of professional scouts.

If that star player at a non-power-five conference school had been that much of a star coming out of high school, they would have chosen that “Name” program then, and given the chance to do so now that they have blossomed, they would choose to transfer 70%, 80% or more of the time.  The opportunities that come with those bigger and more visible programs haven’t changed from when the student-athlete had dreamt of being recruited by them out of high school.  HAVING TO SIT OUT A YEAR BALANCES OUT THE BENEFITS OF TRANSFERRING FROM A MID-MAJOR CONFERENCE CHAMPION TO THE TOP 10 NATIONAL PROGRAM.  Get rid of that requirement, and you tilt that equation far too much to one side.

Changes in competitive balance aren’t just the problem for the school or coach left behind.  What about the players left behind when the star player or players transfer?  What about the freshmen who committed to a program that is on the rise only to find out that they have now signed to attend a program that is going to be rebuilding for the next year or two.  Plus, with less competitive balance comes even less opportunity for the non-power five conferences and smaller programs to generate the dollars needed to pay for the scholarships, operating expenses and the many amenities of a college athletic program.  If the money gets more and more concentrated, then athletic departments are going to have to cut back and that means fewer opportunities.

College athletic teams, and to a certain extent all of college athletics, are built by coaches on the principles that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.  Sport teaches you to put your OWN NEEDS ASIDE AND DO WHAT IS BEST FOR THE TEAM.  The running back may want to carry the ball every time, but he has to stay in and block the blitzing linebacker.  The downfield receiver who makes a great block is lauded.  The small forward who passes up the look at a 3-pointer to find the trailing big man for an easy lay-up is praised and ultimately more likely to win.  Allow the top players more freedom, and what happens to the experience of players 20-85 in the football program or players 4-13 on the basketball team?  This effect on the group of rewarding the stars is a major, ignored issue in the discussion of changing many NCAA Rules because in college athletics the star players are essentially providing for the players throughout the team and throughout the athletic program.  Football is often described as the engine that drives the bus of the athletic department.  Take away from the ability of a football team to be successful by having its top players transfer out and the impact will affect the players left behind on that football team and the athletes throughout the athletic department.   Sport, and especially college sports, are not built on the premise of, “Get what I can get and forget about everyone else.”  That’s why an NCAA Division I member is required to sponsor at least 14 sports.

I coach in a sport where student-athletes don’t have to sit out for a year, and in my experience, the rules that require a student-athlete to request permission before talking with other schools do not work.  The college coaches in need of a player talk to the high school or junior coaches.  The players on the team talk with fellow players that they’ve known and played against for 10+ years. Do you really think the college basketball coach who has a great relationship with a handful of AAU programs isn’t going to talk with the AAU coach about how there are now 2 open scholarship spots because a couple players turned pro and how that former AAU team’s player who was all-conference in a non-power five conference would have a great chance at starting at small forward IF he transferred?

In a sport without one-year restrictions on transferring like mine, the bulk of the transfers are not because the player was unhappy, mistreated, or not a good fit.  Players transfer, and play immediately, because they have been successful and can now get an opportunity they couldn’t get coming out of high school.  It changes the competitive balance of the teams.  The experience of those left behind changes.  The experience of the player who was about to become a junior year starter but now finds himself on the bench again changes as well.  Coaches do lose their jobs because instead of finishing 3rd in the conference, the team finishes 8th or 9th.

AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, the program that is first to plant the seed of the idea of transferring usually ends up with the inside track on getting the player to that school.

It may be time to allow for more liberal transfer rules, but to do it right, you do need to try to create certain restrictions to maintain some competitive balance.

FIRST, I like the idea in last week’s piece of trying to limit the number of transfers to a particular school.  This would solve the problem of the most well-known programs from loading up on older, more experienced players.  There would need to be different limits for different sports, but just like a football team can only sign so many freshmen, limit the program to 3-5 four-year-to-four-year school transfers.   Limit a basketball program to 1 or 2.  There are plenty of great schools for a player who wants to transfer to pick from so you don’t need to let all of them go to the #1 team in the country.

TWO, recruiting transfers needs to be as open a process as recruiting players out of high school.  You must stop the back-door conversation being the first and last step in finding where to go.  Create a national data base that publicizes to athletic programs the players who have received permission to speak with other schools and THEN PUT A 15- OR 30-DAY CONTACT ONLY PERIOD ON THAT PLAYER BEFORE THAT PLAYER CAN SIGN BINDING PAPERWORK WITH ANY SCHOOL!  Let that player realize that there are 10 schools out there that have an open scholarship and would like to talk with that player about transferring not just the one school who had a back-door conversation with a high school, junior or AAU coach.  This would dramatically cut down on the incentive for a coach to PLANT THE SEED FOR THE IDEA OF TRANSFERRING because now that coach wouldn’t be as certain of being the one to benefit. 

Jeffrey Wyshner About Jeffrey Wyshner
Jeffrey Wyshner is the Head Women’s Tennis Coach at Wake Forest University.  He has been a Division I head coach for 24 years at Manhattan College, Fairfield University, The University of Akron, and now Wake Forest.  He is a graduate of Yale University and has a Master’s in Educational Administration and a Juris Doctorate from Columbia University.

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