Opinion: Leave Graduate Transfer Rule As-Is

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Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia)


Will Wade loves things just the way they are. Phil Martelli would like a bit of clarity. John Giannini wouldn't mind seeing things changed.

The issue is the graduate transfer rule, NCAA rule 14.6.1, the one-time transfer exception.

Some coaches, such as Wade at VCU, love it.

Some coaches, such as Martelli at Saint Joseph's, can live with it, grudgingly.

Some coaches come close to loathing it, such as Giannini at La Salle.

To Wade, it's another life line for a mid-major operation, another way to stay competitive with programs in power conferences.

To Martelli and Giannini, it might as well be called the rule that cost Bruiser Flint his job at Drexel.

The NCAA, in a moment of foresight and understanding, passed a rule that permits an athlete who has graduated from one school and still has eligibility remaining, to transfer and play without sitting out a year, provided the first school grants a release.

The graduate transfer rule is being studied by the NCAA. One work group, co-chaired by Richmond athletics director Keith Gill, has completed its discussion. A second work group will continue the study.

Among the topics under review: Should a graduate transfer have to sit out a year before playing again as undergraduates do?

This is a terrible notion. How can coaches, athletics directors and school administrators tell 21- or 22-year-olds, who hold college degrees, they have to wait a year to play for another school?

A coach who changes jobs is under no such restriction.

"I like it the way it is," Wade said. "Don't change it. It doesn't affect those top, top, top tier schools. The way a team like us can stay competitive is to be old. You've got to stay old."

By old, Wade means experienced.

To Giannini, the graduate transfer rule is just one more way the word "student" in "student-athlete" is abrogated.

"I really do believe in college athletics," Giannini said. "I know there's a level where the money is gigantic, and it really is a pretty big business. But I'm a little bit of a purist.

"And if you combine the one-and-dones (freshmen headed for the NBA after one year of college), which is an NBA rule, with the graduate transfers, which is a college rule, you have an awful lot of programs winning games with players who have no intention of earning the degree they're supposed to be in school for."

Giannini has a point. An NCAA study of 258 graduate transfers from 2011 and 2012 found that two years after transferring, ostensibly to pursue a master's degree, 59 percent of men's basketball players and 68 percent of football players had withdrawn from the programs they started. Those who withdrew usually did so when their athletic eligibility ended.

The percentage of women who had transferred in those years and completed graduate programs was 66 percent, with 18 percent still enrolled. This proves again that in education - and many other areas - women have more sense than men.

Giannini and Martelli cite what happened at Drexel as the dark side of this rule.

Last year, the Dragons' star player and potential CAA player of the year candidate, Damion Lee, used the graduate transfer rule to move to Louisville.

"At the end of the year, Bruiser Flint (Drexel's coach) gets fired," Martelli said.

True. But Flint was at Drexel 15 years. In his final four seasons, his teams were 13-18, 16-14, 11-19 and 6-25. Drexel never went to the NCAA tournament during Flint's tenure.

Wade, VCU and Korey Billbury are the flip side of the argument. Billbury, a graduate of Oral Roberts, transferred to VCU for his final year of eligibility in 2015-16.

He helped the Rams earn a spot in the NCAA tournament. VCU helped Billbury with his time-management skills, an important asset for a husband and father.

In 2011, Martelli and Saint Joseph's refused to grant Todd O'Brien, who had graduated the previous spring, a release so he could transfer to Alabama-Birmingham, pursue a master's degree and use his final year of basketball eligibility.

O'Brien averaged just 7 minutes his final year at Saint Joe's.

"I got grilled on this in the court of public opinion," Martelli said. "I got 3,000 emails, one threatening my life. My question: Is there still a rule if you go to a second school, that school has to have a major or a master's program you don't offer?"

According to the NCAA, and the language of rule 14.6.1, there is nothing in the one-time transfer legislation about academic programs at the second school.

So, no.

"If it's not being used for academic advantage and pursuit and it is only a basketball decision, then somebody should have the guts to stand up and say this is a basketball reason," Martelli said.

For better or worse, in many cases, the transfer is for an athletic reason.

But many decisions are made by players and coaches strictly for athletic reasons.

"Arguing against this is, 'How dare you.' I get that," Martelli said. "I have thought about this, and I would do it in a second. In the atmosphere we're in today (winning is paramount, making the NCAA tournament on a regular basis is job security), if it could help my team, I would look into it. But I don't think it's right."

Drill down deeply enough, sometimes not even that deeply, and you can find a number of things that are not right about college athletics.

The graduate transfer rule is not a problem. The NCAA doesn't need to study it, alter it or adjust it.

In a business where almost everything is controlled by coaches, administrators and, always, the TV networks, it's not too much to give players control over the final portion of their athletic and academic careers.

It's the reasonable and decent thing to do.

(804) 649-6444@World_of_Woody

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February 27, 2017


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