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The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

New transfer model would reduce restrictions on athletes but at what cost to college hoops?

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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When word filtered out two summers ago that Missouri State's Kyle Weems was on pace to earn his degree early and would be eligible to transfer without sitting out a year, it didn't take long for other programs to start calling.

Coaches from high-profile programs like Kansas, Kansas State, Oregon and Cal sent word via Weems' family or high school coach they had a scholarship available for the reigning Missouri Valley Conference player of the year if he was interested.

Stories like that are common today in college basketball, but they'd be downright rampant if a new transfer model were to go into effect eliminating the mandatory one-year transfer penalty for players with a 2.6 GPA or higher.

According to Bylaw Blog's John Infante, that's one of the main prongs of a new transfer policy for college basketball that could go into effect as soon as August 2014 if it receives approval by the NCAA Board of Directors this summer. The model is based on a set of principles published by the Division I Leadership Council and addresses some of the issues players had obtaining waivers during some of the highly publicized transfer battles that made headlines during the summer.

Among the highlights of the new transfer model under consideration, according to Infante:

• Athletes who maintain a 2.6 GPA or higher would be permitted to play immediately for their new school.

• Athletes would still need permission from their former school to practice and compete right away at another school, but even if the request was denied, they'd still be able to accept a scholarship from the school of their choice and compete after sitting out a year.

• Athletes who can't play immediately at the next school would receive an extension of their five-year clock, giving them potentially six years to use their four years of eligibility.

• The NCAA would consider tampering with an athlete by another school a Level I violation, the most severe breach of conduct in the new enforcement structure.

From an athlete's perspective, there's a lot to like here. By tying an athlete's GPA to his or her right to transfer without sitting out a year, it gives an incentive for athletes to perform well in the classroom. And by making it easier for athletes to transfer without a one-year penalty, it limits the power of coaches and gives them reason to treat players well and follow through on promises made during recruiting.

Nonetheless, it's hard to shake the idea that what would be good for the players would come at the expense of the fans and the sport itself.

There already has been a significant spike in transfers since the NCAA began allowing athletes who obtained their degrees to transfer without penalty and athletes who received hardship waivers to play right away at their new schools. The number of transfers would multiply even more if this new model were in place.

Furthermore, the NCAA can increase the punishment for tampering all it wants, but the fact remains the organization is almost powerless to stop it. A coach would have to be incredibly brazen or incredibly stupid to contact a kid at another school directly when he has the option to send word covertly via back channels like through an AAU coach or a mutual friend.

Of course, the counterargument to that is average students transfer without punishment, so why should athletes be saddled with a one-year penalty simply to keep adults from cheating? It's a fair point and there are no easy answers except to note that sometimes the NCAA needs to look out for the health of the sport as a whole over the interest of individuals.

The result of the new model would make college basketball more like elite high school basketball, where it's not usual for players seeking more playing time or exposure to attend three or four schools in four years.

Although Weems eventually turned down the higher-profile programs and played his final season at Missouri State last year, his refreshing loyalty is the exception rather than the norm in college basketball these days. About 500 players transferred schools this past offseason, and that number would only mushroom under the new transfer model as lesser conferences would become farm systems for their higher-profile peers.

It's already hard enough for fans to get attached to a quality player in this era of one-and-dones. Changes like this would make it even harder.

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