HOUSTON – Just like every big-event gathering of college administrators and coaches, there will be a lot of posturing and pontificating here at this Final Four about student-athlete welfare. And putting players first. And empowering them. And so forth.
That is the formulaic rhetoric. But here is what’s happening right now in the real world, on a real college campus to a real student-athlete: He’s being held hostage by conference rules and a coach’s controlling instincts.
At Michigan, guard Spike Albrecht is completing his undergraduate degree this semester. On Monday he announced his intention to transfer elsewhere and play immediately as a graduate transfer. Part of the reason for this is the fact that Albrecht has been recruited over – there would be no room for him at Michigan as a fifth-year player, something coach John Beilein made clear months ago, before Albrecht redshirted this season to have double hip surgery.
"I talked to John Beilein last year about a redshirt and they told us, 'We’re one over for scholarships next year, and we’re recruiting a top point guard,' " Chuck Albrecht, Spike’s father, said. "That was with the anticipation of Spike graduating."
Yet even though Albrecht will have a degree, and even though he has been told there is no scholarship for him at Michigan, the school still has restricted his future choices. He has not been released to attend another Big Ten school. And the conference is backing this with its legislation.
“There are 334 other schools he can go to,” Beilein told Yahoo Sports on Wednesday, almost getting the math right on 351 minus the other 13 Big Ten members. “He has a lot of choices.”
But he does not have unlimited choice. Not without sitting out a year. That’s a Big Ten rule, and Michigan will enforce it with Albrecht – just as it did last year with grad transfer Max Bielfeldt.
Bielfeldt filed an appeal with the school, had a hearing in front of a committee unaffiliated with the athletic department and won the right to transfer to Indiana and play immediately. He played a significant role on the Hoosiers’ Sweet 16 team.
If I were a betting man, I’d wager that Albrecht will do the same thing, and probably get the same result. He will be free to transfer to whatever school he wants, and there likely will be several Big Ten suitors for a guy who has played in 114 career games – and who scored 17 points in a half in his biggest game, the national championship matchup with Louisville in 2013.
But it should never have to come to this. There should be no hearing. It is fundamentally unfair for any school to tell a transfer with a degree where he cannot go – especially if that school has made it clear that he can’t stay there, at least on scholarship.
On top of unfair, it is massively hypocritical of Michigan. Because guess who started at quarterback for the Wolverines last year? Graduate transfer Jake Rudock. From Iowa. That’s Big Ten member institution Iowa.
If Michigan is going to take a grad transfer within the league, how on Earth can it attempt to block one? Or two?
And then there is this eternal double standard: If, say, Beilein chose to retire tomorrow, and Tom Izzo wanted to move from East Lansing to Ann Arbor, he would be welcomed with open arms in about 30 seconds.
Chuck Albrecht is not surprised by this situation, nor is he overly angry. But that doesn’t mean he thinks it’s right.
“To be honest, this is kind of what we expected,” he said. “It’s not totally a surprise. I don’t think it’s real fair, but it seems like the norm.
"There’s certain schools in the Big Ten he’d never consider and others he might, I don’t know. If they’re worried about Spike – I think they’ve got bigger problems. But we do respect Michigan and the program, so Spike doesn’t want to cause problems.”
But neither does Chuck Albrecht want to take this lying down.
Spike is the second of three college basketball players in the family, and the Albrechts have spent a ton of time and money traveling to watch them play. Chuck is on his third car in the past four years, and estimates he’s been driving 50,000 miles a year during that span.
“We try to never miss,” he said. “Usually I go one way and my wife goes another. But we’re Midwesterners; if Spike goes to California or something, we’re not going to see him play.”
Beilein ordinarily is a reasonable man, and he acknowledged that there is a hearing process for Albrecht to go through. He said the school will assist him. “I love the kid,” he said.
But he does not love the grad-transfer reality that seems to be an increasingly bigger phenomenon. Belein doesn’t think any players should have immediate eligibility as transfers.
“Having a kid sit out a year is not like going to jail,” he said. “It’s a slippery slope. I want what’s best for Spike but also what’s best for our program. You train a guy and develop him for four years and suddenly he’s the starting point guard at Michigan State?”
It’s a galling possibility for a coach, to be sure. And Beilein does raise one salient point, which has been discussed quite a bit as schools try to wrap their arms around the grad-transfer phenomenon: If the players have absolutely no interest in actually attaining a graduate degree, and simply are majoring in staying eligible, then it’s an academic sham on par with the one-and-done situation.
But again, at least the done-and-one guys have a degree. Which is supposed to be the goal for all student-athletes, right? At least that’s what all the posturing and pontificating tells us.
Yet here in the real world, a player who will have a degree – and who has already been told he’s not going to have a scholarship in 2016-17 – is still having his future controlled and curtailed by the college. It’s wrong. And at Michigan, where the 2015 starting quarterback was a Hawkeye in 2014, it’s also hypocritical.
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