In NCAA-land, there are no snap decisions. Before genuine progress can be made, discussion must be had -- loud, long, unfocused discussion. Some regrettable things will be said. Some unfortunate emails may see the light of day. A scandal or two or 10 will be made plain. Outrage will be enjoyed. It's the usual deal, and then the NCAA gets a large enough group of schools to push through new legislation (or not), and then it's on to the next one.
We're still very much in the discussion phase where transfer policy is concerned. But that's good news in and of itself because the NCAA's policy on transfers -- more specifically, when it does and does not grant "hardship" (or legislative relief) exceptions to its typical transfer rules -- is pretty much just flat broken.
This offseason, which has been filled with confusing and conflicting approaches to seemingly similar cases, has put the entire waiver system under question. And that shouldn't obscure the fact that even transfers who don't need or ask for hardship exceptions are in a laughably powerless position, relative to their very well-compensated coaches -- forced to ask for "permission to contact" for the right to move to schools where they'll have sit out a season before they can play in the first place. Coaches, as you may have noticed, are in practice free to come and go as they please. It's kind of messed up.
Fortunately, the NCAA itself has begun to take notice. Two weeks ago, NCAA officials told ESPN.com's Dana O'Neil that some transfer rules could change as early as next season:
"It would be a situation where a kid would provide notice that he's transferring and wants to talk to these five schools, for example," Kevin Lennon, the NCAA vice president for academic and membership affairs, told ESPN.com. "Schools can't say, we're giving you permission but not to these five schools. It's in the student's control more."
Which is good stuff, but it still doesn't seem to address to the mess that is the hardship waiver system. Frankly, there don't seem to be many great ideas for solving that just yet. It's not easy to balance the genuine needs of players with ill family members and other special circumstances with those whose coaches or families would take advantage of the rule to facilitate a speedier return to the court. It's a tough balance to strike.
Which might be why Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski thinks a more stringent approach is needed. Also from Dana O'Neil:
"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."
"Giving certain kids the right to play and others not the right to play, it should be done the same," he said. "If they want to let everybody play right away, then let everybody play right away. Everybody should be treated the same. I don't understand why there are exceptions to this rule."
Delightfully draconian with strong hints of impatience, this Coach K varietal eschews last week's well-received pop-culture detours and returns the flavor to its more stern, militaristic origins. Three out of five stars.
More seriously, I'm not sure it's in the NCAA's best interest -- or the best interest of its student-athletes, which, I know, just go with it -- to blanket basketball's entire Division I with a "No ifs, ands or buts" policy. There probably should be exceptions to the rule. They just have to be employed carefully. And, most importantly, consistently.
Because that is the issue Coach K is highlighting, and the biggest one overall: If the way transfers were handled felt in any way consistent from case to case, then you wouldn't have college basketball's most iconic current coach publicly calling your policies a farce. People just want to know where they stand. When they don't, they get confused. Then they get outraged. Then they basically assume you're being arbitrary and unfair, even when you're not, and decide they might as well start trying to exploit loopholes, too. Why not, right? Who cares?
Krzyzewski's solution may or may not be immediately viable -- I'm going to tend toward the latter -- but he's right in principle. The NCAA needs to streamline its transfer policies. Even if it doesn't make them more fair, it needs to make them easier to understand. You've got to start somewhere, right?