Commentary

NCAA: It's time to look at transfers

Originally Published: July 13, 2012
By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com

Wandering eyes and jealousy, fear of commitment and heartbreak, distrust, disloyalty and disillusionment, come-hither wooing and behind-the-back sneaking.

It is the perfect recipe for a great soap opera or reality show and, as it turns out, for college basketball, because all of those salacious and juicy ingredients are alive and kicking in the game right now.

In the real (and scripted) world, they call it drama. In hoops vernacular, we call it transferring.

In any world, it is a mess.

According to the NCAA, 40 percent of men's college basketball players will not be competing at their original school by the end of their sophomore year.

Think about that: Four out of 10 players will ditch their so-called binding letter of intent after two years.

[+] EnlargeNCAA logo
Mitchell Layton/Getty ImagesThe NCAA is trying to figure out what to do about an alarming transfer rate at its member schools.

And we put Kim Kardashian on the cover of People magazine, chiding her commitment issues?

It is not just the numbers that are staggering; it's the whole system. It's a train wreck of a mess that lacks vision, consistency and in some cases, ample punishment.

The good news: It's about to meet its maker.

"You have a lot of requests for waivers of the transfer rule; you have certain sports that require you sit out a year and others that don't; you have the APR issues," said Kevin Lennon, the NCAA's vice president of academic and membership affairs. "So I'm not sure that disjointed is the right thing to say, but over time the transfer regulations have grown and now it's time to take a step back and look at it more holistically and say 'What are we doing? What works? What needs to change?'"

Lennon said he would expect a new look to the transfer and waiver rules by this time next year.

Here is the conundrum in the interim: deciding what's fair.

Theoretically, kids, like the rest of us in society, have the right to change their minds. People end marriages, switch careers, move to different houses -- indecisiveness may be messy but technically we all have the right to a do-over.

So should college kids. They are not indentured servants, bound to their campuses in shackles. If they get there and don't like the coach, don't like the system, don't like the dining hall food, they should be allowed to leave.

And to that end, the transfer rule cleanup ought to be easy.

In an ideal world, a player chooses a university to earn his letterman's sweater and sing the alma mater proudly. In the real world, he chooses it for a coach, or the hope of quick playing time or a system that he thinks suits his style of play.

If any of that doesn't pan out, an athlete ought to be entitled to look for a new situation and if, as Lennon alluded to, he falls behind academically as a result (as much as nine months according to NCAA research, since many credits don't transfer), that's his choice and his mess to crawl out of.

Until a player can forbid a coach from taking another job, a coach shouldn't be allowed to stop a kid from leaving.

Period.

So I'm not sure that disjointed is the right thing to say, but over time the transfer regulations have grown and now it's time to take a step back and look at it more holistically and say 'What are we doing? What works? What needs to change?

--Kevin Lennon, NCAA VP of academic and membership affairs

Now here's the tricky part: We love to say that college athletes are just like regular students.

Except they're not.

Regular students don't fly chartered airplanes or eat at private dining halls. They don't sign autographs or get new free sneakers weekly.

And regular students aren't offered promises and incentives to leave their school.

It's doubtful that the English major has a booster at School X trying to woo him with the promise of a bigger, better-stocked library. Rare is the chemistry major who is promised more lab time if he would just leave for a new university.

And it's unlikely that the kinesiology major's posse is whispering, "Man, you don't need to listen to that professor, he doesn't know what he's talking about."

Athletes often opt to leave based upon the promises and wooing of a third party rather than their own gut.

"What we hear from coaches is that the third parties and their influence on a young person leaving school, convincing them that the grass is totally greener, is rampant," Lennon said. "And that's really hard to get at from a rules perspective."

Actually it's not.

The words integrity and ethics may not exactly be synonymous with college athletics these days, but there's no reason why an unethical person shouldn't be punished.

It's already an NCAA violation for a coach or university representative to make contact with a student enrolled elsewhere without written permission from the athletic director at the athlete's school.

Lennon said now the rule might actually come with a serious bite -- like a lengthy suspension for a head coach who is caught trying to lure an athlete away from another school, directly or indirectly -- and will likely expand to include third-party interactions.

"There's a real sense that tampering will be a major violation," Lennon said. "As we go forward with the revision of the rulebook, you'll find we'll get rid of some rules that are not meaningful and others, like tampering, or even using third parties in recruitment of already enrolled student-athletes, if that coach finds himself suspended for a year, I think you'll see that stopping."

No doubt.

As for the rest of the drama, it pays to remember that age-old advice fed to lovelorn teenagers everywhere: If you love something, set it free.

If it comes back to you, it is yours.

If not, be ready to use a box-and-one so it doesn't drop 30 on you.

Dana O'Neil | email

College Basketball