As Mark Stoops found out last week, the graduate-transfer rule cuts two ways for a head coach.
Only days after Kentucky football acquired former Iowa Hawkeyes basketball player Ahmad Wagner as a wide receiver via graduate transfer, Stoops unexpectedly lost starting outside linebacker Denzil Ware to the same process.
UK football has now lost an important player to the graduate transfer rule the past two offseasons. Big-play wide receiver Jeff Badet left Kentucky as a grad transfer after the 2016 season and ended up at Oklahoma.
There may be no more polarizing regulation in NCAA sports than bylaw 14.6.1, the graduate-transfer rule. To say that many coaches resent the bylaw that allows players with remaining eligibility who have earned an undergraduate degree to transfer and play immediately is a vast understatement.
Even Kentucky men's basketball coach John Calipari — he of the "players first" recruiting mantra — has publicly opposed allowing grad transfers to leave schools without having to sit out a season..
Conversely, advocates for student-athletes view the graduate transfer-rule as one of the few truly pro-players regulations in the NCAA manual. They see a reward for athletes who live up to the stated purpose of college athletics, getting a degree..
Which side has the more meritorious position?
There's no question that the graduate-transfer rule has strayed from its original intent. According to the NCAA, it was "intended to assist academically high-achieving students in pursuing a degree of interest that may not be offered at their undergraduate college."
What it has become in reality is the college sports version of free agency.
According to the NCAA, there were 17 FBS-level football players who graduate transferred in 2011. After the 2016 season, that figure was 117.
For men's hoops, there were 15 D-I grad transfers in 2011. There were 87 after the 2015-16 season.
An NCAA study in 2014 showed only one quarter of football and one third of men's hoops grad transfers went on to earn the graduate degree within two years that they ostensibly transferred to pursue.
To understand why many coaches loathe the grad-transfer rule, one need only look at a scenario that played out here in the commonwealth.
Heading into the 2015-16 men's basketball season, then-Louisville coach Rick Pitino found himself with significant holes on his roster. So Pitino turned to the graduate-transfer market.
He landed star swingman Damion Lee from Drexel and shooting guard Trey Lewis from Cleveland State, each leaving behind mid-major programs for the chance to play in the NCAA tourney for the first times in their careers.
As Louisville went 23-8 in '15-16, Lee (15.9 points a game) and Lewis (11.9) prospered. The duo did not get to play in the NCAA tourney due to U of L self-imposing a postseason ban over a prior recruiting scandal, but the two did get a season of performing in the ACC spotlight.
Contrast their fate with what happened to the head coaches Lee and Lewis left behind.
Cleveland State — which lost two other players to graduate transfer besides Lewis in a two-year period — went 9-23 in 2015-16. After another nine-win season the following year, CSU head coach Gary Waters stepped down.
One would not expect an SEC football program to be on the losing side of graduate transfers. In theory, one would expect players to use the rule to enter the SEC, not exit it.
Then again, the reality of being Kentucky football in the SEC has long been a tad different than being Alabama football.
It will be interesting to see where the 6-foot-2, 240-pound Ware, who had a combined 12 quarterback sacks the past two seasons, ends up.
What was fascinating about the Badet transfer was he left UK looking for a more pass-oriented offense. Yet Badet's numbers in 14 games at Oklahoma (26 catches for 400 yards with three touchdowns) were not as good as what he produced in 13 games (31 receptions for 670 yards and four TDs) the season before at Kentucky.
While I sympathize with coaches who feel victimized by the grad-transfer rule, especially those on the middle or lower rungs of the college sports food chain, I would not change it.
The players only get one chance to play their sport in college. If by acquiring a degree early they earn a second opportunity to put themselves in a favorable situation, I think that's an appropriate reward.
All in all, the grad transfer rule is a net positive for the students who play college sports.. That should be what ultimately matters.
Mark Story: 859-231-3230; Twitter: @markcstory