John Clay

NCAA's new transfer rule brings back memories of UK-U of L controversy

Louisville's Marvin Stone tried to get past Kentucky's Marquis Estill during  a game in Louisville in 2002. Stone started his career at UK but transferred to U of L after initial objection from the Wildcats.
Louisville's Marvin Stone tried to get past Kentucky's Marquis Estill during a game in Louisville in 2002. Stone started his career at UK but transferred to U of L after initial objection from the Wildcats. AP

Sometimes, achieving needed change just takes time.

The NCAA made a much-needed change Wednesday, announcing that, starting in October, a student-athlete will be allowed to transfer without asking his or her current school for permission.

Under the old rule, student-athletes had to request a release from their scholarship before being permitted to transfer. Without a release, the student-athlete had to wait one full year before accepting a scholarship from another school. The former school also reserved the right to restrict where a student-athlete could transfer.

The NCAA's Division I Council has now adopted a new "notification-of-transfer model." The student-athlete only has to inform the school of his or her intention to transfer. The school then has two days to enter the student-athlete's name into a national database. At that point, the student-athlete is free to be contacted by other coaches.

In addition, there are no national restrictions on transfers, though the NCAA is allowing conferences to impose stricter regulations regarding transfers within a league. Overall, it's more proof the NCAA is loosening its grip and ceding more power to the student-athlete. A change for the better.

As proof, let's revisit the early 2000s and the controversy created when UK basketball player Marvin Stone wanted to transfer from Tubby Smith and Kentucky to former UK coach Rick Pitino and archrival Louisville.

Marvin Stone, second from left, transferred from Kentucky to Louisville during the 2001-02 season after initial objection from UK. Charles Bertram Herald-Leader

A 6-foot-10 McDonald's All-American from Alabama, Stone had struggled at UK. He averaged 5.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in 2 1/2 seasons before he failed to return after Christmas break in 2001-02 and made known his intention to transfer to Louisville.

Not so fast, said then-UK athletics director Larry Ivy, citing an "unwritten" rule that players could not transfer to conference members or schools Kentucky played on a regular basis, i.e. Louisville. In reality, Ivy no doubt feared Pitino would turn the underachieving Stone into a star at the expense of Smith and UK.

The situation became a public relations disaster, much to the annoyance of then-UK president Lee Todd. Finally, on Jan. 11, 2002, Ivy held a surprise news conference to announce Stone could transfer to Louisville, after all.

"Coach Smith and I met this morning, and Coach Smith had a change of heart," Ivy said. "He has agreed, and I also concurred, that we will release him to the University of Louisville."

Less than two months later, after UK's football program was officially placed on NCAA probation, Ivy was forced to resign.

Stone played one season at Louisville. He did score 16 points in the Cards' 81-63 win over the Cats on Dec. 28, 2002, but ended up averaging just 10.3 points and 7.1 rebounds. Undrafted, he played professionally overseas before tragically dying of a heart attack on April 1, 2008, in Saudi Arabia.

Kentucky wasn't alone when it came to mishandling a transfer situation. In 2012, then-Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan was ripped nationally for blocking forward Jared Utoff from transferring to another Big Ten school. At Vanderbilt, Kevin Stallings blocked Sheldon Jeter from transferring to Pittsburgh. Then as Pitt's coach, Stallings tried (and failed) to block Cameron Johnson from transferring to North Carolina.

Billy Donovan took a more enlightened approach. While at Florida, Donovan allowed transfers to go wherever they wanted, even inside the SEC. Example: David Huertas, who transferred from Florida to Ole Miss. Donovan won two national titles, anyway.

At last month's SEC Spring Meetings in Destin, Fla., the league passed a new rule allowing grad transfers to move from one conference school to another. They did so over the objections of Alabama Coach Nick Saban, who indicated he would adapt to the new rule.

The same apparently goes for John Calipari. The UK basketball coach has been openly critical of the graduate transfer rule. Judging by reports, that won't stop him from accepting Stanford grad transfer Reid Travis, who reportedly will visit UK next week.

Yes, the times they are a changing. As more than one observer noted Wednesday on Twitter, "The NCAA is really just protecting the coaches from themselves."

It's also giving student-athletes more freedom. Call it a win-win.

Witk many good players and the possibility of more coming, UK might consider reviving platoon system. But John Calipari does not want to.

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