John Clay

Even the NCAA realizes the graduate transfer rule is a good one

Slowly but surely the NCAA is wising up. Further proof commenced Friday when the NCAA’s Division I council struck down a draconian proposal that would have jerked back the chain on the rights of the student-athlete.

The issue was the graduate transfer rule, which allows a student-athlete upon completion of his degree to transfer to another institution and enroll in a graduate program and finish out his athletic eligibility without having to sit out a season before doing so. It’s a popular measure, one that 125 Division I basketball players used this past season.

That was too many, in the eyes of some, who saw the rule as being overused by student-athletes who cared more about the athletic than the academic component. These critics proposed that if the student-athlete did not finish his or her graduate degree in a year, then the school would lose a scholarship the following year.

Luckily, the measure was soundly defeated, as it should have been. As Stanford football coach David Shaw told CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd, “I have a tough time justifying putting constraints on someone who would accept a graduate transfer because we’re talking about some of the best class of young people. These guys have graduated.”

Case in point, a Stanford grad who played basketball at Kentucky this past season. We’re talking Reid Travis, a major asset to the Cats on the floor and surely a contributor in the classroom. The 6-foot-8 forward from Minneapolis impressed everyone with his skill and maturity. While Travis made no bones that he was using the rule to help his chances of playing professionally, so what? That’s his choice.

As B. David Ridpath argued in Forbes, Travis and his brethren are not really graduate transfers, they’re graduate students. Having fulfilled their obligation by graduating, they are free to enroll at any school and graduate program that will have them. They’re not transferring. They’re free to move on to the next step in furthering their academic, and in his case athletic, development.

The complaints have come from mid-major and smaller schools that have developed players for three or more seasons only to lose that player to a bigger program. And Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari was on that side of the argument. When his friend Bruiser Flint was fired as coach at Drexel, Calipari pointed to Flint losing a couple of key players who used the grad transfer rule, including Damion Lee, who played at Louisville.

His tune changed when Travis became available. Calipari’s explanation was Travis was (a) from another Power Five conference school and (b) Travis really wanted to come to Kentucky. And as far as Nate Sestina, a grad transfer from Bucknell whom UK has signed for next season, if the first criteria doesn’t apply, Calipari said that Sestina wants the challenge of playing at Kentucky.

“We’re not going to take someone if they’re not going to have an impact,” said Calipari when Sestina signed, but that doesn’t make the UK coach any different than any other coach.

Part of this feeds into the transfer debate as a whole. UK athletics boss Mitch Barnhart told Dick Gabriel on his Big Blue Insider radio show last week that there are currently 7,400 Division I athletes in the transfer portal. “That’s a lot,” Barnhart said.

That is a lot. But it’s also part of a climate college athletics programs and administrators helped create. It’s hard to have much empathy for complaints about the high transfer rate when coaches are being fired one year after reaching the NCAA’s Sweet 16 (Billy Kennedy at Texas A&M) or just three years into a job (Bryce Drew at Vanderbilt).

If schools and coaches are allowed to make personnel decisions they feel are in their best interests, then student-athletes should be allowed to do the same.

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