Big 12 Basketball

Postscripts: Three Problems With The Transfer Portal in College Basketball

What’s going on in the Big 12 and beyond? I expand and explain every Sunday in Postscripts at Heartland College Sports, your home for independent Big 12 coverage.

This week, we’re going to talk about the mistakes the NCAA has made with the Transfer Portal.

Once upon a time — actually not that long ago — student-athletes didn’t have the freedom to transfer the way they do now.

In most cases a transfer led to sitting out a year, no matter the reason. If one had a redshirt to use, that’s how it was burned. If not, then, well, you lose a year. That’s just how it went.

 

When COVID hit, the NCAA finally gave some leeway, allowing student-athletes to transfer one time, without penalty. That seemed fair. Coaches leave. Maybe the athlete was sold a bill of goods that doesn’t come to pass. Maybe they just need to be closer to home.

It’s a good rule. What you may not be aware of is that the second transfer rule, the one that has been buzzed about this season, has actually always been there.

This is where the NCAA has massively screwed up. Understanding why requires a little time.

Problem No. 1

When the NCAA implemented the one-time transfer rule, as I noted, it kept the secondary waiver rule in place. In truth, student-athletes have to get a waiver every time they transfer. But the first-transfer rule eliminates the ability of a school to block a player from playing immediately somewhere else (think Baker Mayfield transferring from Texas Tech to Oklahoma, though Mayfield wasn’t on scholarship at the time).

So if a student-athlete transfers a second time, they need a waiver from the NCAA, if they haven’t gotten their bachelor’s degree yet (graduates with eligibility may transfer freely). And there’s the first problem. Early on, after the new first waiver rule, the NCAA just kept waiving undergraduates through.

Here are a couple of good examples just off the top of my head:

Devin Askew started at Kentucky (2020-21). He transferred to Texas (2021-22). No waiver needed. Then he transferred to Cal (2022-23). He needed a waiver and got it that summer. Never missed a game.

Kansas State’s DaJuan Gordon spent the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons at Kansas State before he transferred to Missouri for the 2021-22 season. That was his first waiver. He then transferred to New Mexico State for the 2022-23 season and got a second waiver. He is now playing as a grad transfer at UT-Arlington.

Yes, the COVID waivers for extra eligibility have jumbled things up. But, it’s clear that up until this year, the NCAA has been permissive about handing out second-time waivers to undergrads. Here’s some data to illustrate the depth of what the NCAA is dealing with:

 

In Division I, 20,911 student-athletes entered the Transfer Portal in 2022, an increase over the 2021 total (17,781). Of this total, 78% of the entrants in women’s sports were on athletics aid at their departing school, while 65% of those in men’s sports were on athletics aid upon portal entry.

That’s from the NCAA’s own website. Transfer portal use is up. It doesn’t distinguish between first-time and second-time (or more) transfers. However, the NCAA noted that 30 percent were graduate students. So, more than 14,000 of those transfers were undergrads.

What’s clear is the NCAA’s inability to mind the gate for second-time transfers after it allowed them to transfer freely the first time caused part of this surge in the portal. So, they tried to correct it. And ….

Problem No. 2

So, earlier this year the NCAA changed the language for the second-transfer rule. They wanted to tighten it. So, here’s the complete language they voted on and approved:

Each waiver request will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, but moving forward, student-athletes must meet one of the following criteria to be granted a waiver to compete immediately:

A demonstrated physical injury or illness or mental health condition that necessitated the student’s transfer (supporting documentation, care plans and proximity of the student’s support system will be considered), or

Exigent circumstances that clearly necessitate a student-athlete’s immediate departure from the previous school (e.g., physical assault or abuse, sexual assault) unrelated to the student-athlete’s athletics participation.

All other guidelines will no longer be used for waiver requests to compete during championship seasons that first occur in 2023-24.

The Council agreed that athletics reasons (lack of playing time, position presence) and academic preferences should not warrant waiver relief.

 

On the face of this, I don’t have a problem with it. I think physical injury, illness, mental health conditions, and the exigent circumstances outlined are fine. So is the idea that you don’t want athletes transferring multiple times for purely athletic reasons.

But the implementation of this reinforced rule has been awful. Here’s why, from the NCAA’s own language:

“As a result of the DI Council vote, multiple-time transfers who cannot demonstrate and adequately document a personal need for medical or safety reasons to depart the previous school are not eligible to compete immediately following their second undergraduate transfer. National office staff, at the direction of NCAA members, have begun applying those criteria for multiple-time transfers for the 2023-24 academic year.”

Note the application. It’s not for incoming freshmen, or even athletes with a year of college that haven’t used their redshirt yet. It’s for ALL student-athletes, no matter how many times they’ve been allowed to transfer previously and where they are in their educational process.

Also, the NCAA doesn’t really explain what a “mental health condition” is and leaves it open to massive interpretation.

Which brings us to …

Problem No. 3

The NCAA decided not to grandfather current student-athletes that had transferred multiple times. Compound that with their uneven (and I’m being charitable) application of their new rules and it leads one to believe that the NCAA is taking a blunt instrument to situations that require precision.

Here are some examples:

Florida State defensive tackle Darrell Jackson Jr. and North Carolina receiver Devontez Walker had their waivers rejected before football season. Both transferred to be closer to family members who have fallen ill. The pair told ESPN that they transferred believing their waivers would be approved based on previous guidelines, which took into account family situations (remember me mentioning “grandfathering?”).

Nope. Didn’t happen. Look at the new rules above. Do you see anything about family issues? I don’t, even though if, say, your mother has a life-threatening illness, that would certainly weigh on your mental health. It certainly would be mine.

The cases of Cincinnati’s Aziz Bandaogo and Jamille Reynolds are relevant. Bandaogo transferred to Cincinnati from Utah Valley. He cited his mental health. Coach Wes Miller has declared repeatedly that both players met the criteria for the mental health waiver. It took Bandaogo to get representation from a law firm and the Ohio attorney general to get the NCAA to change its mind. Reynolds is still waiting.

With mental health issues, there are only so many things players and coaches are willing to disclose. West Virginia guard RaeQuan battle bared his soul after his appeal was denied last week for the second time. He detailed the mental health issues that he’s dealt with, not just during his college career, but for the last decade in a social media post.

None of that was good enough for the NCAA. So Battle and WVU took to social media again earlier this week, and college basketball movers and shakers like ESPN’s Jay Bilas retweeted with their support.

His potential teammate, Omar Silverio, saw the process end his college career. He started his career at Rhode Island (before COVID and the new one-time waiver rule) and then played three seasons at Hofstra without sitting out before transferring to Manhattan before the 2022-23 season. The Jaspers fired their coach just before the season and Silverio eventually transferred to West Virginia. But he sat out all of last season.

Not only was he denied his waiver to play one more season, but that denial ended his college basketball career. At first, I thought that left him without a degree. But, he got his degree at Hofstra in 2022.

So, let’s count this up. One year at Rhode Island. Three years at Hofstra. Add in the COVID waiver and the transfer to Manhattan, which is where he would have spent his final season had they not fired his coach (which under the current transfer rules you have a 30-day window to consider a move). He transferred to West Virginia in March. But he still had his redshirt, which could have been applied retroactively (it has been done). Plus, a degree. He had one more year and a degree. Why does he need a waiver in the first place?

Over and over again we’ve seen it this fall. In September, the NCAA noted the heat it’s taken and released a data point that said of the 21,685 student-athletes that entered the transfer portal this year just three percent were second-time transfers.

I’ll do that math for you. That’s roughly 650 student-athletes. That number sounds ridiculously low given what I see on social media every day.

By the way, the NCAA is already starting to consider modifications to the rule it made in January.

Not that it will help Battle. Or Silverio. Or Reynolds. Or any other student-athlete that falls into this category.

No, the NCAA should have grandfathered student-athletes who were already in college sports and helped them finish out their eligibility. Instead, from the outside it seems they’ve chosen a path of draconian, uneven enforcement that, as usual, hurts more student-athletes than it helps.

One thing is certain for young student-athletes. Transfer a second time and you best have your degree, because it seems the NCAA cares little about anything but cutting down on transfers.

You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.

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