College sports’ transfer portal closes for no global pandemic. Witness recent transactions at VCU, Richmond, Virginia Tech and Virginia.
And if your favorite team’s roster churn has you reaching for the Bonine, well, just wait. The NCAA and COVID-19 are about to create unprecedented turbulence.
“It’s not turning around any time soon,” Virginia Tech basketball coach Mike Young said Monday. “It is the new landscape. We are all in roster management mode every day.”
Since the Hokies’ season ended last month, Isaiah Wilkins and Landers Nolley transferred to Wake Forest and Memphis, respectively. Needing experienced bodies, Young subsequently landed graduate transfers Cordell Pemsl and Cartier Diarra from Iowa and Kansas State, respectively.
No one is immune.
VCU last week added Brendan Medley-Bacon from Coppin State but lost Marcus Santos-Silva, the Rams’ leading scorer and rebounder. Santos-Silva is considering Maryland, Texas Tech, Ole Miss, Arizona State, Georgia and Penn State.
Jake Wojcik, a starter as a freshman in 2018-19 but a reserve last season, transferred from Richmond to Fairfield.
Virginia football, which has started a transfer quarterback in each of Bronco Mendenhall’s four seasons as coach, welcomed Indiana running back Ronnie Walker Jr., a Hopewell High graduate. Meanwhile, Cavaliers basketball coach Tony Bennett added a transfer for the fourth consecutive offseason.
That run started with Rutgers’ Nigel Johnson, followed by Alabama’s Braxton Key, Marquette’s Sam Hauser and now Rice’s Trey Murphy III.
Jeff Goodman, a reporter for Stadium, maniacally chronicles college basketball’s transfer market, and his most recent list shows 23 players leaving 11 ACC programs, 33 departing 13 Atlantic 10 teams and 19 exiting nine Colonial Athletic Association schools.
Not surprisingly, most were reserves in search of additional minutes. But there were notable exceptions beyond Nolley, Santos-Silva, Diarra and Murphy. Among them: Pittsburgh’s Trey McGowens to Nebraska, Wake Forest’s Chaundee Brown (undecided) and Columbia’s Patrick Tape to Duke.
These transactions were pre-pandemic, but in early January, Rutgers’ most productive offensive player in 2018, running back/receiver Raheem Blackshear, announced his transfer to Virginia Tech. One week later, Damon Hazelton, the Hokies’ 2018 and ’19 leader in touchdown receptions, entered the portal — he selected Missouri.
The overarching question for transfers who have yet to graduate — Blackshear, Walker and Murphy are in this group — is whether they will be eligible to compete in 2020-21.
Unless they have graduated or secured a hardship waiver, football, baseball, men’s ice hockey and men’s and women’s basketball athletes are required by NCAA rules to sit out one full season before competing at their new school. Singling out five sports is indefensible, and the waiver process has been maddeningly slow and erratic (ask Virginia Tech offensive lineman Brock Hoffman).
Thankfully, the NCAA Division I Council is poised to approve next month a one-time transfer waiver for all athletes. The only issue is whether the change will start in 2020-21 or 2021-22.
Regardless of timing, the waiver will empower athletes with the same opportunities afforded coaches, administrators and the general student body.
Mendenhall believes the change will encourage more unethical poaching, and he’s probably right. But the system’s inconsistencies beg for remedy, and perhaps this will stir coaches to better self-police their profession.
“I know it creates some real challenges with roster management,” ACC commissioner John Swofford said. “But it’s the right thing to do for students. I think we’ll adjust. I think coaches will adjust, and we’ll move forward.”
But given the jarring uncertainty about college sports’ short- and long-term future, Swofford would prefer the waiver take effect in 2021-22.
Escalating transfer rates figure to be another consequence of COVID-19. With most everyone tethered to their homes, coaches and prospects are losing opportunities to evaluate one another before offering and accepting scholarships.
Less information almost certainly will translate to more mistakes and regrets.
In recent Zoom sessions with reporters, Virginia Tech’s Young and Virginia basketball associate head coach Jason Williford lamented their current inability to watch in-person how a prospect responds to criticism from a coach or teammate, how he interacts postgame, the little clues that offer valuable insight.