The NCAA Division I Council this week postponed a vote on a rule change that will permit transfers to play without sitting out a year. That one-time allowance is coming, to be enacted in the interest of student-athlete welfare.
It’s certainly not in the welfare of University of Richmond basketball and football staffs. Neither Spiders basketball coach Chris Mooney nor football coach Russ Huesman is a fan of the legislation. Their jobs are about to become considerably more challenging and complicated.
“Any time a coach expresses his concern with the easing of the transfer rules, it’s perceived as being self-serving, and sometimes it probably is,” Mooney said. “…We’ll adjust and we’ll embrace it, and hopefully it will help us at some point.”
In terms of player movement, “I think it’s going to be the wild, wild west, to be honest with you,” Huesman said. “They’re going to pass it, I’m sure, [eventually], and it’s going to be a part of our daily lives.”
Here’s a hypothetical way to appreciate the concern of coaches at midlevel Division I schools. Tyler Burton, a 6-foot-7 UR sophomore in his first season as a starter, has blossomed. He’s averaging 12.6 points, 8.2 rebounds, and improving. Burton, from Uxbridge, Mass., has three more seasons of eligibility because of the NCAA’s adjustment for winter-sports athletes in response to the pandemic. With four Spiders seniors starting, Burton will be Richmond’s centerpiece beyond this year.
A-10 programs St. Bonaventure, Massachusetts and Rhode Island recruited Burton, also sought by Northeastern, Towson, Hartford, Iona and several other schools. Burton’s father, Quinton, played at Providence.
Say Burton determines he wants to play closer to home in the ACC or Big East. Under the proposed legislation, he could leave UR without consequence of a sit-out penalty. The Spiders, who invested in Burton’s recruitment for a year, and education and physical development for two years, would be without a player Mooney said could become one of the greatest in program history.
That’s an excellent setup for those in Burton’s position, but frightening for coaches at schools such as Richmond. Huesman envisions comparable scenarios in football. Players UR recruited and developed could follow a penalty-free path to a higher level of competition after a year or two as Spiders.
Speaking of FBS programs, Huesman said, “All they have to do is go look at [FCS] All-American lists, preseason or postseason, and they can recruit kind of off of lists to start the process. You would hope everybody would be above board and not tamper. I don’t believe people are going to be above board and not tamper ... and they’ll give the game a black eye.”
Huesman suggests that this no-penalty transfer apply to lateral football moves, such as from one FCS school to another, or a shift down in level. If an FCS player wants to transfer to an FBS school, he would be required to sit out a year.
Huesman and Mooney contend that transfers who consider moving up a competitive level should research how many players who did so became regulars at their new schools, and how many became depth.
“I think there’s this perception of, ‘He needs a change. He transfers. He’s going to do better,’” Mooney said. “I don’t think that’s often how it turns out.”
Mooney hears the point advanced that a college student uninvolved in sports is able to transfer without stipulations, and that the same opportunity should apply to student-athletes. He noted that there’s more that goes into recruiting, developing and supporting a student-athlete than is devoted to a nonathlete.
The transfer system started changing in 2011, when the NCAA began allowing graduates with remaining eligibility to transfer and play immediately with the understanding that they seek a graduate degree unavailable at the school they left. That condition faded.
The transfer portal arrived in October of 2018. Student-athletes input their names, other programs peruse the portal and pick out fits for needs. Student-athletes who are dissatisfied with their situations can place their names in the portal at any time of the year, whenever they feel underappreciated, underutilized or uncomfortable.
Then came the wave of NCAA waivers that permitted some transfers to play immediately, based on their circumstances.
Without negative repercussions attached to switching schools, “I just think that what we’re going to start seeing is a ton of transfers at mid-season. It’s already happened this year,” Mooney said. “Guys are leaving nationally ranked teams at midseason.
“I think there’s a lot of responsibility from the programs and the coaches in this, too. I think that coaches, if a guy isn’t playing as well as they expect him, and they want the guy to transfer, coaches are comfortable telling that guy to transfer.”