New Division I chief puts transfer rules on priority list
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Kevin Lennon is putting transfer rule changes near the top of his priority list.
The NCAA's new vice president for Division I governance told The Associated Press there are growing concerns among the division's 345 members over the surging number of students switching schools - and that the debate could come to a close sometime in the next year.
Some of the ideas bandied about would have a dramatic impact on graduate transfer students. The proposals include giving schools the ability to restrict where ex-players can go and requiring the athletes to sit out one year before becoming eligible. Undergrads already are required to sit out one year, but the current rules allow players with bachelor's degrees to transfer to another school and become eligible immediately if they attend grad school.
''If you're transferring to be in a graduate program, the NCAA wants you to be working in earnest toward that degree rather than just using up your last year of eligibility,'' Lennon said during a 40-minute interview last week, noting there are no formal proposals yet.
Lennon has spent the past several weeks reaching out to school leaders and fine-tuning his vision for the future. The Harvard and Ohio University graduate replaced longtime NCAA executive David Berst on April 6 after Berst announced he would retire this summer.
One of the hottest topics is transfers. According to an NCAA report based on statistics from ESPN, 604 Division I men's basketball players changed schools in 2014 compared with 455 in 2013.
Lennon said finding a consensus about potential solutions has been tricky.
''You have one line of thinking that says when a student has earned their undergraduate degree they've earned the right to go wherever they want without any kind of NCAA restrictions,'' Lennon said. ''I think, unfortunately, what the data has shown is that people are transferring and they are not completing their graduate degrees because the vast majority of those degrees are two years.''
Coaches from big and small schools are already jumping on board.
Belmont coach Rick Byrd, the basketball rules committee chairman, believes the transfer issue would clear up if players took more time to contemplate their college choices. Byrd has 711 career wins and said he hasn't had a player leave his program in over a decade. Still, he supports the NCAA's move to get rid of special waivers and agrees with the concept for grad students.
So does Kentucky's John Calipari.
''You need two years in grad school anyway, so it makes sense,'' Calipari said.
Eliminating waivers and making grad students sit out a year would ''cut this thing by two-thirds,'' he added.
With data showing transfers lose, on average, about nine months of academic credit, Lennon said concern among university leaders is high. The NCAA also is considering options to stem the tidal wave of transfers among undergrads, but nothing has worked.
''No one is happy with the transfer rate, particularly in the sport of men's basketball,'' Lennon said. ''When 40 percent of your students are leaving after their second year, that's a signal something's wrong.''
Transfer rules are only part of Lennon's broad, ambitious agenda for the next 12 months.
He wants the NCAA to help schools implement cost-of-attendance measures that have already been approved by the five power conferences and some other leagues, advise schools about how to deal with any ramifications from the Ed O'Bannon case involving player likenesses, and tackle academic misconduct.
Lennon also believes it's time for school leaders to contemplate more academic reforms and cost containment for the increasingly expensive Division I championships. According to NCAA documents, expenses for Division I championships jumped from $68.8 million in 2011-12 to $92.1 million in 2012-13 and $98.1 million in 2013-14.
''It's like anyone balancing their checkbook. They need to make sure that what's most important is attended to and that's that our student-athletes continue to have championship experiences that they'll remember the rest of their life,'' he said. ''As increased costs come up and revenues don't match those expenses, then you've got to make some decisions.''
Lennon said the pilot program that helped some family members travel to the men's and women's Final Fours was not responsible for the increased costs. Price hikes for air travel and baggage fees were the primary culprits.
Lennon said he would like university leaders to consider reductions in the size of travel parties and whether schools should pick up more of the tab.