How Can the NCAA Transfer System Become Fairer for All? Here's a Proposal

With the NCAA considering eliminating the one-year waiting period for D-I hoops transfers, here's a way the process could benefit college players, college coaches and even high school recruits.
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The NCAA is considering eliminating the one-year waiting period for Division I basketball transfers. As a high school coach who has worked with over a dozen D-I ballplayers, I have a suggestion for how to improve the system for college players, college coaches and high school recruits.

I recently heard a Division I head coach tell a recruit that committing to a school is like committing to a lifelong marriage. “You’re a part of that program forever.” Interestingly, this coach was at his first head job for a year, his second head job for seven years and then he got the itch and left for his third head job. Lifelong marriage?

Picking a college is like having a serious girlfriend, not a wife. If you’re young and things are going well, you stick with her for a while. Maybe even years. But if not, you boogie. That is what college kids do. Lots of kids—athletes and regular people—break up with their college girlfriends and also leave their schools.

You’ve no doubt heard the story of the deceased former college basketball player who was allowed to decide if he wanted to go to heaven or to hell. First, he took the elevator downstairs. As the doors opened, he saw beautiful people, great weather and happiness all in front of his disbelieving eyes. This is Hell? he thought. Then, he rode upstairs. Heaven had angels flying amongst the clouds, eternal bliss and it was as exciting as a Duke–Pitt blowout. Easy decision. The player told St. Peter that he would opt for Hell.

“You sure?”

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“Yes, completely,” the player replied. St. Peter escorted him into the elevator, and as the doors opened, Hell appeared as one would imagine—fire, demons and damnation everywhere. As the apostle nudged him in, the player turned and asked, “St. Peter, this was not at all like the first time I came down. What’s the deal?”

“Oh,” Peter laughed, “that was your official visit.”

Ask a college basketball player if this story reminds them of their first day of practice as a D-I freshman, trapped in a program that was not what it was sold to be. How many players find themselves lower on the depth chart than they were promised, with no hope of playing any time soon? This happens all the time, as it should, because the coaches get paid to win games. They will “recruit over” their players with no remorse. Division I basketball is a big business, so don’t blame the coaches for trying to win.

But how do we amend the system and also be fair to coaches and rising freshmen? I was at a high school showcase last year and ran into my friend, Andy Toole, the coach at Robert Morris. We discussed new rules that could be good for all parties—players, coaches, and high school recruits.

Here is how the new process would work:

The early signing period for high school seniors won’t change. This year, those dates are Nov. 8–15. If a kid signs early and other recruits or transfers commit to his chosen program after that, that player is still bound by his commitment. Buyer beware.

There would be significant changes to the late signing period rules, which this year starts on April 11, 2018.

College players will have until two weeks after the last game of their seasons to notify their coaches of their desire to transfer. The NCAA championship is April 2, and anyone in the Final Four would have only a week to give notice. As long as the transfer is not within conference, the transfer is automatically approved without a waiting period. So, as of April 9, 2018, everyone who wants to transfer and avoid the one-year waiting period has given notice. Coaches know who is leaving and who is available.

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There would then be a three-week transfer-recruiting period. Evaluation is not really necessary, just a visit. Two official visits paid for by the schools would be allowed. Then, on April 30, the transfer-recruiting period would close, and transfers would sign with their new programs. Anyone who has not signed by this date would be subject to a one-year waiting period.

The late signing period for rising freshmen now begins on May 1. These kids would know who is transferring, and the coaches would know which kids they really need. This puts a little pressure on schools and families because some programs start summer school in late May, but the coaches have probably been recruiting these kids and they should be ready to make quick decisions by May 1.

I would expect to see more of the intercollegiate recruiting that occurs now, and a tampering rule should be put in place (though everyone will ignore it anyway). With this new system, rising freshmen would know what they are walking into, current college players would have the freedom they deserve and coaches would have more certainty in their programs.

We all have very few years to be on the court, and every kid wants to play. You get to be young once in your life. You have every right to enjoy every moment. Find your right level and go play.