Conference-wide and country-wide, basketball players are leaving schools as if flipping channels. If they don’t like what they see, they go. ESPN.com’s current transfer list is approaching 1,000, and the NCAA estimates that two in five players are leaving before the end of their sophomore years. Ohio State lost all four members of its 2015 recruiting class.
“You do not want to take the rights away from the player,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “But we’re heading down a slippery slope of ultimate free agency, which I don’t think anyone wants.”
Free agency implies pro sports, which has unions and employees. The schools want no part of that.
But this is also a public battle they cannot win. Critics have convinced much of college sports fandom that athletes are indentured servants. Indentured servants who receive a scholarship, housing, unlimited food, books, clothing and career training, plus often a stipend and career mentorship that can lead to a well-playing job.
On the flip side, it’s un-American to tell an aggrieved athlete that he or she can’t leave for a better opportunity.
Take Michigan, where four players have bolted since April. That’s odd considering it’s a successful program with a stable, even-keeled coach in John Beilein.
Then again, two Michigan assistants left for greener pastures. Bacari Alexander took over at Detroit Mercy, his alma mater. And LaVall Jordan became the head coach at Milwaukee.
So why shouldn’t Kameron Chatman — who hit the game-winner against Indiana in the Big Ten tournament — be allowed to find a program closer to his Oregon home that will play him more than the 7.2 minutes per game Beilein gave him last season?
“We’re always trying to show them that fighting through adversity is the best way to go about it,” Beilein said. “But sometimes there will be issues that they will see. Whatever is best for the student-athlete, that is the bottom line.”
Beilein was vilified when he initially tried to prevent Spike Albrecht and Ricky Doyle from transferring to Big Ten schools. The kicker is that Beilein told Albrecht, after having recovered from double hip surgery, that Michigan didn’t even have a spot for his final season of eligibility.
Not fair. Beilein relented. Albrecht is headed to Purdue. Doyle is off to Florida Gulf Coast.
But what is fair?
Right now, players who have graduated can transfer and be eligible immediately. The goal was to allow a player to pursue a graduate degree not offered by his original school, but the academic component has become a farce, with the NCAA saying that 34 percent are earning advanced degrees.
Players yet to graduate have to sit out a season before becoming eligible at their new Division I school. Coaches say that rule is under attack by activists in the legal community, but it needs to stand.
Here’s what we don’t want in college sports: Mid-major schools investing countless dollars and hours in recruitment and development, only to have bigger-name schools poach their players. And for players from programs of all statures to bolt as soon as their coach yells at them.
“It’s the way of the world,” Collins said, noting that young teens often switch AAU teams and/or attend multiple high schools. “If it’s not going well, I’m leaving.”
Said Indiana coach Tom Crean: “It’s about teaching structure, guidance, working through problems, not jumping the first time something goes wrong or you didn’t play when you think you should have.”
Sitting out a season is clearly not a huge deterrent in transferring, but at least it’s pressing the pause button.