Could a One-Time Waiver Rule Be “the Death of College Basketball”?

    Coaches are scrambling as the NCAA ponders a rule change.

    February 20, 2020

    After news broke earlier this week that a one-time waiver rule could be implemented throughout college sports, potentially as early as next season, basketball coaching staffs began scouring rosters of those programs a level down, preparing their lists to fill inevitable holes on their own team.

    “This will be the death of college basketball,” said one head coach of a top-25 team.

    We’re still a step or two away from the end of college hoops as we know it, though. The Transfer Waiver Working Group still has to make a formal recommendation to change the transfer guidelines to the Division I Council during its April 23-25 meeting. The Council can vote to approve the changes at the meeting, and because it’s a change to waiver guidelines, not legislation, it does not have to go through the legislative process.

    “There’s still some work to be done,” MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher, who is also the working group chairman, told Stadium on Wednesday.

    “The plan is to have it effective immediately for transfers in the 2020-21 academic year,” NCAA spokesman Michelle Hosick added.

    Dayton’s Anthony Grant had better be ready. Same for San Diego State’s Brian Dutcher, even Seton Hall’s Kevin Willard, and basically every non-blue blood coach with high-major players.

    If this goes through, and it appears as though it’s almost a formality at this point, the rich will get richer, and it’ll be more difficult for Grant, Dutcher and Willard — who are all currently coaching top-15 teams — to remain competitive with the blue bloods if the current concept is adopted by the Division I Council.

    Schools are already being raided via the grad transfer rule, in which nearly 200 players a year are able to transfer and play their final season immediately elsewhere. Now they’ll be able to pillage anyone with the enticement that they won’t have to sit and wait a year before being able to play.

    “It’s not a good rule for the health of college basketball,” Houston’s Kelvin Sampson told me on Tuesday night. “If we allow this rule, there’s going to be more bad decisions than good ones. Trust me, I’ve lived this.”

    There’s a reason why this is already being supported by the Big Ten and the ACC. Now guys like Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, John Calipari, Bill Self and Tom Izzo can plug holes in their roster with ease. There’s also a reason none of those coaches have spoken out publicly.

    They know how much of an advantage it’ll be for them.

    “I think it will adversely affect everybody except for the top programs,” Richmond’s Chris Mooney said.

    Mooney is in a precarious spot. After struggling the last two seasons, the Spiders are 20-6, 10-3 in A-10 play and are set up to return five junior starters off this year’s team — four of which have eclipsed 1,000 career points. However, he is well-aware that guys like Blake Francis, Jacob Gilyard, Grant Golden and Nick Sherod could all be pursued heavily by high-major programs if this rule goes into place prior to next season.

    What can he do to try and combat it?

    Nothing.

    “Honestly, I don’t think we can do anything that we aren’t already doing,” Mooney said.

    “That’s sad, but true.”

    Mooney isn’t alone among A-10 coaches that will have to ward off the big boys. Grant had better watch out because they will be coming after junior point guard Jalen Crutcher.

    I mean, who would you rather have? A freshman point guard or a proven floor leader who makes big shots on a team that has already won 24 games this season. I’ll take Crutcher over North Carolina’s Cole Anthony, regarded by most as the top freshman point guard in the nation, any day.

    It’s a no-brainer.

    Houston’s Caleb Mills is a redshirt freshman who is leading Kelvin Sampson’s group in scoring, a team that is a lock to make the NCAA Tournament. None of the big boys came after him out of high school.

    Now they will.

    “Ultimately, it’s what some will do, if not most,” one blue blood assistant coach told me. “And even if I don’t, the others will.”

    Sure, there will be some that will remain loyal to those who recruited them out of high school when no one else did. Maybe Crutcher, who wasn’t really recruited by his hometown Memphis Tigers and initially committed to Chattanooga prior to a coaching change, will stick with Grant and the Flyers. Alston and Mills could do the same with Rice and Sampson.

    But it won’t be easy to resist the lure of playing in the ACC, the Big Ten or one of the other power leagues — especially without having to sit out a year.

    I understand that this is fair for the players – to be able to transfer and not have to sit a full season – and most of them, past and present, are in support.

    “Honestly, I think it’s a step that helps the college athletes because the recruitment process is a difficult thing,” Boston Celtics rookie Grant Williams told me. “You have to decide about your future at a young age and this will allow kids a second chance and opportunity to play the sport that they love with either a more fruitful opportunity or a choice that should’ve been made the first time. Also, it gives guys a fresh start with a new program that some kids do need.”

    “This new proposed rule is how it should be,” added former Wisconsin star and former National Player of the Year award winner Frank Kaminsky, now a forward with the Phoenix Suns. “The only way you should have to sit is if you transfer within the conference.”

    “Coaches can’t have all the power,” he added. “If they want players to continue not to monetize their names, then there’s a give and take that has to take place. If there’s no give and take, then the quality of college basketball is going to continue to diminish like it has.”

    A couple of current players who transferred this past offseason and are sitting out wished to remain anonymous while offering their thoughts.

    “It would have been nice to play right away,” one said. “But I understand how it could turn into free agency. I see both sides of it, but as a player I like the rule.”

    “I think it’s a good overall rule,” added the other. “It gives players one free chance to transfer. I don’t think there will be as much tampering and roster changing as we think.”

    I’d hope that the NCAA will be smart enough not to allow a kid to leave mid-year and play for another school in the same season.

    The NCAA has gotten pressure to make a change from the current format in which many coaches feel that there’s too much inconsistency with the waiver process. There were 134 total cases this season in college basketball, and two-thirds (90) were approved. Of the 40 cases that were appealed, 12 were overturned.

    If a change is made to this one-time transfer rule, there also needs to be a deadline implemented, maybe sometime in May, so that you don’t have significant transfer turnover in July and August. And then there’s the topic of the Academic Progress Rate (APR). The NCAA implemented the APR to hold “institutions accountable for the academic progress of their student-athletes through a team-based metric that accounts for the eligibility and retention of each student-athlete for each academic term.” That, of course, will have to be completely revamped with the huge uptick in transfers.

    As April approaches, Steinbrecher said that the working group is getting feedback from just about everyone from student-athletes to coaches to institutions in an attempt to make sure they are aware of any and all ramifications, whether it be tinkering with the APR, and also with rules and penalties involving tampering.

    There are certain criteria which are already included in the current proposal. Players must receive a transfer release from their previous school, be academically eligible when they leave, maintain academic progress at their new school and leave under no disciplinary suspension.

    “I’m not opposed to kids being able to transfer right away,” Cal’s Mark Fox said. “We saw this coming. But they will have to adjust the APR.”

    Mid-major coaches are concerned, but are torn on the impact this will have on them as a whole. If the high-majors pluck their top player(s), they can go down a level and grab the top player of another conference and still remain competitive in their league.

    “Being a mid-major coach, we will lose some very good players, but it will also be problematic at the high major level as well,” ETSU’s Steve Forbes said. “You will see players not playing at the high major level transferring to get more playing time and you will see high-major starters transferring to upper echelon programs.”

    Radford’s Mike Jones didn’t share the optimism.

    “Allowing transfers to be able to play right away at another institution is bad for college basketball, as a whole,” Jones said. “High-major schools may benefit because they would get a student-athlete who had a good year at a lower-level school and now can play right away. But the school that believed in that kid, when other schools didn’t, and invested time and effort into helping him develop will suffer. If we care about the student-athletes, and not the schools, then yes, the rule benefits the student-athletes athletically, but not necessarily academically. If we care about both the student-athletes and the schools, then there need to be parameters to transferring like we have now.”

    Tampering has already been an issue. Now AAU and high school coaches will have even more power as middlemen because assistant coaches will call them to express their interest during the college basketball season.

    “A change is needed,” Indiana’s Archie Miller said. “But now teams are going to have half their team in flux in July.”

    If the rule does change, everyone will have to adapt. Some players will take advantage of the opportunity, while others will make mistakes. The rich may get richer by poaching the best players from those a level below, and it likely won’t end there. The mid-majors will swarm the low-majors and the lows will raid the Division II ranks.

    “It’s gonna be the wild, wild west,” one coach said.

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