OVERTIMEBASKETBALL TRANSFERS ARE CHANGING THE GAME
By Amy Donaldson
When Utah State had a coaching change in its men’s basketball program two years ago, Murray native David Collette chose to transfer to the University of Utah.
Last summer, Kenneth Ogbe left Utah for UVU, as did BYU’s Jake Toolson and Cory Calvert. Weber State guard McKay Cannon left the Wildcats to walk on at BYU, while UVU’s leading rebounder in 2015-16, Konner Frey, left the Wolverines for Montana State.
Welcome to modern college basketball.
The NCAA lists more than 800 student athlete transfers for the 2017-18 season, but the reality is the movement in men’s basketball has stabilized over the past few years.
It’s who is transferring, and how they’re moving between schools that have thrust men’s basketball into the spotlight.
“One football player has to be extremely special to have an impact on a program if he leaves,” said Utah State head coach Tim Duryea. “It’s not the anywhere near the impact losing one basketball player has. When 20 percent of your starting lineup leaves, that’s a significant loss. Which is sad because college basketball would be a much better game with some layers of stability built into it.”
Player movement through the graduate transfer exception has had the biggest impact in the last five years because of the kind of players programs lose. Since 2011, the number of men’s basketball players who’ve transferred using the graduate transfer rule has jumped from 15 to 87, according to the NCAA. Across all men’s sports, graduate transfers have tripled, while women’s have doubled.
Originally, the rule was intended to help student athletes seeking advanced degrees.
“The way it was worded, it allowed those who wanted to get a graduate degree that’s not offered at your school to transfer,” said UVU head coach Mark Pope. “Then it got skirted and sliced, and just race to graduation so you can do whatever you want.”
In fact, Pope said that he’s been advised, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that when he plays top teams to be careful as they navigate the post-game handshakes. “They may have already scouted your players,” he said. “It’s become really tricky, really complicated.”
Like Duryea, Pope transferred schools as a collegiate player, so both men said they understand the desire to find a better fit; but they also see and feel the way mass transfers have changed collegiate sports, especially basketball.
“There is no doubt, it’s having a huge impact on the game,” Pope said. “Is it helping them to find the right fit? Or are they just not sticking it out and fighting through some adversity?
Probably both of those things are true.”
Duryea said the time and money colleges have to invest in recruiting players used to pay dividends as the player stayed in the program, developing and providing continuity and leadership.
“It takes you two or three years to build your base, to get the experience you need,” Duryea said. “When you lose one or two of those kids, it sets you back more than one year. You have to go replace them, but the kid you replace them with is not as good as the kid you’re replacing because of his development in the program. I think it’s extremely disruptive to your culture. It’s extremely disruptive to the product on the floor.”
Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak said estimates that schools in the power five conferences spend between $10,000-15,000 in recruiting some of the country’s top athletes. There is no doubt, he said, that the increase in transfers, especially graduate transfers, is “not a good thing” for the sport.
“In a perfect world, everybody would select a school, get paired up, and stick with it for the long haul,” he said. “Choosing a college and choosing a bride, those are both pretty significant decisions, and it’s best not to have to make them a second time. But the reality is there are an awful lot of transfers, and there are an awful lot of divorces. …It’s just something we live with, but you try to avoid it at all costs.”
Like the other local coaches, he acknowledges the NCAA rules are aimed at considering the welfare of the individual student athlete. Duryea said he’d like to see the NCAA eliminate the one-and-done option, so players have to either commit to two years in a college program or pursue professional options, like the NBA’s D-League or foreign leagues and teams. He’d also like to see tighter restrictions on graduate transfer eligibility, but Krystkowiak said a recent NCAA poll asked coaches their opinions on making the rules more lenient.
“There is not going to be any unanimous opinion,” Krystkowiak said. “If there are 380 of us, there will be 380 opinions. The results will be all across the board.”
Whether the current situation is a flare up of an issue that league officials or coaches can find solutions for, or if it’s the evolution of the sport, the reality is coaches have no choice but to try and make the best of it.
“It’s constantly changing,” Krystkowiak said. “It’s not going to be like we’re the victim, blame the system. You just try to navigate your way through. We’re proactively trying to do a better job of getting the right kid and making sure you’re communicating to the best of your ability. That’s about all you can do.”