Coaches Talk Transfer 'Epidemic'

In college basketball these days, you truly can’t tell the players without a program.

We surveyed several college coaches, including Ohio State's Thad Matta, Tennessee's Cuonzo Martin and UCLA's Steve Alford, on the spate of transfers

That’s because transfers between Division I schools seem to be at an all-time high. Last year, there were over 450 transfers. This year, this list compiled by has over 425 transfers.

Players are transferring for different reasons. Some are the result of a head coaching change. Some leave in search of more playing time at a different school. Some at mid-major programs are openly recruited to play at major conference schools. And loopholes in NCAA rules that allow hardship transfers as well as transfers for graduates seeking master’s programs elsewhere seem to be large enough to drive a Mack truck through.

Here are some examples of some high profile transfers from the last two years:

* After a coaching change in the spring of 2012, wing Rodney Hood left his homestate school at Mississippi State to transfer to Duke. Hood, who sat out this past year, could be a key piece in the Blue Devils’ run at a national title.

* Jarrod Uthoff tried to transfer from Wisconsin to fellow Big Ten member Iowa last year before Badgers coach Bo Ryan tried to block the move. After a public outcry, Wisconsin lifted its objection and Uthoff – after sitting out this past season – will be eligible at Iowa this coming year.

* Memphis power forward Tarik Black had a year of eligibility remaining. He reportedly graduated and transferred to Kansas, where he can help the Jayhawks make their push for a national title.

* Baylor guard Deuce Bello, a key 2012 prospect, left the Bears for greener pastures at Missouri.

* Arizona State guard Evan Gordon transferred to Indiana, where he enrolled in graduate school. That makes him immediately eligible for the Hoosiers, who coincidentally could use some backcourt help alongside Yogi Ferrell after watching four starters leave after last season.

* Kentucky’s Kyle Wiltjer was a key reserve on the Wildcats’ 2012 national championship team. But with coach John Calipari recruiting a handful of blue chip prospects in this year’s class, Wiltjer actively pursued a transfer. Calipari tried his best to hang on to him. But in the end Wiltjer decided to move on to Gonzaga.

During the recent July observation period, had a chance to discuss the transfer climate in college basketball with coaches from a variety of regions and conferences. Each coach we surveyed had different opinions on what’s happening within the sport as well as rationales for transferring.

“It seems like it has been that way for a long time and not just the last couple of years,” said newly hired UCLA coach Steve Alford, a former All-American at Indiana and head coach at Iowa and New Mexico. “Kids like to move. They get unhappy and they’re not very patient. They think moving is the answer.”

N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried played college basketball at Alabama and previously served as the head coach at Murray State as well as an 11-year stint at his alma mater.

“There are a lot more kids transferring today than it was five or 10 years ago,” Gottfried said. “Some of it is just the environment. The whole summer travel basketball culture has created a mind-set where, if it’s not happening for you early, these kids trade teams. They hunt for different teams at the high school level.

“It’s something we have to live with. It’s the climate today.”

Miami (Fla.) coach Jim Larranaga played at Providence and was the head coach at Bowling Green and George Mason before arriving in Coral Gables in 2011. He’s been around the game for over 45 years and had a simple explanation for the transient nature of college players.

“It’s become very fashionable that if you don’t play right away and you’re not making a major contribution to a program to look for a program where you do fit better and can showcase your talents,” he said. “It’s my understanding there are over 425 transfers this year. It’s become the trend and it will continue to be that way.”

Cuonzo Martin was a star player at Purdue in the early 1990s and was hired as the new coach at Tennessee in 2011. Martin understands why players may seek a change of scenery.

“I think every situation is different,” he said. “Guys transfer for different reasons – coaching changes, style of play differences, playing time. There are a lot of different reasons. You have to find out the particulars. The biggest thing from a coach’s standpoint is you have to evaluate them to the best of your ability. You have to find guys who fit into your program so they won’t transfer.”

Ohio State coach Thad Matta played at Butler and previously served as the head coach at his alma mater as well as at Xavier. He said honesty in the recruiting process can head off problems down the road.

“I think a lot of times you have to look at what creates the transfer. Sometimes in the recruiting process, a coach will paint a picture for a player. Then when that player gets to that school the situation or whatever it may be is not how it was portrayed to be.

“At Ohio State, we feel you have to be honest in the recruiting process so later on there will not be any surprises.”

Matta added, “I think it is an unfortunate time. Sometimes it is a process and it seems like everybody is looking for a quick fix. You understand it.”

Tim Miles arrived at Nebraska this past year after a successful stint as the head coach at Colorado State. He downplays the notion that transfers are a blight on the college basketball landscape.

“It is probably drawing more attention in the last couple of years than it’s really worth,” he said. “I don’t think it’s an epidemic. I don’t think it’s a huge problem. It’s simply a way of life. Kids are changing club teams at an early age. They are changing high schools on a regular basis. They are going to change colleges. It’s just a way of life.”

Gary Waters played at Ferris State in the early 1970s before embarking on a coaching career that has included head coaching stops at Kent State, Rutgers and, since 2006, at Cleveland State. He laments that lack of true player development at the middle school and high school levels as a root to this spate of transfers.

“I think it’s a product of how our basketball has progressed,” Waters said. “I’ve been in it a long time. When you look at individual development and training, I was talking to a coach today who talked about how the big men today don’t have any post moves. There is no big man camp any more.

“I remember a time when there was a big man camp in Michigan and Shawn Kemp was there as a player. All of the coaches working the camp were college coaches. They were developing them. There is none of that going on today.”

Waters said the nature of the travel basketball circuit also makes it easy for players to think they can move from colleges as simply as they slip off a reversible jersey.

“In this game of basketball with AAU, if you’re on a team and you don’t like what’s going on with that team you go over to another team,” Waters said. “There are no ramifications. You move on until you find your fit. The same thing is true with playing. Whether you win or lose these games, it doesn’t matter anymore. There’s another game in an hour.

“In elementary school today, they give kids timeouts for bad behavior and everybody gets a trophy for playing. There is no reality check in the process. Our kids, through the transferring, have caught on to that. It’s a microcosm of our society. If your marriage doesn’t work, you move on to something else.”

Waters put it bluntly when he said, “I feel bad for our kids today. Nobody is telling them, ‘Hey, stick it out and fight.’ It may not be right today but it may be right tomorrow if I stick it out and fight.”

Paul Biancardi served as an assistant at Boston College and Ohio State before a stint as the head coach at Wright State. Today, he is one of ESPN’s top college basketball recruiting analysts. He shared his two cents on what he sees going on today.

“Guys don’t want to stay where they are and fight for a position,” Biancardi said. “I don’t know what to do about it. Some people say it’s an epidemic.”

It was noted in the Chronicle of Higher Learning that roughly one-third of all college students will transfer at some point. That’s a higher percentage than the 10 percent of college players who are now transferring on an annual basis.

And the college player transfer rate lags well behind the rate of coaches who change jobs. There were 50 coaching changes in 2012 and 42 this year. In that two-year stretch, there were no coaches at over one-fourth of the roughly 350 Division I schools.

“Coaches are transferring all over the place, too,” Biancardi said. “It’s a profession where guys are going to leave their place because they’re unhappy or unsatisfied. Coaches do the same thing.”

Below we surveyed our coaching panel on two key questions surrounding transfers.

Should There Be Veto Power?

The Uthoff transfer from Wisconsin to Iowa illustrated how coaches and schools retain power over a player’s career even after they attempt to leave.

Sentiment within the coaching profession, though, seems to say they should be very few strings attached to transfers. Here were some responses on that question:

* UCLA’s Alford – “That’s hard. I’ve seen both sides as a player and as a coach. You see both sides of that. Coaches can leave, just as players can leave. Who gets that control? That’s kind of a hard one.”

* N.C. State’s Gottfried – “I think if a kid wants to leave he needs to leave and he should be able to go wherever he wants to go. I don’t have a problem with that.”

* Miami’s Larranaga – “That would be like asking a coach should a school be able to keep you from moving to another job opportunity if you thought the opportunity was better for you. What kids are experiencing now is very normal. If you can transfer and find a place where you fit better, that is what you hope for.

“What we would prefer as coaches would be for kids to stay and earn their playing time. The school has devoted time and energy and money to recruit them. You hope they develop inside that program rather than transfer and do it someplace else.”

* Tennessee’s Martin – “I think that is every program’s right and prerogative. You never know what situations have taken place or caused a coach to make that decision. It’s not my place to say.”

* Ohio State’s Matta – “I think a lot of that is conference-driven. I know in our conference there are rules that we must abide by and that a player must abide by. I feel as long as we are working within those rules then we’re fine.”

* Nebraska’s Miles – “I’ve been on both sides of it. I’ve been the beneficiary of it. We got an innerleague transfer when I was a Division II coach and he really helped us. I do believe within your league there should be some type of protocol. Outside of that, I’m not sure there needs to be. I’ve always been against innerleague transfers without having to sit out a year.”

* Cleveland State’s Waters – “I disagree with that. You had your chance. Like myself, I lost a kid this year. If it didn’t work, it didn’t work. Now let’s make sure. If a coach really cares about a kid, you want him to make it in life and do things right. I think you really have to move on.

“Now I do understand the concept of moving within a conference. That should be established within the conference guidelines so it’s not on the coach.”

* ESPN’s Biancardi – “Years ago when I was coaching, I felt there should be some type of stipulation where a guy should go. He shouldn’t go to someone in your league or to another school that recruited him out of high school. But now I feel a lot differently.

“In today’s day and age, I feel like, ‘If you want to go, go ahead and go wherever you like.’ I don’t think you should hold back any kid from anywhere. I feel a kid should be able to go anywhere. But wherever he goes and for whatever reason, I think he has to sit. I don’t think any kid should be able to play right away.”

Is There Abuse With Hardship, Graduate Transfers?

For over a decade, college athletes have been able to initiate hardship transfers to move closer to home in situations of family need. Once approved by the NCAA, these transfers have not had to sit out a year.

In recent years, graduates with eligibility remaining have been able to change schools to pursue master’s degrees at other schools without sitting out. Some have decried this newer regulation, saying many of these transfers are made for basketball reasons more than academic concerns.

We asked this panel what they thought of possible abuses in these two areas.

* UCLA’s Alford – “There have been an awful lot of waivers. I think they are looking at that just on the number of waivers and what qualifies as a legit waiver. I think that’s good to examine that.”

* N.C. State’s Gottfried – “I think that is one of the rules that needs to get tightened up. I think kids are transferring after graduating just for basketball reasons. I think that rule was created for academic reasons, but I don’t think that is happening as much any more. That one is probably a bit too loose.”

* Miami’s Larranaga – “I think the fifth-year senior transfer who is immediately eligible, that was never intended to be as widespread as it has become. But, again, the young man is looking for an opportunity at the end of his career to do something different than he did in his first four years.

“From a coach’s standpoint, you have developed that player. You hope he stays and contributes in what is probably his best year.”

* Tennessee’s Martin – “I don’t think guys can take advantage of something that is a rule. If it’s a rule, it’s a rule. They can use it. You’re working under the rules and if it creates an advantage for you then you’re living by the rules. I don’t think you can take advantage of something if it’s in place to do it.”

* Nebraska’s Miles – “There is always a beat-the-system guy. I don’t care what line of work you’re looking at. There is always somebody taking advantage of the rules and going into that gray area. I don’t think this is anything different.”

* ESPN’s Biancardi – “You have the fifth-year graduate transfers and I think that has added to the list of transfers. It’s like a free agent market. Most master’s degrees are two years. Who goes to a school to get their master’s degree for one year? They go and they play and they probably don’t graduate from the graduate school. That defeats the purpose of the rule.

“If you really want to take a fifth year as a graduate student, give them two years to do it and they can play one. How many coaches would give two years for one?”

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