Stay put: NCAA pushes for further transfer restrictions

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In recent years, the NCAA transfer portal has become a battleground for programs to court athletes who are wishing to take their talents elsewhere. It’s become quite the game in itself — the winning coach could land a superstar who changes the trajectory of a team’s season.

Graduate transfers have always been effective tools because unlike undergraduate transfers, they are eligible to compete immediately, but the NCAA has other ideas. This week, the governing bodies will vote on legislation that would put further restrictions on graduate transfers.

If passed, a student-athlete who has completed their degree and wishes to become a graduate transfer at another university must complete their graduate program in just one year in order to become immediately eligible to compete that season. If they don’t, then the student-athlete’s school will lose a scholarship for the next year.

While the NCAA has always had firm and detailed policies regarding transfers, this takes it to another level. We should not be punishing such athletes who want to pursue higher education degrees while continuing to compete. This is a clear demonstration of the NCAA once again devaluing education and focusing solely on its own self-interest.

It’s important to note that this potential new rule would only take effect in football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball, which happen to bring in the most revenue for athletic departments across the country. Those sports have seen graduate transfer rates spike over the past few years. For whatever reason, the NCAA is obviously trying to mitigate that trend.

Quarterback Jalen Hurts has grabbed national attention as a graduate transfer. After being edged out of his starting spot at Alabama, Hurts is poised to lead Oklahoma next season and will provide an instant boost to that team.

Because of the Sooners’ and Hurts’ own pedigree, this move is set to have national championship-sized implications. A major shake-up to college football like this one is good for the game — it makes the playoff race more exciting. To think that, a year from now, a similar scenario might not be able to happen is inhibiting the game as a whole.

Fans crave the drama, the excitement, the unpredictability of college sports. They have deep and personal attachments to their teams, unlike ties to any professional franchises. These are schools where fans once had the best memories of their lives, and now they schedule their weekends around kickoff or tipoff time. At the end of the day, these fans are where the money is being made. It should be in the NCAA’s best interest to keep them entertained.

It’s understandable that the NCAA wants each athlete to spend their entire four-year career at one school so that fans have the opportunity to cheer them on and watch them grow. But the college game has progressed far beyond anything that simple.

To tackle this issue, it would be smarter to change draft eligibility rules. Athletes leaving school early to turn professional surely accounts for more shake-up than transfers do. Those players who decide to go after the money in the pro ranks have to be replaced one way or another — what does it matter if the new guy is a freshman out of high school or a graduate transfer?

Generally speaking, the NCAA has incredibly strict rules for all transfers. It’s understandable that it wants its student-athletes to make informed decisions and pick the right school from the start. That is just not a reality, however, for many athletes, especially when you are forced to make a decision at such a young age.

Regular students transfer from universities all the time. This isn’t an uncommon occurrence. The NCAA shouldn’t be viewing transfers as strategic ploys. They are failing to have any consideration for personal reasons that account for transfer decisions. I’d even argue that a student-athlete’s college experience is composed of many more factors than a regular student’s.

If I wanted to transfer to another university in search of a better experience, I could. Would I have to sit out a year before being able to take classes at my new school? No. Why should this be the case for athletes wanting to compete right away?

OK, the NCAA is trying to make things more stable. It doesn’t want athletes freely jumping around from school to school. But at some point, let’s look at the broader picture. There’s more to this than athletic glory — NCAA athletes are real people with academic and personal lives apart from just their respective sports.

Charlie Griffen writes the Tuesday sports column about the evolution and current trends of college athletics. Contact him at [email protected].