When Tyson Walker, a 6-foot point guard from Westbury, NY, moved from the northeast to Michigan State this month, he had a goal in mind.
After a breakout season in which he averaged 18.8 points per game and was named a finalist for the Lou Henson Award, given to the best men’s basketball player from a medium-sized conference, Walker was ready to team up with one shot to play the Final Four next year in New Orleans. He made his announcement in a Twitter post in late March portraying him in a Michigan state uniform.
“My whole decision was based on just trying to play at the highest level,” said Walker.
Walker is one of a large group of Division I basketball players for men and women who are benefiting from a new rule that allows them to jump into new schools and be eligible to play immediately. The rule, which only allows one unrestricted transfer per athlete, was tentatively approved by an NCAA panel on Wednesday, said a person close to the negotiation who was not empowered to speak publicly on the matter. Final approval is expected this month.
The rule change, which is expected to be permanent, has turned the college basketball off-season into something of an NBA free agency, with more than 1,400 men – about 30 percent of the players in all 357 Division I men’s programs – already in the NCAA Transfer portal. Three years ago, only 882 male Division I basketball players entered the portal. For women, there are around 1,000 players in the portal – or around 18 percent of all Division I players.
Normally, transfers would have had to suspend the 2021-22 season due to NCAA rules that applies to Football, baseball, basketball for men and women and ice hockey for men. However, the NCAA’s Division I Council approved a proposal that would allow first-time transfers in all sports to be allowed immediately without restrictions. The change had been expected for some time and contributed to the extraordinary number of players on the portal.
The numbers can also be higher than usual as precautions have been taken to account for coronavirus-related disruptions: any fourth-year senior who wants to return to school and start another year is given the option to do so, though if this is not the case I cannot guarantee that a scholarship will be available. In general, a player who graduated from one institution can often play as a graduate transfer to another institution.
Jason Setchen, a Miami attorney who advocates for student athletes, believed the transfer decision was urgently needed.
“The only piece that was missing was the immediate admissions component as you could enter the portal and switch to a school where you wanted a better opportunity, but you had to sit for another year unless you graduated “said Setchen in a telephone interview. “So it was almost halfway where it had to be to give kids a real chance to improve their position immediately.”
Critics of the transfer rule exception say it has already made college basketball the “wild west” where every unhappy player simply transfers instead of trying to resolve their situation with their coaches.
A number of Men’s programs, Like St. John’s, Iowa State and UNLV have half a dozen or more players on the portal, according to the website VerbalCommits. After reaching the second round of the men’s NCAA tournament, Florida has already added four transfers to replace the four lost. In Memphis, which won the national invitation tournament under coach Penny Hardaway, three players announced their transfers on March 31st. Syracuse has 11 players in the portal for women. Texas Tech has 10.
Some players give the term “well traveled” a new meaning. DePaul security guard Charlie Moore entered the portal and his next college will be his fourth, including previous stints in California and Kansas. Since this is not a first-time promotion, he will have to file a waiver at his new college, but this will likely be a formality.
“This broadcast everywhere is going to destroy our great game,” tweeted Dick Vitale, ESPN college basketball analyst. He argued that players cannot switch without a year off unless a coach leaves.
In a letter to the NCAA’s transfer working group, Matt Painter, Purdue men’s coach and board member of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, spoke out against the one-time transfer waiver. The painter said this would usher in a “free hand” era and make life more complicated for both high school and college students.
“Any grading of student-athletes – both current and future – would experience uncertainty,” Painter wrote in his letter. “Annual roster sales would make college choices more difficult for high school prospects, and current athletes considering a transfer would be less confident about making decisions.
“As a coach, it would be more difficult to teach and lead a program effectively. And perhaps most importantly, in the likely event of a mass exodus of teammates in a single off-season, remaining student athletes would be left in an untenable position. “
Think of the situation as a gigantic game of musical chairs with players looking for a new opportunity before the music stops. Even Setchen believes that not every player has enough space in the portal to find a good fit.
The NCAA rules prohibit athletes from communicating with other colleges until they have entered the transfer portal. At that point, their current schools can cancel their scholarships, Setchen said.
“So what happens is these kids go into the portal and think that they are going to have all possible options and then suddenly they don’t have any,” he said. “And then some have to go to random school to play and now they are stuck in a situation that could be worse than the one they left.”
Proponents of the one-time transfer exemption have long said it was unfair to force players to sit out for a year after the transfer while coaches like TJ Otzelberger (who left UNLV for Iowa State), Shaka Smart (who moved from Texas to Marquette) and Chris Beard (who left Texas Tech for conference competitor Texas) can switch jobs and work immediately at his new colleges.
“I also think it brings some fairness to the table because everyone’s situation is different,” said Chris Lykes, a security guard who announced his transfer from Miami to Arkansas last week. “I think the opportunity should be there for players if they think this is the best step in their career.”
MaCio Teague, one of two transfer starters in the Baylor national team and one of eight among the men’s Final Four teams, left North Carolina Asheville after a coach change and had to sit out a season. He didn’t think that was fair.
“My coaching staff was down and I didn’t have harsh feelings for her,” said Teague told Stadium Jeff Goodman in an interview. “They left and I decided to play. And they trained straight away and I felt like I could have played. “
Villanova coach Jay Wright, whose team won the 2018 championship while relying on Eric Paschall, a transfer from Fordham, who is now with the Golden State Warriors, said he didn’t think the one-time transfer exception would be good for the college Would be basketball, but that he believed that it would benefit the players.
“It’s going to be a little messier, but I think college basketball will be fine,” Wright said. “But I definitely think there will be a lot more choices and a lot more voice in their careers for student-athletes.”
Diamond Johnson, ranked # 1 in women’s college basketball by some analysts, chose the state of North Carolina on Friday after leaving Rutgers. Johnson, a 5-foot-5 Guard, averaged 17.6 points and 4.2 rebounds for the Scarlet Knights last season after arriving as the nation’s sixth-placed recruit.
She said she switched with the expectation that she would be able to play right away and that she felt she deserved the opportunity.
“I really don’t see any reason why we should take a full year off,” Johnson said in a telephone interview. “I think it should be up to the players whether they want to play or not.”
The new transfer rule also affects high school players.
Adam Berkowitz oversees the College Program in New Heights, a nonprofit, sports-based youth development organization in New York. He said he had several unsigned high school graduates he was planning to put into colleges this spring. He said 28 of the 35 colleges he contacted focused on building through the transfer portal rather than recruiting high school graduates.
“This is unprecedented,” said Berkowitz.
Tony Bozzella, the Seton Hall women’s coach, said he would be giving out four scholarships for the next season.
“I don’t use them for four freshmen,” he said, “because there will likely be transfers with college experience.”
Alan Blinder contributed to the coverage.