College Basketball has Been Inundated With Transfers and Reforms are Needed

By Kyle Rowland on May 29, 2014 at 8:30a

The transfer epidemic engulfing college basketball has gone from brush fire to full-fledged wild fire covering thousands of acres. In the 1970s, 80s and even as recently as the 90s, a few dozen transfers occurred each offseason. That number has since soared into the hundreds.  

Summer becomes an entirely new recruiting period for coaches – not to survey the landscape for high schoolers, but to try and lure college players from one campus to another. This year has been particularly busy for coaches – and moving van companies – as more than 500 players have opted to attend a new school.

In the past decade, transfer rates in college basketball have nearly tripled, begging the question: why? The answers are many. Playing time, an opportunity to win a championship, coaching changes, distance from home – the list of bullet points can be endless.

Several high-profile schools have been big winners in the transfer sweepstakes – Luke Hancock, DeAndre Kane, Rodney Hood, Jordan Sibert and T.J. McConnell, among others.

Hancock left George Mason for Louisville and was named the Most Outstanding Player at the 2013 Final Four, which ended with the Cardinals wining the national championship. Iowa State also benefited from a star player leaving his school. Kane left Marshall for the Cyclones and helped lead Fred Hoiberg’s team to the Sweet 16, the program’s best season since 1999-2000.

Kane used a rule that’s come under criticism by many – graduating in under four years and then enrolling at another university that offers a different major than your original school.

The graduate transfer rule was implemented in 2006 – and has been abused ever since. Ohio State will get its first taste this season when Temple power forward Anthony Lee gives Thad Matta a proven big man. No coach should limit themselves, making the rule one that might be questioned but an avenue coaches must traverse to form a winning roster.

It’s upset coaches of every level, most especially those at mid-majors that lose players they’ve developed to top-25 programs. The early signing period could be a contributor in the low retention rates. There’s less evaluating and getting to know players, a factor in leaving school after a year or two.

The mass exoduses have led the game’s deep blue bloods – Duke, Kansas, Florida, etc. – to welcoming transfers with enthusiasm, not trepidation.  

The other side of transferring is ugly – schools dictating an athlete’s landing spot. That scenario recently gained a bevy of negative national headlines when Kansas State administrators, including athletic director John Currie, did everything they could to keep women’s basketball player Leticia Romero in Manhattan.

Kansas State’s decision-making was baffling. Why not allow a foreign teenager to transfer after the coach who recruited her was fired?

For two months, Romero, a native of Spain, was told no, no and no again. Kansas State officials believed former head coach Deb Patterson, now an assistant at Northern Colorado, was illegally contacting Romero. When Currie approached university brass with information that proved this was not the case, Jeffery Morris, Kansas State’s vice president for communications and marketing, said the appeals committee’s decision was final and binding and there was “no university procedure to re-examine one of those decisions.”


By then, public pressure reached a fever pitch. Jay Bilas and Dick Vitale were two of the most outspoken critics. Finally, on Tuesday, Kansas State released Romero, who averaged 14.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists last season as a freshman for the 11-19 Wildcats, from her scholarship with one stipulation – she couldn’t attend another Big 12 school.

Currie said he spoke with Romero and believed Patterson did not persuade her to transfer. After months of agony, Romero’s best interests were eventually put at the front of the equation. In announcing her release, Kansas State said it modified its policy on transfers. There’s now a clause that takes into consideration “the best interests of the student-athlete and the institution.”

But all it amounted to was damage control. Problem is, the Wildcats already doused their campus with gasoline and lit the fire. Cleaning up and getting away with arson isn’t possible. It took a mountain of bad publicity and the threat of legal action to make Kansas State turn course.  

Unfortunately, the Romero saga is just the latest in a long line of administrator abuses when it comes to transfers.

Coaches are free to leave their post at anytime. The only repercussions might be a buyout clause in their contract. In an age where NCAA reform is a popular topic, changes in transfer rules would be a good starting point. The heart of Northwestern players’ attempts at unionizing isn’t simply that they want to form a union, it’s that they want a voice and seat at the NCAA decision-making table.

Money’s growing influence on intercollegiate athletics is not cloaked in secrecy. While college administrators scream about how bad an idea unions are, they do so with their best interests in mind, not student-athletes’.

Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard made perhaps the most egregious remarks on reform. He protested cost of attendance by threatening the $750,000 tab on fans. When you make just shy of $1 million a year, those complaints aren’t a good look.

Neither is the constant flood of transfers in college basketball. Or straightjacketing a player walking out the door.


Comments Show All Comments

Scarlet_Lutefisk's picture

*crosses fingers then mumbles over & over...*

Antoine Mason. Antoine Mason. Antoine Mason

+2 HS
cplunk's picture

I am completely opposed to schools having any say whatsoever in where and if an athlete can transfer. Theoretically these are students, right? That's the reason given for not paying them. Well if they are students then they should be able to transfer like any other student. If a Biology major transfers, does KSU get to say that s/he can't transfer to Kansas? Of course not. Ridiculous.

Now if the athletes were being paid, that might be another story....then normal student rules don't apply.


+21 HS
UrbanDreamz's picture

I agree with you that they should be able to transfer wherever they want.

It will be interesting to see where this goes though with the whole union piece.  Technically these are students but as we just saw a couple months ago they could also be considered "employees"

The National Labor Relations Board said that Northwestern University scholarship football players are "employees" under the NLRA.  We obviously don't know the outcome of the vote yet to unionize or not but that tag of "employees" still exists.  Will schools try to leverage that in transfer situations like this in the future if unions do happen?  I can't help but think that they will.


"Twelve months ago on Jan. 9, my mom's birthday, I made the decision to come back. I had one goal in mind and that was to win a national championship."  ~Mike Doss

I_Run_The_Dave's picture

If I'm not mistaken, the issue isn't whether or not the student is "allowed" to transfer, but rather whether or not they will release them from their scholarship.  If the school does not release the scholarship, then the new school cannot offer a scholarship.  Students in this situation would be forced to pay their own way, and I believe this happened with a former OSU basketball player but I don't remember who or the specifics.

Still, the original school has entered into a contract with the student offering the scholarship, and like any other contract, breaking it is difficult and has consequences.  So the school does have rights in these cases.  This is no different than a non-compete agreement at your job -- you spend years there learning skills, accumulating experience, and then your company's chief competitor offers you twice the salary.  Not only is this extremely unfair for your current employer, but this is may also be illegal for you to accept in a lot of cases.

+2 HS
THEOSUfan's picture

Good points.

But football and biology are two different animals.  It's simple.  Do you want Dontre Wilson or Noah Spence to line up for  scUM against Ohio State?  Neither does Urban Meyer or Gene Smith.  So, I get the block on transfers in-conference and to teams on the schedule. If a biology student transfers to TSUN and cures cancer, I think we would just all celebrate that cancer was cured.

That said, K State's treatment of Romero is an abomination.  Their AD should be fired immediately, if not sooner.

osu78's picture

My take it should depend on the type of scholarship. If you offer anything less than a guarantied four year full ride then the student ought to be able to transfer once the initial period was up. Offer a 1 year scholarship, the student can say goodbye and leave with full eligibility in year two. Less than a full ride? Transfer withe remaining eligibility and no waiting period to any school offering a full ride. That would make both sides of the contract get a fair deal and make coaches think twice about "trying out" a player.

+2 HS
skid21's picture

Agreed. If athletic scholarships are on a year-to-year basis then what right does a school have to limit transfer options? This really isn't about the student-athlete at all. It is about protecting themselves from star players transferring. The others are just forced out.

gumtape's picture

Before we throw the AD under the bus, it sounds like he (Currie) was one of the few people at KSU to take a rational approach to things and it was the administration that was being stupid.

High and tight boo boo

skid21's picture

Do you want Dontre Wilson or Noah Spence to line up for  scUM against Ohio State?  Neither does Urban Meyer or Gene Smith.

Who cares what Urban or Smith (men making millions off these kids) or fans want? Shouldn't this be about what the student-athlete wants for himself or herself?

+3 HS
RoyWalley's picture

If head coaches, assistant coaches, university presidents, etc. can come and go, the players should be able to also.

+2 HS
ek68's picture

Well written Kyle. I agree that the NCAA must change their transfer policy. I would hope all colleges would truly take the best interest of the student athlete and allow them to transfer and play right away. I understand the athlete must have a good reason to transfer and guidelines must be in place.




chicagobuckeye's picture

I think if a coach leaves, and a player can prove that the departure of the coach will negative impact his or her abilities or psychology then fine. I get the argument that they are students and they are forced to stay at these schools, but this is the exact argument against all these transfers. My opinion is that if you utilize the transfer rule because the school didn't offer the program you wanted, or you graduated and went to grad school, then you should be required to finish that program. If the students try to use the "we want to be student athletes but the school won't let us" argument for unionization, then they should take up their end of the bargain. Also, going off the student athlete argument how many times do you hear any of the Ivy League programs being disqualified landing spots? Very infrequently.


i agree the transfer rules are archaic and that coaches are able to leave whenever and students aren't, but at the same time there need to be limits. As the forum suggested with EGW, just because you aren't winning, or get into trouble transferring to another high quality program shouldn't be that easy. 

RuGettinIt's picture

I don't have a problem with the transfer rule that requires a player to sit for a year if they move schools.  That said players should be allowed to transfer where they want and they should also be allowed to transfer at no penalty (not sitting a year) if the coach of their current school is fired or leaves. 

+4 HS
Seattle Linga's picture

Agreed because when the landscape changes because a back door deal is done without the knowledge of the players, they should have the ability to change their outcome as well. 


I could see some of the reasoning behind the NCAA's transfer limitations (to keep it from becoming a free-for-all) but considering how many athletes transfer for all the sports anyway it's not only an obsolete notion but also borders on unlawful control of a person's life and career. A school's duty is to prepare its students the best it can for life after college. These transfer rules do nothing but impede that, yet the school administrators marginalize and justify going against their own mission statement. For what? For a few more wins or to keep their rivals from winning?

"Sherman ran an option play right through the south" - Greatest Civil War analogy EVER.

seafus26's picture

I heard (have not read or seen anything) that Texas Tech's freshman walk on QB (now a would be sophmore) that began last season as their starter, tried to transfer to Oklahoma in the off season. Tech was trying not to allow it even though the kid was not given a scholarship by them. How would that not be possible? 

Go Bucks and michigan STILL SUCKS!

BeijingBucks's picture

actually even if it is a clause in a signed contract an employee cannot necessarily stipulate where an exiting employee may work.  The only case where they might be able to have a case is if there were some specific skills which they trained this individual with that would be unfair to take to the direct competitor.  If, however, said employee came with those ("I'd like to that my Mom and God for those talents I have been blessed with... blah, blah") then there have been established precedents where contract restrictions have been overturned.

In other words, loyalty to a brand alone isn't enough.  this is gonna get bizarro quick.  it is not out of the question for the NCAA, if the players start getting salaries, to become a mini NBA with players transferring left and right to win championships until someone drops a hammer and blocks all transfers without egregious cause.

None can love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license. ~ John Milton

KE's picture

Whatever one thinks of the NCAA, their advertising tagline, "Just about all of them are going pro in something other than sports" is correct. Almost all of these athletes will not become professional athletes. But every college kid deserves their best shot to do and become what they want. Transfer prohibitions are crazy. Just as a high school kid should be able to go where he wants if it will help him get a better college offer, a college student should be able to go where he or she wants.

skid21's picture

The entire transfer rules just brings the perception of student-athletes as "slaves" perception into a brighter light. Why should the coaches who make millions or athlete directors who make millions control the movements of the athletes? Shouldn't the unpaid money makers be able to do what they want if the people making money can?

+1 HS