It’s become a lazy trope hurled out annually at this point. The supposed epidemic that is young people leaving one college for another. Well, it’s not truly about young people moving about the higher education landscape freely. It’s about student-athletes doing so.
For the NCAA, however, student-athletes having the ability to move freely has come at a cost — mostly at the expense of coaches, who say it’s brutal to deal with scholarship logistics thanks to players transferring.
Last week, the NCAA reworded its own transfer waiver guidelines, hoping to deter players from leaving one program from another.
The rewording approved by the Division I council will require schools and players to provide increased documentation if requesting an immediate eligibility waiver.
Moving forward, a potential transfer will need a statement from the previous school’s athletics director indicating whether the student could return to the team. On top of that, if the transfer was dismissed from the team, his/her academic standing and the reasons the student gave the previous school for the transfer.
Reasonable enough, so far.
If a transfer claims s/he was run off from the program, the previous school’s athletics director must provide proof of everything above, and say the reason(s) the program let the athlete go. In theory, given these are athletes not defined as professionals, this could result with someone not paid to be scrutinized under the spotlight inevitably ending up publicly shamed.
Arguably the most polarizing of the rewording, a student-athlete must have “contemporaneous medical documentation from the treating physician showing how the family member is debilitated; an explanation of the student-athlete’s role in providing care…”
The college sports community is only hours removed from the National Athletic Trainers’ Association releasing a survey of athletic trainers, which highlighted a failure to safeguard athletes from overzealous coaches and administration. In it, 19% of those polled reported coaches playing athletes after medical professionals said otherwise. Another 38% claimed college coaches have direct impact on the hiring and firing process of medical staff, with 58% of those alleging an environment where coaches and administration would put pressure on them to generate a decision “not in the best interest of a student-athlete’s health.”
To believe coaches would put the best interest of a student-athlete over his program, even if only believing some of the NATA report, doesn’t seem like an ideal plan.
Coaches constantly paint their programs as player friendly to help benefit efforts on the recruiting trail. If forced to admit they ran off a player they deemed unworthy, after previously recruiting the athlete to the program, would be counterproductive to their brand.
Furthermore, since coaches need to portray their programs in a certain light to stay attractive to high school athletes, it’s safe to assume some coaches would amplify their current message about “kids these days not toughing through it” and now directly blame a recruit on his way out in order to save face.
As unfortunate, some coaches might believe by not providing any of the documentation the NCAA will now require that they’re doing the player a favor in the name of building character or something — all in good faith, with others merely using the morality shtick as an excuse.
“My biggest problem with the (transfer) portal is that it gives kids an easy way out,” Georgia Bulldogs football coach Kirby Smart said back in May. “I know the devil’s advocate of players’ rights and they should be able to go wherever they want to go. But I’m telling you, no normal parent would say, ‘At the first sign of trouble, I want my son to run.'”
Then there’s the slightly more egregious. While there are outlier examples, hinting at small truths, the reasons people in authority believe student-athletes are entering the transfer portal leaves little wiggle room to hope they can enter this situation without blindfolds on.
“The portal isn’t the problem,” American Football Coaches Association executive director Todd Berry also said in May. “It’s the leniency of the waivers that’s the problem. … Some are transferring for the right reasons. There are others who just broke up with their girlfriend and want to go back and get things right. That doesn’t always work out, then they come back two months later wanting to come back on the team. Where the leniency came from was surprising to everyone this year.”
The NCAA felt obligated to do something. Especially since those with the most power, coaches and administrators, believe players are moving about too freely, under the assumption some athletes are using hardship waivers as a loophole to go to a new college without restriction. An argument can be made there shouldn’t be restrictions in the first place, especially since the governing body of college sports doesn’t acknowledge their athletes as employees, but this rewording of legislature appears to have gone a step too far without considering the unintended consequences.
Absolute power corrupts absolutely. College coaches are already winning the authoritarian battle to an unsettling degree. So, ugh, sure… I suppose giving them even more say over those who have nearly no power at all is a tremendous course correction?
It’ll work out great. Honestly, it will. But only for those who already have it good.
Editor’s note: This column first appeared on Forbes, but has been republished under the original author’s name at CBBToday thanks to the publisher-contributor agreement.
Joseph Nardone has covered college basketball for nearly a decade at various outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @JosephNardone.
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