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8 ways college coaches whine about players being able to transfer

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Amateur athletes are increasingly allowed to play at different schools, and millionaire coaches are worried.

USA TODAY Sports

College athletes enjoy fewer rights than the players in any other major sports, but they’ve gradually gotten a bit more freedom. One they got in 2018 was the right to transfer without their schools giving others “permission to contact” them. The NCAA even set up a TRANSFER PORTAL to facilitate.

It’s a great thing for players who decide, as many college students do, that they’d like to change schools.

But it does not please some coaches, who used to have absolute control over their players’ collegiate futures and now only have significant autonomy. Let’s run through several ways these middle-aged men have expressed their displeasure.

1. Transfer freedom is teaching these dang kids the wrong lessons.

TCU’s Gary Patterson told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram after the rules went into effect:

What we’re teaching our kids to do is quit. I’m not starting. I’m not getting my playing time. Every freshman I’ve ever known wants to transfer because it’s harder than anything else he did in high school.

As I tell people all the time, at your house you’re going to allow your 17-year-old, 18-year-old to run your household? Let them pay your bills, that’s what you do? No. You don’t do that. So why are we putting our jobs in jeopardy because of an 18-year-old?

Well, a university is not a household. If anything, transferring is like moving out, which any 18-year-old is allowed to do.

You can catch hoops coaches saying similar things, like Michigan State’s Tom Izzo:

I’d want to do for my players the same as I do for my own kids. I hear guys talking on TV saying ‘they should be able to do this or that’ and then I ask them if they’d let their kids do this or that, and it’s ‘no.’ That’s where I think sometimes we get in a crossfire.

At 17 or 18 you don’t know everything. I didn’t know everything at 40. I sure don’t know everything at 60. But you have better resources, better people around you, you have a better idea and a better experience.

2. Transfer freedom will end college football.

Here’s Patterson in March 2019, saying that approvals of waivers to let transfers play immediately could literally end the whole sport:

“We better be careful,” Patterson said. “We won’t have college football. It’s disappointing, to be honest with you. It’s disappointing.”

...

“I want the names of all those people [at the NCAA] that are deciding to do that, so everybody knows their names when they ruin the game,” Patterson said. “I don’t care if there’s lawyers involved. I don’t care if any of that’s involved. The bottom line to it is we need to do what’s best for the game.

“You [a student-athlete] have a bad day and a coach is trying to grow you up, and you say, ‘Well, now I’m going to go in the portal.’ When we start doing that ... that they get a chance to control how you get coached, then the process is done.”

The whole sport: it’ll be gone.

3. Transfers are allowing liberal snowflakeism to overtake college sports.

Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy in 2018:

People are non-committal. We allow liberalism to say, “Hey, I can really just do what I want and I don’t have to be really tough and fight through it.” You see that with young people because it’s an option they’re given. We weren’t given that option when we were growing up. In the world today, there’s a lot of entitlemen

I’m a firm believer in the snowflake. I think it’s setting there. And I’m not talking about Thabo [Mwaniki, a safety who’d just transferred from Gundy’s school]. Thabo and I have had multiple good talks. I’m talking about every millennial young person. Generation Z, I think is what they call ’em. It’s the world we live in because if they say, “Well, it’s a little bit hard,” we say, “Okay, well, let’s go try something else.” vs. “Hey, let’s bear down and let’s fight through this.”

Gundy once decommitted from a school he’d pledged to play for, had to be forced out of quitting a sport by his dad, and has filled his roster with transfers from other schools.

4. College sports now have “free agency,” just like a professional sport.

So many coaches have used that term. Here’s a key difference between college transfers and actual free agency:

  • College athletes aren’t allowed to be paid.

Other than that, and that conferences still have rules on the books that prevent players from freely going from one school in the league to another, sure.

5. The NCAA’s practice of punishing an entire team for something done by a former staffer can often end up making coaches extra mad about transfers.

In 2019, Missouri is bowl-banned, which means other schools can go after the Tigers’ seniors. Mizzou coach Barry Odom explained to CBS Sports:

They’re all getting bombarded. It’s frustrating ... that our governing body has allowed that. You can’t cut a player. You can’t remove a player for not being a good player or injury, but yet, they let people go recruit our guys. Ole Miss, Penn State, Missouri. Really? We’re in the same boat.

Odom’s anger is understandable. But if coaches are allowed to change teams without NCAA penalty all the time, for any reason, even if they’re under contract, is it not OK for innocent players to transfer when they’ve been denied any chance to play on the biggest stages?

The NCAA punishes current teams for things old regimes did. Take issue with that in general, instead of expecting players to give up bowl season for things that didn’t involve them at all.

While we’re on the the subject, Odom’s likely next two starting QBs are both transfers.

6. Transfers pose a player safety concern.

In the same ESPN piece, NC State’s Dave Doeren said:

There’s 1,000 kids in the portal right now. Everyone wants to talk about player safety. What happens when a position group has three less guys left in it? I don’t think we can manage our rosters the way we used to be able to.

If there are 1,000 kids in the transfer portal, surely Doeren — the head coach of one of just 65 Power 5 schools — can find one or two players to fill a spot. That’s especially simple during the offseason, when most transfers happen.

Failing that, he could change his personnel packages to emphasize his roster strengths. These seem like things within the capabilities of a man who got paid $3 million in 2018.

7. Transfers will discourage players from graduating.

Todd Berry, the former Army and ULM head coach who now runs the American Football Coaches Association, said in that great ESPN story:

As coaches, we’re fighting for that scholastic model, which says, “Graduate from college.” That’s kind of the intent. This idea of having a free-agent market out there is not going to encourage that. It’s going to dissuade that.

Unless players have to forfeit their credits when they transfer, it’s not clear how moving discourages graduation. It’s easy to see how it could encourage it, though, if a players goes to a school where he’s happier.

The NCAA’s graduate transfer exception even rewards graduation by encouraging extra graduation.

8. Transfer waivers are going to ruin schools’ reputations, because players are going to lie to the NCAA so they can be eligible right away.

The NCAA still has a rule saying non-graduate transfers have to sit out a season. But the NCAA frequently grants waivers, and in some cases, players have reportedly argued wrongdoing by their prior schools to get them. Berry told ESPN:

That’s what a lot of our student-athletes feel is going to happen now -- that they can claim something and get a waiver. Even if they’re claiming something and it’s not true, the impact it’s going to have on those universities just by making an accusation is significant.

To be sure, nobody should be accused of things they didn’t do. But the schools that make up the NCAA have already decided they’re fine with the NCAA deciding on punishments for rule-breakers. Why should that be different when it’s a player making a claim instead of some other whistleblower?

On top of that, the NCAA doesn’t make waiver requests public. It’s possible (and even likely) that players have accused schools of breaking the rules and no one’s ever learned about it.

9. Transfers have made it harder to manage rosters.

Stanford coach David Shaw told ESPN:

It’s really messy right now. The rules are not really hard rules. The positions that these young people get put in are really, really difficult. It’s become difficult for coaches to manage their rosters.

Penn State’s James Franklin described his dilemma in the same story:

That’s probably the biggest challenge for administration, as well as coaches: How do you ever know who’s actually on your roster and who’s not? A lot of coaches have said as soon as you enter the transfer portal, they’re going to take you off scholarship, but that’s another problem with this. They’ve left it kind of gray that each school and each coach can handle it differently.

You’re in a very, very challenging position in terms of managing your roster, how to recruit, all those types of things.

As Franklin alludes, the NCAA passed a rule that allowed schools to take a player off scholarship (at the end of the term) if that player enters the transfer portal.

So, coaches don’t have to have uncertainty. If they decide to keep a player on scholarship while the player considers leaving, they’re just like any other employer whose workers are considering other jobs. Being able to cut off that player’s scholarship whenever is like a boss at a law firm being able to fire whoever without paying severance.

Shaw and Franklin made $9.1 million between them in 2018. I managed my NCAA 14 roster through transfers and draft declarations for free and won seven national titles in a row at Wyoming. They make enough money to figure it out.