Doug Robinson: NCAA should change antiquated transfer rules and allow athletes to switch schools like coaches do

Published: Tuesday, April 9 2013 7:10 p.m. MDT

FILE -- Utah State University coach Gary Andersen reacts to the cold gatorade after beating Idaho to win the WAC Championship in Logan Nov 24, 2012. Andersen left the Aggies to become the head coach at Wisconsin after the 2012 season.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Let's come right to the point: It's time to change NCAA transfer rules.

The argument is old and simple: If coaches can come and go, regardless of contracts they signed, then athletes can leave, too. If schools are willing to break contracts with coaches, then they should be willing to do the same with the athletes.

Why force young adults and teenagers to live with a decision they made when they were 18 years old while allowing middle-aged men to change their decisions at the first sniff of a bigger paycheck? Why two sets of rules?

Coaches are a major consideration when athletes choose a certain school. It's no stretch to say that for many athletes the coach is as big of a consideration as the school itself, if not bigger.

Is it fair that Utah State football players have to remain in Logan after Gary Andersen recruited them to the school and then reneged on all those public pronouncements that he was there for the long run?

Under current rules, players must be granted a release by their school to transfer elsewhere, and even then they must sit out a year of competition.

Basketball coach Steve Alford signed a 10-year contract extension with New Mexico and two weeks later left for UCLA in Gary Andersen-type fashion.

Shouldn't he have to sit out at least a year — or 10?

Is it fair that Rutgers basketball players must remain at Rutgers after their coach, Mike Rice, was fired for bullying them?

When football coach Lane Kiffin bolts Tennessee for USC a year after he was hired — after Tennessee paid $5 million to buy out the previous coach's contract — or when basketball coach Mark Turgeon exits for Maryland a year after accepting a contract extension from Texas A&M — how can the NCAA penalize students for transferring?

Coaches are allowed to seek "better opportunities." Why not athletes? If a wide receiver comes to play for a school and that school fires a head coach who favors a passing game and replaces him with a coach who runs a wishbone, shouldn't the young man be allowed to go where he can catch passes?

Even if an athlete is happy with his coach, why can't he transfer elsewhere simply to see more playing time or seek better opportunities?

Coaches can coach the college game for decades; players play for four or five years. Every year is precious.

The NCAA wants it both ways. They justify many of their rules by saying they don't want "student-athletes" to be treated any differently than other students — which is why coaches can't so much as buy a kid a pizza. And yet the NCAA treats athletes differently by not allowing them to change schools without getting a release and without a penalty, as any other student can do.

"In general, anything that is in the best interest of the student-athlete is the right way to go," says Chris Hill, the University of Utah's longtime athletic director. "It makes sense to liberalize the transfer rules because it's in the best interest of the kid. Keep it simple. You want to take the side of the students as many times as you can because that's the right thing to do."

Tellingly, BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe sounds the same refrain when he says in a separate interview, "If a coach leaves, (the athlete) should have an option. It hurts the school, but you're looking out for the well-being of the student first."

Most schools grant the release of the athlete, but in football, basketball and baseball, NCAA rules require him/her to sit out a year of competition even with the release. Isn't what's fair for one sport, fair for all, regardless of whether it's a revenue-producing sport or not? Occasionally, there are even schools who refuse to grant a release, period.

No less than Mark Emmert, the executive director of the NCAA, told ESPN, "my biggest concern … (is) whether it's fair or not to the young men and young women. What's the rationale for constraining someone to move from school to school."

The rationale, of course, is competitive balance, but the movement of players isn't that much more damaging than the movement of coaches and is probably less expensive. Players are going to go where there are opportunities, just as coaches do, and the talent will spread itself out. A quarterback isn't going to go to a school already loaded with quarterbacks. For that matter, there isn't much competitive balance under the current system anyway.

Since most schools are granting releases anyway, why not let them play immediately? As Holmoe notes, there are already exceptions made for that.

"At BYU, we have generally found that it's best to let them go," says Holmoe. "And in some cases, we've even waived the rule so they can compete immediately."

BYU reasons that if a player doesn't want to be there, then he shouldn't be there and they'll try to accommodate his desire to transfer. Most schools adopt that policy when it comes to coaches — if a coach doesn't want to be there, they don't want to hold him there over a contract. Why not apply the same policy to the athletes?

Last year in California, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill called the "Student-Athlete Bill of Rights" which, among other things will require state schools to "approve without delay a student-athlete's request for transfer to another institution of higher education without imposing restrictions or conditions." As of last January, it will apply to schools that average more than $10 million a year in media revenues.

"I'm not a big proponent of that one (the transfer rule)," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski told USA Today columnist Bob Kravitz a couple of weeks ago. "If there was a players' union, these kids would go at any time, anywhere. Just like coaches. And they'd get benefits … We have a kid sitting out who transferred for all the right reasons. They lost their college coach. And he's not eligible to play … They give a lot, and they're taken advantage of. They are."

EMAIL: drob@desnews.com

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