It’s completely changed now and every program is affected by transfers, whether it’s you’ve got transfers coming in, transfers going out. It’s a major avenue to recruit now, where it really wasn’t the case years ago. —ESPN college basketball insider Jeff Goodman
Editor's note: First in a series examining Division I college basketball transfers.
There’s a story behind every transfer in NCAA Division I men’s basketball. Given that there were over 700 this past year, it can easily be said there’s no shortage of tall tales.
Locally, such transfers have impacted every collegiate program in the Beehive State. BYU, Dixie State, Salt Lake Community College, Snow College, Southern Utah, USU Eastern, Utah, Utah State, Utah Valley, Weber State and Westminster have all had players transfer to, or from, Division I programs.
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak has an analogy of sorts for it.
“I’m not comparing college basketball to marriage, but maybe it’s a culture issue,” he said. “When you talk about 50 percent of marriages ending in divorce, I don’t think that anybody that’s sitting down at the altar getting ready to get married is anticipating that there’s a lot of stories as to why it didn’t work.
“But it’s pretty common in our society to say, I’m just not happy. I’m going to try something else,” Krystkowiak added. “That’s changed from the good old days when it was until death do us part kind of stuff.”
As such, Krystkowiak said he understands the magnitude of the situation. He wants every player to enjoy their four years of college ball as much as he did at Montana.
“There’s nothing like it,” he said.
When things don’t work out that way, though, Krystkowiak acknowledged that it’s disappointing.
“Whether we end it, they end it, whatever happens — it’s not fun,” he said. “Because I’d rather not be part of those statistics. But it’s the reality of what’s going on.”
BYU coach Dave Rose noted that the growing number of transfers has altered the landscape. Roster turnover is prevalent.
“It makes you a little more anxious, that’s for sure. What has always been a real staple for us are what we consider to be ‘program guys,’ guys that have kind of worked their way through and then you get to your junior or senior year and they’re really ready to help you,” Rose said. “You really rely on them to help you. It seems like if success or opportunity isn’t given early now, it’s hard to keep those program guys here."
ESPN college basketball insider Jeff Goodman, who has tracked Division I transfers for nearly a decade, estimates that 700 players switched programs during the past year. That includes approximately 70 mid-year transfers prior to January.
Goodman reaches out to every Division I team for information, something he didn’t do when he first started tracking transfers.
“It’s growing but not significantly and really the major reason why it’s grown is because of the grad transfer rule,” said Goodman, who expects around 150 players to find a new place to play after earning bachelor’s degrees with eligibility remaining.
“That’s a significant portion of the transfers these days,” Goodman said.
Otherwise, he explained, the number of non-graduate students making moves in college basketball has probably gone from 350 to 550 in a span of five years.
“Certainly it’s an increase but I would hardly call it an epidemic,” Goodman noted, adding that 35 percent of regular students transfer over the course of their college careers.
The NCAA tracked Goodman’s numbers in 2016-17 and concluded that 46 percent of the transfers wound up at another Division I program. The others typically transferred to Division II, NAIA or two-year schools. Graduate transfers were more likely to “up-transfer.”
The latter is causing a rift. Goodman reported as such last September for ESPN.com. He explored the impact of the rule established in 2011 that allows graduates to transfer schools and be immediately eligible wherever they land. Coaches like Mike Krzyzewski of Duke said the fifth-year transfer rule was crushing mid-majors and hates what it does for the profession.
Goodman explained that the biggest problem is that high majors are plucking away really good mid-major players. Graduate students are immediately eligible elsewhere, a reward for their academic achievements.
“That’s the worst part of all this right now,” said Goodman, who explained that coaches are legitimately recruiting such players — keeping an eye on those graduating with eligibility remaining. Recruitment, to a degree, takes place through AAU and high school coaches linked to the student-athletes.
“That, I have a problem with,” Goodman said.
Coaches clamor for Goodman’s annual list of transfers. Once it’s out, it serves as another recruiting tool. Coaches, he continued, are no longer able to relax after the Final Four and before the April recruiting period.
“It’s completely changed now and every program is affected by transfers, whether it’s you’ve got transfers coming in, transfers going out,” Goodman said. “It’s a major avenue to recruit now, where it really wasn’t the case years ago.”
Goodman said the growing number of transfers in Division I basketball would certainly slow down and be more manageable if the NCAA eliminated the graduate transfer rule. He added that it opened up a Pandora’s box and questions how many of these student-athletes actually earn graduate degrees.
As for the issues that Krystkowiak and Rose noted, Goodman agrees. He said “program players,” those who stay at a school for four to five years, give some teams their best shot to compete for a title. It’s hard to do, though, because if some guys don’t get to play early in their careers, they’re gone — looking for better opportunities.
Goodman acknowledged that’s just how things are these days.
“It’s not just them. It’s also the people around them. I think it’s our culture, our society right now that’s all about, you know, the here and now and the inability to be patient,” he said. “It starts in high school, you’ve got kids transferring to multiple high schools. Listen, they watch guys like Kevin Durant switch teams in the NBA. It’s societal. I think it’s certainly an issue worth talking about.”
Even so, Goodman questions those labeling the issue as an epidemic.
“Could it get to where it’s an epidemic, sure,” Goodman said. “They do it for different reasons. Some transfer down, some transfer up.”
Contributing: Jeff Call
Friday: A look at how transfers have impacted Utah State.