Dana O'Neil had a piece yesterday on Mike Krzyzewski's opinion that all transfers should have to serve a year in residence, or none of them should. I think this is a silly, almost offensive case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
I get Krzyzewski's lament, I do. The uncertainty surrounding transfers and their eligibility to play either now or later is maddening. The problem is, however, if we were to go to Coach K's model where all transfers had to sit out, you'd see constant articles like this, appeals to "compassion" if not consistency, and all sorts of claims that the NCAA is a hard-hearted, unfeeling monolith. There are tough-luck scenarios every year where kids get denied a seemingly reasonable appeal.
If you took Coach K's alternate suggestion, you'd have de-facto free agency, and I can tell you right now that the smaller schools would universally oppose this proposal. As soon as one of their players had a big year, the Great Powers would be back-channel recruiting him for a transfer. You can outlaw that all you want, but it's impossible to enforce and the mid-majors, and NCAA, perfectly well know it.
Obviously, the best thing to do would be to revise the Byzantine NCAA bylaws to make such exceptions easier rather than harder, but Coach K would try to eliminate such Solomonic wisdom with an all-or-nothing approach. The NCAA would be wise to reject his advice, as they already have enough trouble dealing with appeals to emotion, as if a participation in the NCAA tournament is the God-given right of every basketball player who really, really, really, really wants it.
I have a better proposal; let's make the transfer rule contingent on a something the NCAA claims to value — academic performance. I know this is an unaccustomed concept in today's NCAA sports continuum, but let us just take the plunge into the stated mission of the college sports ideal, just for the sheer novelty of it, and take step back from NCAA free-agency. After all, the so-called "year in residence," or as Louisville fans know it, the year players have to sit out when they transfer (kidding, Card fans, just kidding), was originally justified on the basis of acclimating the student to his new university home. Yes, yes, we all know it was really intended to make transfers harder to prevent free agency, but let's play along just for fun as though it were otherwise.
If we postulate the that a year in residence would not be academically necessary for a good student, we come up with a quite reasonable rule that, while far from being unassailable by the bleeding hearts, at least has, at it's core, opportunity for every student athlete to escape the rigors of the dreaded year in residence. The rule would simply say that if a student-athlete maintains a 3.0 GPA or better, he can transfer to any Division I university and play immediately after his first full year in school. The five-years-to-play-four rule would remain unchanged.
This also has the benefit of addressing the conflict of interest a university has in bending over backwards to give student athletes easy curricula. If they make it too easy, they might lose a slew of athletes to a restricted form of free agency. If they make it too hard, they might lose them to academic eligibility. I find the tension here to be useful in reigning in the tendency for schools to promote classes like "The History of Surfing" at UCSB, or "Brothel Management" at UNLV. Yes, the potential for abuse is still there — professors could be encouraged to grade students in a range, but that would be fraud, and somewhat easy to detect given the tougher APR guidelines being implemented.
At the same time, it provides athletes a method to ensure themselves a way out if it becomes necessary, say due to a family illness or NCAA probation, or as in Rakeem Buckles' case, an APR infraction that excludes his new school, Florida International University, from the NCAA tournament during his remaining eligibility. With this approach, a transfer becomes available to everyone who is academically diligent.
As a final ancillary matter, I find it ridiculous that the NCAA should ever grant a waiver on the basis of whether or not a team is eligible to play in the NCAA tournament. That is not a right, nor should it be a consideration. Participation in NCAA sports is not about championships, or so the NCAA would tell us. It's a shame Buckles won't get a chance to play in the tournament, but unlike 95% of all student athletes, he had the opportunity to go and experience, if not play in, the NCAA tournament while at Louisville.
Hard luck for him, but nobody worries about the tens of thousands of Division I athletes who leave college every year having never played in an NCAA championship event. Why does Buckles have a right to participate when others, who issue nary a whisper in complaint, don't? Because Rick Pitino says he should?