Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Cranky Coaches Coming Out Against Grad Transfer Exemption (or: Shame On You, Matt Painter)

The 2011-12 NCAA waiver allowing graduated student-athletes to play immediately at their new schools, provided the new school offered a grad program not offered at the player's previous stop, doesn't seem particularly insidious on the surface.

To the contrary, it's a carrot. It's a pot of immediate-gratification gold at the end of a player's four-year rainbow, letting him decide where he can spend his final year of eligibility if one of the first four was compromised. The player is also bound to continue his education even beyond the Bachelor's degree that a sizable number of athletes don't bother to finish.

But coaches are getting pissed off about the continued use of this exemption. Who and why, exactly? Read on.

USA Today's Nicole Auerbach published a piece yesterday evening discussing the grad transfer exemption, and a number of famous coaches gave quotes painting them as less than thrilled with the rule.

Florida State's Leonard Hamilton: "You work with a kid for three, four years, work with him for four years because he's injured, then he graduates in four years. [...] Just when he's at his very best, he decides the grass is greener on the other side."

Jim Larranaga of Miami: "With the success (transfers) are enjoying, other kids are going to look at it and do the same thing."

Most disappointing to me was the sentiment of Purdue coach Matt Painter: "That is free agency."

Sorry, Coach Painter, loved you as a player, love you just as much as a coach, but this form of free agency is about the only piece of freedom a student-athlete is given from the moment he signs that letter-of-intent. In a climate where a guy who donated $185 to Indiana's booster club for a couple of bumper stickers back in the late '80s and early '90s is considered such an insidious threat that a pair of players who weren't even born when he last donated have to forfeit nine games because they associated with him, player freedom is far from the front of the issues list.

If a player has completed the stated mission of his college career (accomplishing his degree) and has an interest in continuing that education even further, why does he need to be held to a place that doesn't meet the needs of that continuing education?

I'm not a particular fan of anything that makes it easier for Kentucky to snare veteran talent in addition to the never-ending assembly line of robo-freshmen. Still, Julius Mays should have a right to take his undergrad degree and leave Wright State for somewhere that can advance his career, both academically and athletically, no matter how salty it makes his former coach.

Coaches can complain about free agency and make snide jabs at players' loyalty, but where's the loyalty when there's a paycheck being waved in front of the coach? Painter was thisclose to bailing on his alma mater to coach at Missouri. Larranaga rode George Mason's Final Four notoriety and another first-round tournament win in 2011 all the way to South Beach.

According to Auerbach's piece, the NCAA's task force on transfer rules is still in early days and may not present findings until 2013. Tightening of the waivers for the always-nebulous "ill family member" is a welcome change, since those cases always made me echo Ed Rooney's reaction to Sloane Peterson's "dead grandmother." (Insert rant about not being able to find this classic scene on YouTube here.)

Still, why should would-be grad students be deprived of that extra incentive to advance their education and possibly win some games and/or championships while they're at it? And why will the NCAA bend to the will of people who never have to think twice about bailing on the same players that they insist be tied down as tightly as possible? Because we know it eventually will.

Shame on you, Matt Painter. And Leonard Hamilton. And Jim Larranaga. And any coach that has left players behind in search of his own best interests. Shame on you for insulting and demonizing young men who seek to indulge in the sort of self-interest you take for granted.

Let he who has not bailed while looking out for number one cast the first stone, and all that.

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