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Graduate transfer rule continues to cause issues for mid-major programs

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The graduate transfer rule continues to plague mid-major schools who can't keep their top talent, nor gain players to benefit.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

At some point in the next couple of months, we will find out where Canyon Barry will finish his college career. It won't be at Charleston where he has spent the first three years of his career.

Right now the front runners are Cal, Florida, Kansas, Louisville, Miami, Northwestern and Mississippi. That list doesn't include any school outside the Power 5.

Rodney Pryor will be leaving Robert Morris after his first three seasons, The 6-5 shooting guard is considering Georgetown, Florida and Kansas. He does have Gonzaga on his list, a team with inordinately more resources than the team near Pittsburgh that he is leaving.

There are more stories like this, players that leave their mid-major team for bigger schools after they have graduated, in order to garner more exposure, or have a chance at the NCAA Tournament.

The list this season has reached more than 65 players, and will likely grow as the month continues. These players won't need to sit out a year to make an impact at their new schools; they will be eligible right away.

Which is how Damion Lee ended up as the best player on Louisville this past season. After graduating from Drexel in four years (after a couple of injuries left him with another year of eligibility), he transferred to play for the Cardinals. His goal which is clearly articulated on the Louisville website was to "win a national championship and become part of a family."

The national championship was certainly not coming at Drexel, but it leaves little doubt what the main focus of his transfer was.

It wasn't the special education degree that he is pursuing. It was the NCAA Tournament.

Ironically that was stolen from him at Louisville, much as it was stolen from fellow graduate transfer Trey Lewis, who left Cleveland State. The self-imposed ban for the Cardinals kept both these players from reaching the postseason in their final year.

But Lee and Lewis did have the opportunity to showcase their skills on a bigger stage, and kudos to them for that. Because that is the main benefit that these transfers receive in their final year.

This isn't about education; this is about athletics, pure and simple. And pure and simple, this will never be something that benefits mid-major teams, who will just serve as a proving ground for the players who eventually jump to the Power 5.

For every player like Connor Devine, who is leaving South Dakota State to play closer to home in Alaska, you will have two or three players looking to make that leap.

The one stipulation put on these players is that they transfer to a school that has a graduate program that doesn't exist at the school they are leaving.

Drexel offers more than 120 graduate programs, including one in Special Education, but it doesn't have the exact thing that Damion Lee transferred in order to study. But Drexel is one of the few universities that could offer a degree like that outside of the Power 5, made up mostly of large state schools and institutions with massive resources to fund any degree imaginable.

Try being a school like Longwood, which has five graduate programs, and only one -- Reading, Literacy and Learning -- where they might have an advantage over any other program.

They are never going to land a graduate transfer because every other university in the country would offer a graduate degree in the same programs that they have.

Even Drexel lost out on keeping Lee who got to leave for a program that was slightly more specialized than what the University could offer.

At the end of the day, these transfers are all about basketball, or football, and a lot of coaches are not happy about the state of things. Even Kentucky head coach John Calipari spoke out against practice (although he may have been sticking up for his friend Bruiser Flint, who lost Lee to Louisville, one of Kentucky's biggest rivals):

[T]he NCAA has a rule that a kid can leave a program like Drexel after being coached and molded for three years and go to another school without having to sit out. If (Damion) Lee is there, they're in the NCAA Tournament. We're not even talking in these terms, but that happened.

Now, it is unclear that Drexel would have been in the NCAA Tournament with Lee; the CAA was that tough this season. But it is clear that there are feeling that this rule needs to change, because it hurts schools like Drexel that manage to recruit and find those diamonds in the rough.

Take Cleveland State, probably the poster child for finding great players who end up truly excelling away from the Vikings. Gary Waters finished 9-23 this season.

From last season, he lost both Lewis to the Cardinals, and Anton Grady to Wichita State. He will lose another graduate transfer this season: 6-9 center Aaron Scales. Lewis was probably the second best player on the Cardinals after Lee.

Grady was an integral part of the front court for Wichita State this season, which he knew when transferring. Just the fact that he researched which team needed his basketball skills the most, rather than the educational path he would land on says a lot:

Grady, from Cleveland, discussed his next stop with cousin Earl Boykins, a former NBA player, after he decided to leave Cleveland State. They researched rosters to find out which school needed a big man. He knew about WSU's success under coach Gregg Marshall. He knew Marshall needed a big man after the departure of Darius Carter.

So imagine Cleveland State with both of these players on the roster this season. They have more tools to help fight against the domination of Valparaiso in the league. They probably have a good shot at winning the the Horizon League tournament, or maybe even competing for the league title. Instead they went 4-14 in the conference.

Damion Lee will likely be among the players who are drafted in June this year. It still won't be a first round pick -- that was a long shot, even for a player with the talent of Lee -- but it wouldn't have happened if he hadn't left Drexel. The Dragons were just not equipped to give Lee the training, or the stage, that would allow this leap.

In some ways you can't fault him for making the choice that in the long run benefits him and his family for life.

But at the same time, you have to feel for schools like Drexel, or Cleveland State, or Longwood that will continue to be hurt by these transfers. The rule as it is written is totally lopsided. That these players can come in with no penalty essentially makes them free agents, ready to perform for whomever offers the best chance at a national title. And the rule is further tilted in favor of the biggest schools: those with the basketball teams that could win it all, and those with the ability to offer the most graduate programs, and the programs that are the most unique.

Soon Canyon Barry will make his decision. There will be no teams on the list that will result in one of the mid-major programs getting better. No matter the decision, one of them will lose their best player.

When the granny free throw ends up in Miami, the alma mater of his father, we will all just ignore the tilt of the NCAA rules that allowed him to leave Charleston, and pretty much tank the Cougars as a result.

Barry will reach the NCAA Tournament, and the rest of the team -- players like CAA Rookie of the Year Jarrell Brantley, and all-rookie and all-defensive team member Marquise Pointer -- will be watching him on television rather than playing in the postseason themselves.

So who exactly is this rule benefiting in the end?