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Mid-major coaches weigh in on 'free agency' in college basketball

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Missouri Valley and Ohio Valley coaches weigh in on massive player movement in college basketball.

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

It's been called college basketball "free agency," an "epidemic," and has also been hailed as a way to allow players to find better opportunities. Love it or hate it, massive numbers of college basketball players are changing teams, and it doesn't look like that trend will end any time soon.

With the NCAA allowing graduate students with remaining eligibility to transfer and play immediately elsewhere, standouts in smaller leagues see opportunities to showcase their skills on a bigger stage. It's hard to blame them, considering those opportunities come a year before potentially entering the NBA Draft, but it's clear that their fortune comes at the cost of some mid-major programs.

"For me, in the Missouri Valley, if you have a player and he's really good and he's going to graduate, you have to prepare for them to leave," said Illinois State coach Dan Muller. "It's not a matter of loyalty, or whether they enjoyed the experience. It's a matter of the times."

Muller lost 6-10 rim protector Reggie Lynch to Minnesota prior to last season, and guard Nick Zeisloft to Indiana the year before. There are those that believe the so-called power conferences are using mid-majors as a minor league system and are looking for ways to harvest good players. This spring, graduate transfer Nick Banyard relocated to Central Florida.

Muller says the graduate transfer rule hurts mid-majors in particular.

"It hurts the mid-majors. It makes it hard to red-shirt guys, to take transfers," he said. "You have to wonder if you're not just going to lose guys after you develop them. I do think having to sit out a year for graduates would help with that, and I think it would be fair."

Fellow Missouri Valley coach Barry Hinson (Southern Illinois) says coaches have to keep re-recruiting their own players. Recently, Hinson's best post player, Bola Olaniyan, announced his intention to transfer.

"I think it is in epidemic proportions," Hinson said. "I agree with the term 're-recruiting' since players have everyone chirping in their ears saying 'they're doing you wrong' or 'you can go here or go there.'"

Hinson blames the changes on an instant gratification mentality in society. He says parents have changed too. Hinson says a large group of parents have their own expectations and often ruin their own children's careers with unrealistic expectations. Hinson believes the ability for players to improve sometimes depends on working through adversity, rather than leaving for greener pastures.

"Sometimes a player runs into a little adversity and he doesn't want to fight through it," Hinson said. "That's kind of a problem with our society right now. We want the easy way out."

Southern Illinois-Edwardsville head coach Jon Harris sees the initial recruiting process as part of the problem. The Ohio Valley coach says players and coaches tend to enter into agreements without enough time to really understand what is coming next.

"We're not getting a great opportunity to evaluate and watch the kids, talk to the kids and build the relationships," he said. "So we don't know what we're getting and the kids don't know what they're walking into."

Harris, entering his second season at the helm, also blames overzealous recruiting tactics.

"Sometimes coaches sell dreams and tell the players what they want to hear," he said. "When they get here, it's not exactly what you told them, and then you have some unhappy people. I think it goes both ways."

All three coaches said the NCAA could help with some of these issues. Muller raised the issue of the APR and how programs have their academic performance hurt by transfers. Harris would like to see more time available for the recruiting of high school players. Hinson would like to see stricter transfer limitations, but sees that as a potential legal problem for the NCAA. For now, coaches just have to adjust.