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Let’s talk about transfers

And the “epidemic” that isn’t

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-East Regional Practice Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Mid-major schools are disproportionately hurt by transfers. This is not up for debate. For schools like New Mexico, Rice, and Duquesne, this time of year is defined by who’s staying and who’s leaving.

Because of that, certain people — especially those who like to tweet the same Bill Parcells quote more than 90 times — think that this “epidemic” of transferring needs to be reined in somehow.

Teams, and by extension coaches, are hurt when their best players leave for greener pastures. This happens every year. You can make a case that if L.G. Gill doesn’t leave Duquesne for Maryland, Jim Ferry still has a coaching job.

Some people see this as a problem — the death knell of mid-major programs — and probably one of the four horseman of the apocalypse, judging by how Mad Online it makes them.

They are all wrong.

It’s important to position your point of view correctly when you’re talking about collegiate athletics. To those who see issues with players transferring, the entities who need protecting are the institutions and the coaches. For people who rely professionally on keeping in the good graces of that group, it makes sense to loudly promote their interests.

But these are not the people who are in need of extra protection.

This past week, Jon Rothstein of FanRag/CBS Sports penned a whole bunch of words about how Robert Morris head coach Andy Toole has had to deal with a handful of big name transfers leaving his program this year.

“How do you rebuild a college basketball program when you’re constantly losing the best commodity you have on annual basis?” pleads Jon.

“It’s real simple — you can’t.” He answers, dejectedly.

There are, of course, a lot of things that a coach could do. You could find a way to have a better relationship with your players so that they wouldn’t want to leave, even for more visibility. You could plan for this inevitability of players leaving and recruit accordingly. You could build a giant moat around your campus and fill it with crocodiles and piranhas and yell “RAIIISE THE BRIDGE” in a nasal British accent if someone decides to transfer and then have a lackey use a hand crank to raise the drawbridge over the moat. You’ve got options, is my point.

Northwestern head coach Chris Collins suggested in a 2016 interview that there are perhaps more nefarious ways that coaches are trying to keep their players from transferring.

So you know what’s happening now at all mid-major programs? They don’t let their kids go to summer school. They don’t let them get ahead. They won’t let ‘em graduate. Is that what upper level education is all about? Aren’t we still academic institutions? That want our kids to graduate?

So let me ask you a question. If you’re coaching at Drexel, and you got the best player in the league, are you going to let him graduate? With the fear that Duke, Carolina or Kentucky? Or are you going to hold him back academically so he doesn’t leave you? Honestly. Answer me honestly.

Collins goes on to suggest that the best way forward is to consider making all transfers sit out a year. Why it makes sense to create legislation to deal with coaches who don’t have their players’ best interests in mind by punishing those players is a head-scratcher. It isn’t without a hint of irony to hear that come from a coach who’s being sued for trying to force a player to transfer and then take away his athletic scholarship.

It is rare in the world of college athletics to have a rule that objectively favors the student-athlete over the university. The graduate transfer rule is one that unequivocally does this, and it should be applauded for that. Duquesne, Rice, and Robert Morris will continue to have basketball teams that will continue to make money for the school, and the coaches of those teams will still be paid for their labor, which can’t be said for the players.

Rothstein points out that Bruiser Flint was a casualty of transfers, as Damion Lee’s exit left Flint adrift at Drexel. Flint landed on his feet and is now an assistant coach to Archie Miller at Indiana. According to the IndyStar in 2014, that role paid out a hair under $300,000 a year. Bruiser Flint is just fine.

What’s important is that players who enter into a flawed system are given opportunities to better themselves. Canyon Barry did a great deal for himself professionally by moving up from College of Charleston to Florida. It was objectively better for Seth Curry to play at Duke rather than at Liberty and now he’s in the NBA. Bryn Forbes made a great business decision to go to Michigan State and now he’s sitting on the bench of the San Antonio Spurs. There’s nothing wrong with making those moves.

Almost every single group of people involved in collegiate athletics treats it like the business that it is. Coaches leave schools before their contracts are up and they aren’t made to sit out a year. Journalists who can consistently get scoops as to where transferring players are leaning towards are in demand. There’s only one group of people who are derided for making a decision to better their earning potential at home or overseas, and it’s the one group that isn’t getting paid: the players.

Maybe we should take a step back and wonder why that is instead of wasting oxygen getting mad about this “epidemic.”