The feelings of liberated fandom begin with Respect for the individual player. As a consequence thereof, the appeal of Individual Players transcends the boundaries between Teams [...] As liberated fans, we should favor shifts in personnel, to better expand the variety of basketball experience within our minds.
For those who haven’t heard the news — or the wave of #takes in its wake — the NCAA could vote on making transfers immediately eligible, according to a report from 24/7 Sports’ Andrew Slater. If the proposal passes, players who meet certain academic qualifications will no longer have to sit out a year before playing for their new institution.
Despite the temptation to make a knee-jerk reaction, this proposed transfer rule is something fans of mid-major programs — and college basketball fans in general — should want. In a world where Steve Alford can say “There is no other place I would rather coach than UNM,” sign a 10-year contract with New Mexico, then bail for UCLA in the span of 10 days, the NCAA should allow players the same luxury.
Above all, it’s time to be a person first and a fan second.
What do I mean by this? Fans should view their school’s players not as pieces in a system or a bodies on the bench, but as human beings with futures, families, and goals. As much as the “transfer epidemic” stans want to chalk transferring up to inadequate playing time or refusal to face adversity, assuming this is incredibly simplistic.
Although the NCAA allows players with hardship waivers to play immediately, those waivers are anything but assured. Former Missouri guard Willie Jackson transferred to Toledo due to “medical issues with a family member,” yet Jackson is still expected to sit out for the fall semester due to the current transfer rule.
This shows the NCAA transfer rule is arbitrary and ridiculous. No other industry treats people this way. Imagine forfeiting a year of workplace training and (current and future) earning potential just for changing jobs, or because a manager or boss changed firms. On a personal note, both of my parents have changed careers during my life. Should my parents sit out a year to quell the “free agent culture” amongst kindergarten teachers and stock brokers? Of course not.
College basketball players don't have the same luxury. They only have four, maybe five years to put themselves in the best position to succeed in post-collegiate endeavors. If a player wants to better himself or his family by transferring, then fans should support them — even if it means transferring away from a mid-major school for a big-name program. By doing this, fans can show respect and kindness to the players, which is deeper and more important than respecting players solely for their athletic talents.
Inevitably, being a fan of a college basketball program — whether through upbringing, attending a college, or other reasons — becomes a selfish enterprise. As a fan, it’s tempting to be the protagonist of the universe, or the sole recipient from the successes and shortcomings from a basketball team’s on-the-court performance. Every college basketball fan wants his or her team to be successful, and losing players to transferring is counterintuitive to this goal.
Don’t get me wrong: When players transfer from my school’s team, I’m a little miffed. But when these moments happen, I have to remind myself that a) I don’t know the players’ situations, b) I shouldn't be such a horribly selfish person and c) ultimately a player knows what’s best for him better than I do.
From the fan’s standpoint, the proposed rule could have two stark outcomes. On one hand, a team could game the transfer market, land a few high-major players (a la Nevada) and make an incredible turnaround in the span of a few seasons. Yet for every Nevada, there’s a Long Beach State or a Loyola Marymount — teams that have relied heavily on transfers, yet mail in disappointing seasons. Building the whole plane out of transfers won’t always work, which is something proponents of the “transfer epidemic” seem to overlook.
On the other hand, the anti-transfer crowd’s fears are warranted. Imagine if mid-major heroes like Miye Oni, Mike Daum or Jock Landale bailed on their teams to play for a Power 5 school. The on-the-court product for mid-majors could change if this rule passes. Of course, losing these players or any of the mid-majors’ finest talents would be rough.
So should mid-major fans be afraid of losing their best players to Power 5 schools, who will immediately poach the best players available?
Not really. Schools that have benefitted the most from Division I transfers haven’t been high-majors. Only four of the 26 schools that took in the most transfers since 2012 were high-majors, according to Eli Boettger’s article, “Investigating College Basketball’s Transfer Movement.”
The idea that college basketball players tend to transfer to better teams is almost entirely a myth. When plotting team’s net players lost and gained via transfer along with each team’s SRS rating over the same period, the R-squared linear correlation was just 0.10765. This means just over 10% of the data can be explained by the linear regression. Or, in simple terms, there is almost no correlation between the amount of players lost or gained via transfer and team strength whatsoever.
If anything, the new rule will help mid-major schools by giving them the ability to suit up former Power 5 players right away. Transferring is ultimately a two-way street, so saying one group of schools will abuse the new rule is a false assumption.
And although mid-major schools like Robert Morris, Maine and UNC Asheville have been significantly impacted by transfers in the past, instances outlined in this Sports Illustrated article are extreme cases. Even with this new rule, it’s unlikely that mid-major basketball will become the “minor leagues” for Power-5 schools.
But transferring doesn’t have to signal the end of fandom. Revisiting the FreeDarko excerpt above, it’s possible to still be a fan of a player despite the name on the front of their jerseys. In fact, doing this will make following college basketball significantly more enjoyable.
By passing this rule, the NCAA would make a statement about the players as people rather than as names on a roster.
Care for the players. Honestly, this shouldn’t be that hard.