May 18, 2016
ROSEMONT, Ill. — Every year, the conversation is the same.
College basketball has seen transfer numbers spike on a yearly basis. After last season, more than 700 players opted to transfer. And while it’s only May, the sport is on pace to at least reach that number again.
The Big Ten’s men’s basketball coaches accompanied league athletic directors this week to the conference’s annual spring meetings outside Chicago. And, to no one’s surprise, a heavy brainstorming about how to stop the heavy flow of transfers every year was on the docket.
“We’ve got to make sure that this is in (the players’) best interest. If their best interest is to (always) be free to transfer, then that’s what it is. But I’m not sure that’s how the real world works, and that’s what we’ve talked about,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “I don’t think it’s teaching our kids what you have to do later on in life. I think you’d like to leave your job sometimes, but if there’s not another job there, you’re not leaving. There are other options for these kids right now because everybody’s leaving. But that doesn’t mean it’s what’s best for them and when they do that and they’re done at 22 and they’re out at Disney Land, where do you go?
“Where do you go in the real world?”
One of the more vocal voices in the room this week was Michigan basketball coach John Beilein.
Beilein saw four players leave his roster to transfer this season. Three of them (Ricky Doyle, Aubrey Dawkins and Kam Chatman) were underclassmen, while Spike Albrecht left as a graduate transfer.
Michigan has also found itself in the unique situation of having two players (Albrecht and Max Bielfeldt) leave the school for another Big Ten program in back-to-back years.
Beilein says no one in the room has all the answers. But they believe they have to continue to discuss possible solutions to slow down the sometimes knee-jerk decision to leave a place the minute something doesn’t go according to plan.
“We all feel very strongly about it. There’s issues with the transfers and we’re all trying to find a solution. The solutions are varied, but let’s keep putting ideas out there to make it better,” Beilein said. “It’s everywhere in men’s basketball. When you couple that with NBA attrition, it’s hard. It’s hard for coaches to build programs because they’re patching tires.
“How can we get a better solution? … I’m not going to (publicly share all my ideas) because I’m also gaining more and more information.”
The discussion, at this point, is two-fold.
Coaches have always been concerned about the rising number of undergraduate transfers, but the recent spike in grad transfers has began to border on a free agent market each offseason.
Nearly every coach in the building Tuesday explained how no one wants to take away the rights of a player, especially one who has already graduated. But Nebraska coach Tim Miles explained that, in his opinion, most every coach — if he had his wish — would like to see grad transfers have to sit out a year like everyone else. Right now, if they qualify, they’re eligible immediately.
On top of that, coaches explained how very few graduate transfers actually follow through and finish their graduate degrees after they arrive at their new destination. The rule was initially put into place for academic reasons.
Now, it’s become something else.
“The way it’s going right now,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “It’s not heading toward a better destination. No one wants to take away the rights of the player, that’s not what we’re trying to do. We’re heading down a slippery slope, toward an ultimate free agency. Which I don’t think anybody wants.
“I think that would create a firestorm.”
There are many difficult layers to the issue. One of which comes from the fact that each coach admits he has no choice but to entertain transfer and graduate transfer additions on a yearly basis for fear of falling behind.
Beilein has been vocal in the past about not being a fan of transfers being allowed to maintain immediate eligiblity within their own conference. But asked Tuesday if he’d consider adding a graduate transfer from another league school, he said he would — provided he had the chance to have positive conversations with the other coach in question.
No one has the ultimate answer.
But the discussion continues.
How do you convince someone that the grass isn’t always greener?
“I’d want to do for my players the same as I do for my own kids. I hear guys talking on TV saying ‘they should be able to do this or that’ and then I ask them if they’d let their kids do this or that, and it’s ‘no,’ ” Izzo added. “That’s where I think sometimes we get in a crossfire. At 17 or 18 you don’t know everything. I didn’t know everything at 40. I sure don’t know everything at 60. But you have better resources, better people around you, you have a better idea and a better experience. I don’t know what’s better yet.
“But the grass isn’t always greener. … It’s not always greener somewhere else. You just don’t know it. Kids transferring all the time is probably not healthy. You can change wives, but you can’t do it a bunch of times. You can’t change kids. You’ve got your kids and you can’t just change them. You can’t just change parents. But for some reason, this thing has taken epidemic form in the last three to four years.”