Overtime: Transfer rule hurts student-athletes

BEN SIECK | Sports Editor

Choosing a college isn’t easy. Often, students regret their choice and decide to transfer.

Student-athletes are no exception. However, if student-athletes want to transfer schools, they face a myriad of restrictions and obstacles.

Nearly all Division I athletes playing football, baseball, men’s ice hockey, and men’s and women’s basketball must sit out one year following a transfer. Only when that year has passed can they play again. In addition, those athletes are often at the mercy of their coaches as to where they can transfer.

Over the past few months, it has come to light that the National Collegiate Athletic Association is considering allowing student-athletes who are in good academic standing the ability to transfer without sitting out. Additionally, this proposal removes a school’s ability to block scholarships to an athlete because of a transfer.

If the NCAA wants the best for student-athletes, it needs to make sure this measure sticks.

Transferring allows students to remove themselves from an undesirable position and put themselves in a better place to succeed. Student-athletes should be afforded the same courtesy without hindrance to their athletic careers.

Butler junior swimmer Meg Boebinger is one of the lucky athletes to not miss playing time due to her transfer.

When she left Illinois State after her freshman year, she was allowed to swim at Butler the following year. However, she said her coach held the power to reject or grant her waiver to transfer.

“I was on great terms with him, so he let me know that he wanted me to compete and he wanted me to continue playing,” Boebinger said.

However, not all coaches are as benevolent as hers.

Wisconsin basketball player Jared Uthoff requested permission from coach Bo Ryan to transfer after his freshman year in 2012.

In response, Ryan mandated that Uthoff could not contact schools in the Big Ten and Atlantic Coast Conferences, as well as Marquette, Iowa State and Florida. In the event Uthoff chose one of those schools, NCAA rules required him to forfeit his athletic scholarship and sit out the following season.

By giving the coaches the power to block schools and rescind financial aid, the NCAA fails at its main objective—supporting the student-athlete.

Uthoff ultimately chose to defy Ryan and enrolled at Iowa, a Big Ten school, telling ESPN he could afford to pay for his education for that year. Like Boebinger, Uthoff was one of the lucky ones. Many student-athletes rely on scholarships to fund their education. When a coach like Ryan places restrictions on player transfers, they often have no choice but to abide.

What’s even more troubling with this rule is its hypocrisy. Coaches are allowed to set the rules for their players, but aren’t expected to follow the same.

If a college coach gets a job offer at a different school, even if he is under contract, he can immediately coach at that new school. A contract buyout is the only safeguard against this, but the coach’s new destination will simply pay it off.

Recruits who pick a school based on the coach, only to have that coach leave for greener pastures, are left holding the bag. Those players either have to stick it out with the new coach, or sit out a year while the person they signed to play for is off coaching without delay.

Transferring colleges is an increasingly common experience. Statistics show that one in three college students who enroll at a university end up transferring.

Katie Reed, a junior soccer player at Butler, said her decision to transfer from Illinois was the best thing for her soccer career. With regards to the notion athletes need to sit out a year in order to adjust academically, Reed said that should not be the case.

“The best way to get to know your new school is through your sport,” she said. “I feel like sitting out a year would make it much harder to adjust, not to mention depressing as well.”

As a college student myself, it’s comforting to know that I can transfer to another university should I see fit. However, if I put myself in the shoes of a student-athlete, I couldn’t help but feel trapped. Should I decide to transfer, my future would be out of my control.

While I’m certainly not a student-athlete, the idea of my professors controlling my collegiate career is an unsettling one.

The NCAA has the following sentence about the organization’s founding on its website:

“The NCAA was founded in 1906 to protect young people from the dangerous and exploitive athletics practices of the time.”

If the NCAA wants to abide by its founding principle, it needs to alter its rules on transferring. A lot has changed in the past century, but the unfair treatment of student-athletes is troubling static.