Quit Stahl-ing: Grad transfer rule would have been step in wrong direction

Matt Stahl

On Friday, the NCAA made one of the few good decisions in the organization’s history. The Division I Council struck down a proposed rule change that would have made it much more difficult to graduate transfer in football and basketball — a rule that would have made what is already an unjust system for athletes even worse.

The fact this rule even came up for a vote is terrible optics for the NCAA. Tightening up the transfer rules is the absolute opposite of what the organization should be doing right now. The current rules for college athletes are draconian, and players should be compensated for the millions of dollars they bring both their schools and the NCAA.

Let’s be honest here, the transfer rules already in place are super unfair to the athletes. The rules are one of the main beefs I have with the NCAA’s use of the term “student-athlete” as a descriptor of its players, a term the organization uses to claim the players are normal students and shouldn’t receive extra benefits for their athletic skill.

Normal students can transfer. If I wanted to bail on WKU and take my talents to the student paper at Tennessee or Florida or Hawaii or MTSU, I can do that without having to sit out of sportswriting for a year. I don’t think any of those schools are currently suing their student newspaper to protect faculty accused of sexual misconduct, so maybe that’s a good idea.

However, if an athlete gets to campus and decides the school they’ve signed to is not a good fit — maybe due to a coach showing a different side than they did during recruitment or not seeing the playing time they initially expected — they can’t leave without sitting out and losing a full season of eligibility.

That’s wrong.

I can already see the people with WKU logos as their profile picture arguing in the Facebook comments of this column.

“That would hurt WKU. The moment a player had a good season, they’d just slide off to the SEC, and we couldn’t keep any talent.”

Tough. Honestly, if a player has a huge game on Saturday and wants to transfer to the SEC the next Monday, what justification do you have to force them to stay? Schools are (supposedly) not paying them, so the players don’t owe them a thing.

Sometimes the right thing to do isn’t the easiest thing for your school. If a player is good enough to leave WKU for Clemson or Alabama, more power to them. There’s no reason they should be stuck here in a market that limits both their professional and commercial potential going forward.

The proposed grad transfer rule is the exact opposite of the free market economy so many of its supporters claim to be the best and most fair way. The rule only applied to football and basketball, so clearly it was made less in the spirit of caring about players academically and more with concern for keeping assets in the same place.

On top of that, it’s bad even for the schools.

Think back to Rick Stansbury’s first season on the Hill, or for that matter, any coach’s first season anywhere. It’s an extremely common practice to bring in grad transfer players to fill out the roster.

The 2016-17 Hilltoppers were very short on players, so Stansbury brought in Junior Lomomba, Que Johnson and Pancake Thomas to fill spots. If WKU had to fear losing future scholarships due to the transfer rules, I guess Stansbury would have been forced to have open tryouts at the Preston Center. 

It’s probably best for all parties if it doesn’t come to that.

Sports Editor Matt Stahl can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @mattstahl97.