In today’s billion dollar industry that is college sports, there is still somehow this notion that these athletes are amateurs. But with the NCAA keeping up this fallacy that these are students first why can they legally restrict their transfer to another institution? Earlier this year, the former long-time defensive coordinator at the University of Alabama decided to take the Head Coaching job at the University of Georgia. After years of success at Alabama, Kirby Smart thought the time had come to run his own program and could not pass up the opportunity to coach his alma mater. I’m not saying that Smart did not deserve the opportunity or that he should not have taken it, but rather asking the question why can a paid coach jump between schools while an unpaid player is restricted? Just after Smart took the job, a backup running back named A.J. Turman requested a release from his scholarship and wished to transfer somewhere a little closer to his home in Florida. Smart granted his request with the condition that he was not allowed to go to any SEC school, or Miami where former Georgia coach Marc Richt is currently the head coach. So not only is Turman required to sit out a year, but now has his options limited as to where he can attend school. This situation in particular is hypocritical on numerous fronts. Kirby Smart jumped to Georgia from a fellow SEC program, and Nick Saban was not able to say he couldn’t. What might be the most ironic part about it is Smart’s message to the Georgia faithful when he took the job was “It’s good to be home” yet is limiting an athlete’s options to do the same.
While football transfers are higher profile, a similar situation happened at the University of Michigan. UM graduate Spike Albrecht was restricted as to where he could transfer even as a graduate transfer who was told the team did not have a scholarship for him next season. Not only did Albrecht not receive a true salary from a school whose basketball program brings in millions, but the program was not even providing him with a scholarship for the next season. The NCAA states very often how these are students first, yet why can’t they go wherever they want to pursue a graduate degree after their completion of undergraduate coursework? Especially if their current school does not have the graduate program that this student desires to be in. It is understandable as to why a coach would not want their star player competing in their conference, but most of the time it’s an athlete who has not had ample playing time anyway. It’s the backup looking for an opportunity to play, a 23 year old looking to attend grad school, or a player looking to move closer to his family. If a coach can take a player’s scholarship away or choose to take a different job anywhere else, the athlete should be guaranteed the same rights as well.
Restricting transfers of college athletes has become a common practice, but why has it become accepted? There isn’t any other line of work where you have your employers blessing to take another job. Even to entertain the idea that playing collegiate sports is not a job, are there restrictions on normal students as to where they decide to transfer? I’ve never heard of a University placing a restriction on a regular student in regard to transferring, even if it’s the school’s biggest rival. So why are athletes subject to “special rules” even though the NCAA continues to state that they are students first? If they NCAA is going to go forward with the whole “students first” narrative, they need to abolish school restrictions on transfers. I understand why they may not want a free agency like system with players hopping to different schools to get the best opportunity every year, but that’s why they require the player to sit out the year after a transfer. That year alone is enough of a restriction on transfer, so there’s no need to have any more.
When I think about these rules in the context of our society, I become even more astounded that these have continued as legal. I made a point earlier about how in most instances, it is illegal for a company to not allow an employee to leave and go work for another business. Even when I think about the NFL, after a player’s contract expires they can go play wherever they please. What most people don’t know is that an athlete’s scholarship is generally only for one year. So, after that year its renewal is at the discretion of the coach. Whether or not you will be able to play your sport at that school is unknown at a certain point. Also, it is up to the discretion of a coach who might not be there the following year.
It may be beating a dead horse to once again say that college athletes should be given a stipend (or at least given permission to use their brand), but by definition they are employees of the school. Like I had said earlier, the NCAA and the individual schools always talk about how much they care about the athlete’s well being. To a certain extent they may, but frankly I believe they care about the millions of dollars some sports bring in more. For some reason, coaches sometimes see a player leaving as a threat to the advancement of his or her career. If you’re worried about them competing against you, wouldn’t you make more of an effort to keep them in your program in the first place? Overall, giving coaches the ability to restrict an athlete’s transfer to certain schools is not fair to the athlete. Keeping these young men and women locked to a program that the coach could leave at any time, for any reason just is not right and I hope that in the coming years the NCAA will remove a school’s ability to regulate transfers.