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Saturday, January 19, 2008
Playing for the Coach or Playing for the School? A Modest Proposal

While I recognize that college sports are a corrupt and unfair sewer in many ways, I never have been on the bandwagon for radical changes such as paying players. But I would support the proposal that NPR's Frank Deford makes in this NPR commentary arguing that student-athletes should be able to transfer freely, without having to sit out a year, if the coach who recruited them leaves mid-contract to go to another school or to coach in the pros. (H/T: Civil Procedure Prof Blog, which linked to my post about the Rich Rodriguez lawsuit).

The argument against Deford's proposal--the player came to play for the school, not the coach--is verifiably false for the majority of athletes. The player is not ordinarily attracted by what the University of Florida has to offer as an institution of higher learning as compared to Florida State University or the University of Georgia. Players are lured by "the program." And that is inseparable from the player's personal feeling/rapport with the coach who recruits him. That is the person with whom is going to work closely for four years--more closely than anyone else he will encounter at the university. So you cannot really separate the coach from the school with respect to the player's choice.

And this is not without academic parallels, even for undergraduates. One of my dormmates freshman year was a music major (I think she was a cellist) who came to Northwestern specifically because of one particular faculty member. If that faculty member left, this student would have the option of transferring and might well do so. Although she chose to attend the institution of Northwestern, this prof was part of that institution; without him, this may no longer be the best place for her.

Now, the devil with Deford's proposal is in the details. For example, it is not clear why the coach leaving for another school is distinct (from the player's standpoint) from the coach being fired or the coach retiring. In all cases, the coach for whom he came to play no longer is there--and neither is a major reason he chose to attend this school. But to allow players to leave freely whenever there is a coaching change potentially creates too much instability and uncertainty for schools (schools, after all, invest resources in student-athletes in a way they do not invest them in my cello player). Of course, the option to transfer always is present and a new coach has to "sell" the inherited players. But that is easier to do if the player knows that transferring means sitting out a year.

But this is an interesting starting point.


It is about time that student-athletes can freely transfer in football. In other sports they can! Anyone who says that a S-A signs with a school and not a coach is either living in fantasy-land, wants to hide from the truth, or a fan of that institution and does not want a S-A to leave.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 1/19/2008 3:14 PM  

I've thought there was some middle ground on this matter.

Namely a free transfer as long as it isn't to a school hiring a head coach or assistant that left.

If you signed with West Virginia, you are free to leave, just not to Michigan.

Every year there are first and second round potential players from schools outside the rich six conferences and it would be awful easy for one of those rich schools to hire a coach as a head or assistant coach at a huge salary increase in order to get that player to transfer.

Blogger Mark -- 1/19/2008 8:16 PM  

Looking at your cellist analogy, I think you're overlooking one point. The student athlete can transfer, but only the athlete needs to sit out the year. The student is free to take classes at his/her new school and continue his/her education. Let's not forget they are student athletes...the student part comes first.

Anonymous Marvin S. -- 1/19/2008 10:27 PM  


But the cellist does not have to sit out as a cellist for a year and just be a "student" taking non-music or non-performance classes. And the cellist would not be prohibited from joining an orchestra (or the marching band, for you Woody Allen fans out there).


If the player's reason for wanting to transfer is because of his special relationship with a coach he wants to play for, we should not limit it this way, at least as to the head coach.


The one-year waiting rule applies to all sports, not only football.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 1/20/2008 9:37 AM  

Howard, for the record, while the 1 year rule (to sit out) is a general rule, there are numerous exceptions to the rule. That should be noted though they are not that common.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 1/20/2008 10:03 AM  

As far as the One Time Transfer Exception, it is very common and has very easy to fulfill requirements, as posted here about 22 months ago. It just does not apply to revenue sports or the borderline revenue sports of men's ice hockey and women's basketball.

I think the bigger issue is that while many people are quick to say the "reality" is the player comes to the play for the "coach", that's too simplified. Players come for a lot of reasons.

The biggest problem is that players in football especially, where this problem is most evident due to numbers, develop relationships with assistant coaches. If an assistant leaves, should the player be able to transfer? Should players be able to use this to "enforce" promises about playing time or facilities?

I think the NCAA has drawn the line at the appropriate point. Right now, it is out of touch with reality. Making it more in touch with reality would make the administration worse.

Anonymous Taco John -- 1/20/2008 11:04 AM  

Thank you for the clarification about the Transfer Exception; I was not aware. Interestingly, given that the one-time transfer rule applies to most sports except the four enumerated ones (football, basketball, men's hockey), it probably makes more sense to say that one-time transfer is the rule and those four sports (which do not allow it) are the exception.

I thought about the issue of assistants, especially for football, where the player only really gets to know his position coach and, perhaps, the coordinator. But we know assistants always are looking to move up the ladder to a head coaching job someday, so their leaving is expected and acceptable, more so than the head coach.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 1/20/2008 2:13 PM  

The NCAA's primary function is to keep the field somewhat level.

The one time transfer exception has been given to non-revenue sports in the belief that schools will not throw tons of cash to buy the roster of another school.

The typical student athlete in football has very little contact with the head coach during recruiting or during his time at the institution. That same student athlete will often have a couple schools he is choosing between.

If the player's first choice leaves, allowing a free transfer to follow opens the door to buying players in the form of purchasing the person he developed a relationship with. I have no problem with a free transfer to his second choice but intercollegiate football has too many problems as it is without the linebacker coach at Louisiana Monroe seeking a job with Oklahoma and getting it because of who he can bring with him.

Blogger Mark -- 1/20/2008 7:27 PM  

The bigger injustice is that once a student-athlete signs the letter of intent, it becomes 4 one-year options renewable at the School's Option, but the student has no option.

The school gets to cut you the student, but the student does not get reciprocal rights.

Blogger qtlaw24 -- 1/21/2008 7:45 PM  

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