In the coming months, the NCAA is expected to vote on a proposal to introduce a one-time transfer waiver, allowing student-athletes to play immediately after transferring for the first time. Across the country, coaches and pundits fear that this exemption will destabilize the college basketball world, creating an annual free agency market and turning mid-major programs into farm teams for major conferences.
As long as players are unpaid, they should be treated like any other student and given the freedom to transfer to a school that fits them better if necessary, without having to sit out a year. While this may dramatically change the way college basketball operates, it is a necessary change in order to give athletes the freedom they deserve.
It should be noted that players of non-revenue sports, meaning every sport except for football, men’s and women’s basketball, hockey and baseball, are not currently required to sit-out after transferring. If a lacrosse or softball player wants to transfer, they are immediately eligible to play.
The key difference between the two types of sports is that nonrevenue athletes traditionally have very few opportunities to pursue professional careers after graduation. For revenue sports, football, basketball, hockey and baseball players have many opportunities to pursue professional careers, even for those that have no chance of reaching the major North American sports leagues.
The problem the NCAA has is an identity crisis. Its stated values revolve around allowing student-athletes to get an education while playing the sport they love and preparing them for life after athletics. However, many athletes are in school with the primary goal of pursuing a professional career.
As long as they remain unpaid, college athletes should be given every opportunity to maximize their own potential to monetize their athletics careers. Regular students routinely transfer for career-oriented reasons, so those seeking to become professional athletes should be given the same opportunity.
For mid-major schools, such as Binghamton University and its counterparts in the America East (AE), this may mean a substantial change to the way they operate should the transfer rules change.
The AE has seen a few basketball players in the past few seasons that have been good enough to transfer to power conference teams. Most notably, BU’s standout sophomore guard Sam Sessoms decided to transfer to Penn State at the conclusion of the 2019-20 season, in spite of the sit-out rule.
I have no doubt that allowing a one-time waiver will make it even harder for programs like Binghamton’s to retain a player like Sessoms, but I think it’s completely fair for a player with professional aspirations to make a choice that is in his best interest, rather than the team’s best interest. For Sessoms, it made little sense to remain at a fledgling mid-major program like BU.
However, other players like Vermont’s two-time AE player of the year, senior forward Anthony Lamb, chose to play out his entire career in the mid-majors. Vermont has consistently been the best program in the AE, with a proven coach and a consistent flow of talent. Despite playing on a mid-major team, Lamb has drawn the attention of NBA scouts and has a legitimate chance to be drafted or signed as an undrafted free agent.
In baseball, Binghamton sees players drafted by MLB teams and signed to independent leagues every year. With an experienced and well-respected coach and a strong commitment from the athletics department, BU’s baseball program is likely to continue to thrive if a one-time waiver is allowed.
If a one-time transfer waiver is added, mid-major programs like Binghamton will be under pressure to build competitive atmospheres that allow their players to draw the attention of professional teams, or they will have to focus on recruiting players more interested in the educational aspects of playing college sports.
While this will dramatically alter the collegiate athletics landscape, as long as players remain unpaid, these changes are necessary to allow college athletes that are pursuing professional opportunities to maximize their own potential of monetizing their athletics careers.