Thursday, June 01, 2006

Have Diploma, Will Travel | by Pat

A new under-the-radar proposal that was just enacted by the NCAA already has college coaches up in arms. The proposal, called NCAA Proposal 2005-54, went into effect just over a month ago to little fanfare but quickly should become one of the most hotly contested rules in college athletics. As it currently is layed out, I think it is a very bad thing for college football in general and certainly isn't going to benefit the Notre Dame football program.

Simply put, the rule allows any graduating senior who still has a year of elibigility left in their respective sport to transfer to any school of their liking and be eligible to play from Day One. The rationale, according to the NCAA, on why such a rule should be passed is as follows:

A student-athlete who earned his or her undergraduate degree has achieved the primary goal of graduation and should be permitted to choose a graduate school that meets both his or her academic and athletics interests, regardless of his or her previous transfer history.
So more or less, effective immediately, all eight of Notre Dame's 5th year seniors can transfer to whatever college they want -- Duke, Michigan, whichever school has room on their roster -- and play this coming September. Already two-year starter Tyler Krieg has left Duke to play offensive line at Cal while quarterback Richard Kovalcheck has left Arizona to fill Jay Cutler's shoes at Vanderbilt.

Sure, Notre Dame could see some benefits from such a rule. After all, the Irish don't take JUCO transfers, but most likely wouldn't raise too much of a fuss over a player who has already earned a college degree. And with the relative lack of depth on the offensive line and defensive line for the 2007 season, why not grab a few physically mature 5th year types to flesh out the roster? Seems to be a bonus for ND, right?

Well, I suspect the transfers won't always be from a smaller program to a larger one. Certain players, ala Krieg, will jump at a chance to play in a more high profile environment while other 2nd-string types, ala Kovalcheck, will leave holes in a higher profile program's depth chart when they shop their skills for a team that will guarantee starters minutes. (To be fair to Kovalcheck, he does seem to have an honest academic reason for transferring as well.) From a selfish ND perspective, it's worth noting that with one of the highest graduation rates around and a University desire to see players graduate in four years as opposed to the five year track found at many other colleges, ND's 5th year players are nearly always going to qualify for the transfer exemption and thus be suspect to recruiting pitches from other programs going into their final year of eligibility. Of the 29 scholarship players in next year's senior and junior classes, 23 are eligible for a 5th year. That is a lot of additional work for the coaching staff if they have to worry not only about normal attrition, but also the possibility that three, four, or five 5th year seniors who are being counted on for depth purposes decide to head off to some other Big 10, Pac-10, or Big East program.

Personally, I think it's a horrible idea as it basically is introducing a form of free agency to college football. The potential for abuse is incredible and given the ever increasing demands for instant success, college coaches certainly are going to find ways to make this rule benefit them and not the student-athletes in question. Already fighting each other over high school juniors and seniors, now coaches will be working to establish all sorts of backchannel communications with 5th year candidates on other teams and start up all sorts of additional negative recruiting. As for players on their own roster, the first and most obvious step for the coaches will be to find a way to avoid redshirting anyone. Freshman who aren't physically or mentally ready for the game are going to find themselves playing and trading an entire year of eligbility for three or four special teams appearances just so the coaches don't need to worry about them in the future. And for those players with a redshirt year already under their belt, you're going to see coaches make more and more false promises of playing time in order to stave off transfer ideas.

I just fail to see any good that will come out of this ruling. The actual student-athletes that it will benefit are few and far between. It seems that college coaches are already gearing up to have it revoked, and honestly that day can't come soon enough.