Listen up, NCAA, time to clean up the player-release mess, OK?

by | Senior College Basketball Blogger
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Bo Ryan blocking more than two dozen schools from a transfer's list smacks of jealousy. (US Presswire)  
Bo Ryan blocking more than two dozen schools from a transfer's list smacks of jealousy. (US Presswire)  

I loathe stating the obvious, but doing so when dealing with the NCAA is akin to reminding a 4-year-old not to run into traffic. It's been a pretty unlikeable offseason for college basketball and football. It's not the athletes who are responsible for it this go-round, though. It's mostly every other person associated with higher learning (the supposed grown-ups) who more than dabble in athletics and are making the NCAA and its worker bees look myopic, unforgiving and, worst of all, encouraging wrong messages and disheartening behavior.

While there are plenty of issues to spotlight here, the most egregious, wrong, Stalinist practice in college sports today is player releases. It's like the 4-year-old playing a personal game of Frogger in the street; somebody needs to shout that the matter of player releases needs cleaning up. This is the NCAA we're dealing with, and if anything, it has proved it will listen once the outcry is audible enough.

We call them "transfers," but before anyone transfers, he or she has to be granted a release by their athletic department. It's not easy. Complicating matters: One coach told me he thinks 75 percent of college basketball coaches don't even understand how the player release/transfer process works. And getting to the release stage has proven an obstacle for plenty of basketball players in the month since the season ended -- and in seasons past. Also in the mix: coaches or athletic directors blocking certain schools from a player's destination list is accepted instead of denounced as tyranny.

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"Transferring is a straight, nasty, nasty business," Indiana coach Tom Crean said, admitting he has blocked and will continue to block if certain circumstances arise, publicly valid or not. Most of the time, when a player seeks a transfer it's all good. He or she is cleared, and the divorce is amicable and minus stipulation. Plenty of times, though, he or she is rebuffed: We'll tell you where we can go. Let us look it all over first, and then we'll decide your future.

Of course, this should never happen. Universities, their presidents, athletic directors and coaches should not control the decisions of college-aged athletes like a parent governing a temperamental high school sophomore seeking a weekend trip to a cabin in the middle of nowhere. These are men and women, making big choices about their future. Yet colleges keep playing beat cop without intervention from the federal monolith up in Indy.

Hey, NCAA and president Mark Emmert, are you really OK with this? You approve of the fact that the young men and women you champion as well-rounded and pro-bound in plenty of things outside of sports are being treated and restricted like this? Your silence indicates a lot of things. Willingness, contentment and approval are words that come to mind.

Who knew that Phil Martelli was the omen to this? He prevented a grad student from playing one year at UAB by merely refusing to sign a piece of paper. The move created massive blowback and one of this past season's biggest college basketball stories. Probably struck fear into coaches and administrators everywhere, right?

Think again.

Bo Ryan came along a couple of weeks back and did some sort of long-term damage to his reputation when he initially blocked more than two dozen schools from Wisconsin transfer Jarod Uthoff's list, which hadn't even been fully formed yet. Florida International AD Pete Garcia refused to let Dominique Ferguson transfer anywhere, and so Ferguson, a fringe NBA talent, made himself eligible for this June's draft.

Tulsa also stained what the NCAA claims to stand for, when it blocked five schools initially -- the number fell to four -- after Jordan Clarkson requested his transfer. On April 26, the school put out a release (only not on its official website) stating Clarkson and Tulsa had come to a mutual agreement on the schools Clarkson wouldn't transfer to. As if Clarkson was getting a favor. It was the funniest thing I read all week. Clarkson was essentially in handcuffs and posing for a handshake picture with first-year Tulsa AD Ross Parmley, who refused to speak about his decision on the record. Consequently, Parmley and his school looks terrible.

Bottom line: Schools should never, ever, foreva-eva, be able to prevent a player from transferring to any other college. Never. Why? Because the blocking is about two things: tampering and embarrassment. "The transfer issue has gotten so much worse because coaches make so much money, everyone's job is on the line every year," Michigan State's Tom Izzo said.

Coaches are paranoid, like long-tailed cats in a room full of rocking chairs. It's actually the prospect of losing to a former player, not the tampering, that most coaches worry about. They fear for their jobs, so losing to a team that has a former player on it can only mean horrendous, shameful things.

There should be no pity for coaches making millions, and who get paid more millions if fired before the end of a contract. So what if they have to deal with coaching against a former player? Win the game. I don't care if it's as awkward as being at a party with an ex and her new fiancé. This is petty, childish and any time any coach or AD blocks a transfer, it reeks of a jealous-laden power trip.

However, tampering is an issue, has been for a long time and has become worse as of late. How can we curb it? By putting the dirty laundry on display. Let's agree to this: Any time a coach or AD wants to block a player from going to a certain school, a formal and public objection has to be submitted by the coach. File it to the NCAA. Again, we're talking to you at the NCAA, this Wild Wild West garbage taking place all over the country is something you should be policing. Hire a task force. Oversee the transfers. The only time a player should ever be blocked is when a formal, public complaint is filed by one school toward another. Review the complaint, act on it one way or the other and move on.

Outing the cheats slows and eventually should stop the cheats. If it doesn't, if coaches who talk a big game now suddenly get gun shy at the prospect of outing colleagues? Then yeah, more transfers will be greeted with gritted teeth. But at least that's a more fair way of doing this. If coaches recruit better and build better programs the players won't want out. Coaches say it's about the kids, but it's really about them. And when it comes to protecting players, the NCAA's lack of action is most responsible for letting the situation get to this point. Change it now or it will get worse, more public and more damaging for the coaches and ADs smearing the sport.

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