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Transfer rule positive for kids, but a predicament for coaches

by | CBSSports.com College Basketball Insider

Wright State's Julius Mays is one of many transfers leaving for greener pastures (Kentucky). (US Presswire)  
Wright State's Julius Mays is one of many transfers leaving for greener pastures (Kentucky). (US Presswire)  

It's a question fielded with more frequency from college basketball coaches than any other over the past couple months.

"Know of any fifth-year transfers?" both assistant and head coaches would ask with regularity.

It's becoming the new wave of recruiting. Scour the mid-major ranks for anyone that has graduated on time who still boasts remaining eligibility.

A year ago, a limited amount of cases popped up with Valparaiso star Brandon Wood being the most high-profile in the hoop ranks with his decision to transfer to Michigan State. Sam Maniscalso left Bradley for Illinois, Olu Ashaolu went from Louisiana Tech to Oregon and Alex Johnson headed to N.C. State from Cal State Bakersfield. There were others. All received an NCAA waiver to play immediately due to the rule that states that a student-athlete who completes his degree with a year of eligibility left can play elsewhere pending he is pursuing an advanced degree at the new institution.

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The most noticeable case overall came when N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson left for Wisconsin and led the Badgers to the Big Ten title and the Rose Bowl last season.

"It was. Obviously," Wood told CBSSports.com of his reason to transfer, which was based primarily on athletics. "But it also allowed me to be part of a program that has so many connections -- even outside of basketball."

It's a rule that clearly has positive intent for the kids. Graduate and be rewarded.

However, it's also a rule that has mid-major coaches contemplating whether to redshirt players and even graduate them on time.

Wright State's Billy Donlon just lost his best player, Julius Mays, to the defending national champion Kentucky Wildcats. Mays spent his first two seasons at N.C. State, then transferred to Wright State -- where he sat out two years ago and then averaged 14 points last season.

"It's a difficult rule, even as a guy going through it," Donlon said. "I see both sides of it. What's changed, though, is it's becoming more of a business for the student-athletes. There's just not much loyalty to the school, to the coaching staff in today's college game. I don't want that to come across as negative to Julius, but that's what it is."

Xavier's Mark Lyons will also take advantage of the rule this year, going to Arizona and being able to play this season. But his case was different in that Musketeers coach Chris Mack felt it was the right move for Lyons to leave the program.

In the massive transfer list compiled by CBSSports, which stands at approximately 425, there are at least 25 players who are exploring the fifth-rule transfer rule. The number is actually closer to 50 -- which stands at more than 10 percent of the overall transfer rate. Many of them are doing it for the right reasons.

However, Wood's success in East Lansing had a direct bearing on Mays deciding to take advantage of the rule. What if Mays has similar success at the most visible program in the country this coming season?

"If that happens, you're going to see coaches making a list of mid-major guys who redshirted," Wood said. "It could get out of control."

No, it will get out of control.

Creighton coach Greg McDermott understands, like most, the thought process when the rule was put in place.

"I've got no problem with the rule," he said. "But I'm not sure how many graduate programs are one-year programs. I think they should be required to sit out the year and they can play the second year."

Donlon also feels that players should not be allowed to leave and play right away.

Wood majored in sports marketing and business at Valpo and then went into an advertising program at Michigan State. He said he has one semester left and will finish as soon as he gets the opportunity.

McDermott redshirted two players this past season. It's a tactic utilized by many coaches throughout the country for various reasons -- to mature physically and also give kids the opportunity to adapt to the academic environment in college.

"We'll continue to do it," McDermott said of redshirting certain players. "But there's certainly some risk involved now."

Yes, the risk that four years into his college career, some high-major assistant coach calls the AAU or high school coach of the player making clear of the option and interest.

Old Dominion's Blaine Taylor redshirts players with as much regularity as just about any coach in the country -- and much of the Monarchs' success can be attributed to having older, mature players.

"Like many rules, this one has good intent," Taylor said. "But it's for Olympic sport athletes. It's misplaced in college basketball."

Mays and Lyons aren't the only ones leaving for greener, higher pastures this offseason. R.J. Evans averaged 11.5 points at Holy Cross last season and will finish his college career playing for Jim Calhoun at UConn. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi's top player, Terence Jones, has left and will spend his fifth year at UAB.

There are 25 players we know about on the transfer list for certain right now -- with another 25 or so likely also exploring the opportunity. Next year that number could double -- largely depending on the fate of guys such as Mays and Lyons.

And more importantly, it'll put coaches in a precarious position.

"It's an ethical dilemma," Donlon admitted, "Obviously, you want your players to graduate. But do you slow down the academic progress because if they graduate on time, it opens the door for them to leave."

It has an alarming ring to it, but that's the reality.

For now, it's helping kids and giving them an opportunity. But that could easily change in the future.


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