The Final Four is this weekend, and a lot of people will be watching the court. But off the court, there's a scramble underway that could dramatically change how teams look next season. Last fall, the NCAA launched the Transfer Portal, a website that’s a one-stop shop for athletes who want to play for a new team, and for the coaches who want to recruit them.
WKSU commentator Terry Pluto says this portal removes the barrier of students having to ask for permission to transfer, and it further aligns college sports with the pros.
More like free agency
The NCAA said the reason for launching the portal is to end the controversial practice of schools limiting where transfers can go and who they can contact. Pluto says as a result, college basketball now functions a lot like NBA free agency, where players whose contracts are up can put themselves on the market.
Pluto says transferring isn't a new concept. Sometimes a player will spend a year or two in junior college before moving up, or may be unhappy at the school they're attending. But it's becoming common now for players to transfer up to four times throughout their college career, like former Kent State center Adonis De La Rosa.
De La Rosa first attended Williston College in North Dakota. Then he went to St. John's, and then transferred to Kent State, where he played two seasons from 2016-18. After graduating, he transferred to Illinois.
Playing for a master's degree?
"(De La Rosa) graduated, but since he’s only played three years of college basketball, he can play another year without having to sit," Pluto said. “He has transferred himself to the end of the bench at Illinois from starting at Kent State. This is what you’re seeing more and more.”
The NCAA allows student atheletes who get their undergraduate degree to continue playing basketball if they still have athletics eligibility, as long as they continue with graduate coursework.
“It’s a fallacy," Pluto said. "The NCAA stats say only 32% actually end up getting a master’s degree. The reality is, they’re just looking for somewhere else to play.”
Pluto says 41% of all Division I basketball players have transferred at least once. And he says the driving factor is the hope of making it to the NBA.
"Some of them think if they go to a bigger program, they'll get noticed more. Trying to transfer yourself into the NBA draft is a long shot. There are only 60 players drafted (each year)."
Pluto says the argument for giving student athletes more freedom is out of fairness, because coaches are permitted to leave whenever they want. But Pluto argues against that.
“Usually the coach is up and leaving to get another job or is being fired, but at least the coach has a college degree. You keep transferring around, it’s pretty hard to graduate."
Good for business, bad for education
Pluto says the new transfer rules all come down to the big picture: The NCAA is simply big business.
"The Final Four, every year the money gets bigger. The TV ratings get higher. The stakes for the coaches rise."
He says coaches in the Mid-American Conference, for example, are always looking to gain ground on the bigger programs.
"You’re thinking, ‘If I could get that kid to transfer from school X to my MAC school, he might just be the guy to win that last MAC Tournament game and get me into the NCAA Tournament and then I get a contract extension.' The coaches are the ones fueling this. If they weren’t just grabbing other people’s players all the time, there wouldn’t be a market for it."
And Pluto says education ultimately suffers.
"While you’ve seen enough of these guys struggle academically and not come out with degrees, I can’t imagine this system enhances the educational experience in any way. But for most of these guys, maybe they just don’t care."
Editor's note: This story has been corrected to remove reference to a University of Akron player. Jimond Ivey has not entered the transfer portal.