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The one-time transfer makes the rich get richer

| Thursday, February 27, 2020

On Feb. 17, the Atlantic Coast Conference released a statement via Twitter in support of a penalty-free, one-time transfer for all student-athletes in all ACC schools. Currently, student-athletes from 20 NCAA sports can transfer once without sitting out a year. This legislation would affect baseball, men’s and women’s basketball, ice hockey and football — sports for which the majority of transfers have to sit out a year after transferring before becoming eligible to play. The ACC’s proposal comes four months after the Big Ten proposed a similar piece of legislation. 

On the surface, the proposed changes to the transfer policy seem as if they are elevating the status of student-athletes to that of their coaches, who do not have to wait a year to start coaching at a different college after “transferring.” It is hard to look through ESPN and Twitter without finding a large percentage of reporters and fans stating that the current system is unfair because coaches and players do not have equal rights when it comes to transfer rules and pay. Players are the ones scoring the points, so why can’t they switch teams just like their coaching counterparts? 

A popular objection to the opinion that coaches and players need to be treated equally is that coaches and players are not equal and that the impact that coaches have on their teams is more indirect, but no less important, than that of their players. Some may argue that coaches are paid not only to coach games but to handle the press, organize their players and organize their staff. Those same people will argue that players, especially scholarship players, are compensated with complete or partial payment of education and the perks that come with competing at the collegiate level. 

While both sides of these arguments make appealing points, both go about the remedy of coach and player equality in the wrong way. Players should not be able to transfer to other teams without sitting out a year just because their coach can change schools without waiting to coach for a year. Such a rule, which is what the ACC and Big Ten are proposing, would disproportionately hurt the Group of Five conference teams whose goal for each season is not to win a College Football Playoff game or to make the Sweet 16, but rather to make it to a bowl game or finish with a winning record. 

These teams — the New Mexico States and Loyola Chicagos of the NCAA — will no longer have a distinct, unifying, team goal. Players will no longer go to these schools to possibly make The Big Dance as a 16 seed but will instead see these teams as mere stepping stones on a path to the top of the NCAA totem pole. Talented players who have a good season with their Group of Five teams will search for spots to fill on ACC and Big Ten teams after a star gets injured, transfers to another school, or leaves to play professionally. 

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the only conferences to endorse the free one-time transfer policy belong to the Power Five and are dominant in every sport they play. It only makes sense that the schools in these conferences would want ready access to talented, power-five caliber players that went under the radar during recruiting so that their teams don’t tank due to freak injuries or underperforming players. The increased power that these rule changes will give Power Five teams will transform NCAA football, basketball and baseball into a pseudo minor league structure in which the Group of Five teams act as the farm system and the Power Five teams act as the professional teams that all players strive to play for. 

This is not to say that there are not times and places in which players and coaches should be treated equally. I am only arguing that giving players and coaches the same ability to transfer schools will create a constant flow of talent out of the Group of Five teams and into Power Five teams. The stories of underdog teams from the Mountain West beating powerhouse teams from the Big Ten will become even more rare when talented players on those underdog teams are constantly looking for their next home in the Power Five. 

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