NCAA: institute a one-time transfer rule for women’s basketball

Courtesy photo.

Student-athletes are transferring from collegiate basketball programs this spring at an unprecedented rate. The transfer portal has filled up with more than 1,000 young people whose dissatisfaction has emboldened them to try to find a new home.

There are many reasons athletes transfer. A common one is that they aren’t getting the amount of playing time that they’d like, or thought they would get. Until the last 8-10 years or so, a player would have worked with her coaches, honed her craft and earned her turn. Now, as a citizen of an impatient world, she bails – many times after one year or less.

The recruitment of players is a high-stakes game today, which can start as early as elementary school. And the potential pot of gold at the end, in playing for the WNBA, inspires a new generation to make fast changes.

Every so often, a coach is found to be abusive, which makes wanting to leave understandable. But coaching, like teaching, consists overwhelmingly of those who want to grow and mentor young people.

Some athletes find that their school isn’t a good fit for their playing style and/or personality. Others don’t see that the assurances made to them in recruiting match up with the reality, once they are there.

Transferring once is understandable, as we all make mistakes. But since 2020, when the NCAA lifted the requirement that transfers sit out a year, changing schools has become much more casual – even reckless.

This spring we are seeing more than a few athletes enter the transfer portal for the second, or even third time. As a nation overly-concerned with personal liberties and freedom, one narrative holds that players should be allowed to transfer as many times as they’d like. But this narrow view discounts the cost and stress that excessive – and usually unnecessary – transfers put on the system.

Schools invest a lot of money in the recruitment of players in time spent by coaches, traveling budgets and the like. When an athlete leaves a program that spent years recruiting them, that school takes a monetary hit.

Coaches may also shut down a bit when transfers occur. If a player is smiling in your face and pouring water on you in the locker room one week, and leaving the next, who wouldn’t contemplate, at the very least, giving a little less to athletes?

Equally important is the unrealistic message that allowing excessive transfers sends to young people, which is that when a situation isn’t to your liking, you can – and should – change it. That is not always possible.

We have all had teachers and professors we didn’t care for, bosses we couldn’t stand, and co-workers that were irritating. That’s just life. It isn’t always – or maybe even usually – possible to leave such situations just because they’re not to our liking. People need degrees and they need paychecks. There is no guarantee that the ride toward those ends will be full of joy every day.

In this social media world of instant gratification, we need to remember that great achievements require perseverance, and often through obstacles. As we expect others to be patient with us, so must we give our coaches, our family and our friends chances. Many an athlete has contemplated transferring schools after a disappointing first year, only to realize success after they stayed and persevered.

One component of the increased transfer rate that isn’t talked about as much is that it is a reflection of the lack of respect young people now have for the knowledge, experience and wisdom of their elders.

Before the Internet, youth relied on older people for information. Now that it is readily-available via Google, young people are less likely to value what their parents, coaches and teachers have to pass on. They are not old enough to understand that the knowledge imparted by life experience is usually greater than what can be learned from reading information. So, they discount much of the intelligence of others.

South Carolina coach Dawn Staley learned basketball playing on the streets of Philadelphia against males. She helped begin the Olympic women’s basketball dynasty as part of the gold-medal winning team of 1996, after which she became a pioneer in the WNBA. She began her coaching journey while still playing pro, and has now won two DI National Championships. Why would any athlete think she didn’t know how to develop them?

Over almost three decades, Maryland coach Brenda Frese has won a national title, and has lead her teams deep into the NCAA Tournament most years. She has sent numerous players to the WNBA. Texas coach Vic Schaefer has been to the Final Four twice in less than a decade as a head coach, and he won a championship as an assistant. Yet, both have seen several athletes leave them this past month, and they are not alone.

The NCAA needs to institute a one-time transfer rule for basketball, which they have in place for other sports. Athletes can transfer once as an undergraduate, but that is the limit. Allowing excessive transfers not only taxes the system, but it teaches young people to have unrealistic expectations for life and business – a disservice.

In this highly-competitive world, which will only become more so in coming years, young people need to be taught how to persevere, how to solve problems, and how to bend and grow. Allowing athletes to transfer whenever their circumstances aren’t perfect to them creates adults that are not equipped to succeed in the world.