While everyone’s attention was focused on more serious things last week, including hurricanes, wildfires and a huge data leak from a credit reporting company, two important developments occurred in the world of football.
The Canadian Football League banned full-contact practices, and the NCAA confirmed that it is considering a proposal that would allow athletes to transfer without having to sit out a year.
Both could do more harm than good.
For the first, one has to wonder how well players will tackle in games if they aren’t doing so during practice. The move is being promoted as helping player safety, but in the long run it might cause an increase in serious injuries.
It’ll be something to watch.
As for the transfer idea, look for most major college conferences, programs and coaches to be outspoken against it. Alabama football coach Nick Saban voiced concern before even seeing the proposal.
“I don’t know all the legalities of it, but I don’t think that things should be a one-way street,” he said. “I don’t think they should be a one-way street for the institution or the program, that a player doesn’t have the opportunity to explore other options if that’s in his best interest. But I also think that the institution shouldn’t be obligated to a guy when the guy isn’t obligated to them to some degree.”
He has a point. When a student signs a scholarship, it’s not like he’s agreeing to a cell-phone plan. Alabama’s tuition is more than $25,000 a year for in-state students, almost $42,000 for out-of-state. Factor in all the support mechanisms and it’s a hefty investment for any athlete.
The alarming number of transfers in college sports like basketball is already a concern.
2015-16 percent of 4-year transfers by sport
|Women’s beach volleyball||14.1|
According to the NCAA, more than 700 Division I basketball players transferred during the past academic year, averaging out to two per program. One of its recent reports found “about 40 percent of all MBB players who enter Division I directly out of high school depart their initial school by the end of their sophomore year,” and “close to 90 percent of all MBB transfers say they leave for athletic reasons.”
Football was at only 4.1 percent at the Bowl Subdivision level, but one only needs to look at graduate transfers to see how this could play out.
In 2006, the NCAA made it so that any athlete who had earned a degree with eligibility remaining could transfer without sitting out a year. It was under the guise of providing extra educational opportunities if the destination institution offered graduate programs that the original school did not.
The number of graduate transfers went through the roof, but only one-third earned a graduate degree after transferring.
“That obviously is not why guys transfer, graduate transfers,” Saban noted. “We have graduate transfers here where they have the same degree program as where they went. So it wasn’t for academic reasons.”
Saban: “How can you plan a roster, your recruiting or your team if every player is a free agent after the season?"
— Terrin Waack (@terrinvictoria) September 6, 2017
When it comes to a high-profile football program like Alabama, there are few reasons why a player might transfer. Some get kicked off the team, others become academically ineligible and occasionally there’s a health issue. Saban usually doesn’t reveal the reason if he feels it might embarrass him.
The overwhelming reason why anyone departs is due to playing time, and more often than not those players disappear on the college football landscape. A notable exception was running back Alvin Kamara, who transferred to a junior college before Tennessee and is now with the NFL’s New Orleans Saints.
Consider the former Alabama players on FBS rosters this season:
- Offensive lineman Charles Baldwin (Kansas)
- Quarterback Blake Barnett (Arizona State)
- Linebacker Christian Bell (Wisconsin)
- Quarterback Cooper Bateman (Utah)
- Linebacker Shawn Burgess-Becker (UCF)
- Wide receiver Daylon Charlot (Kansas)
- Safety Jonathan Cook (Memphis)
- Quarterback David Cornwell (Nevada)
- Quarterback Luke Del Rio (Florida)
- Running back Derrick Gore ULM)
- Defensive end Dee Liner (Arkansas State)
- Cornerback Kendall Sheffield (Ohio State)
- Linebacker Adonis Thomas (Florida State)
You probably haven’t heard too much about them. Most aren’t considered starters on their new teams.
Among those sitting out this year include linebacker Shawn Jennings (South Alabama), cornerback Aaron Robinson (UCF), wide receiver T.J. Simmons (West Virginia) and defensive lineman O.J. Smith (Minnesota), while running back B.J Emmons is playing at a junior college.
This isn’t to suggest that transfers are a bad thing. Players want to play, and there are always circumstances like Avery Johnson Jr. leaving Texas A&M for Alabama to play basketball for his father. You can’t blame the quarterbacks who lost out to Jalen Hurts last year for wanting to try again somewhere else, or someone like Gore, the former walk-on who had been a role player for two years.
There is also an argument to be made that if coaches can leave for better opportunities, players should be able to as well.
Now consider the flip side of the proposal.
Say a player had a breakthrough season at a small school after three years of developing (one being a redshirt) only to have Saban call and offer a spot on the Crimson Tide. It would be tough to say no.
The competitive balance could be tipped even more in favor of the behemoths.
“I have never talked to a player on another team, all the time I’ve been a coach,” Saban said. “I don’t think that any program should. I think it should be a rule of civility that we all have professionally that we don’t tamper with other people’s players. They have rules for that in the NFL. I think we should have rules for that in college football.”
Nothing is imminent, and it’s good that the NCAA is looking into ways to improve its transfer policy. But here’s hoping it doesn’t create something akin to free agency, or even worse — making it open season on recruiting players already in college.