The University of Kentucky just added a new recruit for it’s 2019 recruiting class. Nate Sestina averaged 15.8 points and 8.5 rebounds last season. He will be an immediate difference maker for the Wildcats next season, and unlike most of Kentucky’s superstar newcomers, he won’t have to learn to adjust to college. That’s because Sestina is not a freshman. He’s a graduate student. Because he has already graduated, this means he is not subject to the traditional NCAA transfer rules which require players to sit out a year before they play for their new school.
This loophole has long been an annoyance for the NCAA and college basketball purists, so it comes as no surprise that they are trying to restrict it.
The NCAA will be voting on a measure that would make colleges that take graduate transfers give up a scholarship the next year if the transfer does not earn their degree within a year. The change could be implemented this August.
The NCAA’s attempt to discourage graduate transfers is transparent hypocrisy. The NCAA is quick to claim that college sports are amateur athletics. Yet, they add rules and regulations that are akin to professional sports leagues. You can take your kid out of one church basketball league and move them to another especially if you switch churches, but the NCAA has long tried to discourage its players from switching teams even though they switch schools. Oh, and this rule is only for basketball and football AKA the sports that actually make money.
It’s understandable why the NCAA would do this. If players could switch teams at will they probably would. The NCAA is trying to create a stable and level playing field that ensures some degree of fairness between the haves and have-nots. However, by doing this, the NCAA is almost admittedly acting in the best interest of itself and the product and not the “amateur” athletes. These types of rules make them closer to an organization like the NFL or NBA.
Now let’s contrast the rules players have to abide by to that of the coaches. A lot of people cry foul when a star graduate transfer moves to a bigger program for a bump up in competition and a shot at the pros…but completely forget the fact that coaches can do the same thing at any point with nothing more than a buyout. When a successful coach at a small school bolts for a large program with three years left on his contract, will he have to sit out a year? Is there a penalty for the school if he leaves or doesn’t fulfill his end of the bargain? No. Coaches, in addition to actually being paid, can jump around as they see fit.
To further highlight the unfairness of these restrictions, it should be pointed out that technically an athlete isn’t actually guaranteed four scholarship years at the institution they are committed. Sure, Nate Sestina isn’t going to get cut, but most NCAA scholarships are one-year renewable meaning a school could take away a scholarship before a player has exhausted their eligibility simply because they under-perform. But somehow, it’s seen as disloyal if the player leaves because he over-performs. Some power 5 conferences like the SEC and ACC have passed rules against taking scholarships away purely for performance, but it still happens for other reasons and players still claim to have been pushed out. Also when players decide to transfer, coaches and schools can prevent them from going to certain places, usually within the same conference.
The NCAA can’t have it both ways. If they are an amateur athletic organization, they shouldn’t restrict unpaid talent as if they are franchise tag players. If they are not amateur athletics, then players need to be compensated accordingly or at least allowed to make money on their likeness. This dance the NCAA is doing in the grey area between pro and amateur is wearing thin with fans and players alike.