In the FCS Huddle: Graduate transfer rule needs another look

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) – The leading scorer in Division I men’s
basketball is a redshirt junior who is on track to graduate from his school in
early June.

It’s possible that Tyler Harvey could take advantage of the NCAA’s graduate
student transfer-exception rule to complete his final season of eligibility at
another school.

The irony is that Harvey plays at the same school – Eastern Washington
University, the first-place team in the Big Sky Conference – that could be the
tipping point for change regarding the rule.

The graduate transfer rule has been under scrutiny in the wake of Eastern
Washington’s star quarterback Vernon Adams Jr., also a redshirt junior expected
to earn his undergraduate degree in recreation management after the spring
semester, announcing he will leave the Eagles program to play his final season
at the University of Oregon later this year, perhaps as the replacement for
2014 Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota.

It’s a decision that has ruffled feathers.

Eastern Washington was one of only two Division I schools to offer Adams a
scholarship coming out of high school (Portland State, also from the Big Sky,
was the other), so its nationally ranked program is suffering a great loss
after investing so much in his development.

Considering EWU and Oregon will open their 2015 season against each other,
Adams is no longer being allowed to train in EWU’s football facilities – he
will be one of the Eagles’ opponents – and the departure of the two-time
runner-up for the Walter Payton Award, which honors the FCS player of the year,
isn’t full of good feelings.

The graduate transfer rule was created to allow a student-athlete to pursue
a graduate degree that is not offered at his school. Too often, though, it has
created an opportunity for free agency – a chance to jump to a better
situation.

Graduate transfers have been even more frequent in college basketball, although
the cases involving quarterbacks, such as Russell Wilson moving from North
Carolina State to Wisconsin in 2011, tend to draw the most media attention.

Oregon’s coaches followed NCAA rules and gained permission from Eastern
Washington before they made contact with Adams, so the process was legitimate.
If it wasn’t Oregon, other FBS programs also wanted Adams for next season. It’s
why Montana State football coach Rob Ash has questioned whether the rule allows
FBS teams to treat the FCS as a “farm system or Triple-A.”

Eastern Washington’s dissatisfaction since Adams’ announcement has been
portrayed as hypocritical. Its football program is one that gains from players
from the FBS level who transfer down to the FCS as undergraduates and can play
with immediate eligibility. In fact, the two quarterbacks who preceded Adams
were FBS transfers from SMU – Bo Levi Mitchell, who led the Eagles to the 2010
FCS national title and won the Payton Award the following season, and Kyle
Padron in 2012.

But what has been perceived as sour grapes by Eastern Washington coach Beau
Baldwin and athletic director Bill Chaves may be justifiable concern.

Are these two types of transfers – FBS to FCS, FCS to FBS – a case of apples to
apples and oranges and oranges? Perhaps not.

The graduate transfer rule was put in place for a student-athlete who wanted to
secure a certain academic program, but too often the one involved has appeared
most motivated by playing time and positioning himself for a pro career.

“All they’re doing is looking at curriculum, finding a program that a school
doesn’t have,” Wisconsin men’s basketball coach Bo Ryan told ESPN.com. “Are
they really trying to get a master’s degree? Or is it, ‘Maybe my team isn’t as
good and we lost a lot and I want to be in the NCAA tournament next year and
…’ There’s a market out there for this. You take guys through summer school
and give them every academic advantage and then they graduate and then they can
just go to another school.”

Perhaps the student-athlete who holds up the academic end of the scholarship
by graduating has earned the right to shop his services to complete his
eligibility.

Last spring, Gardner-Webb’s Shaquille Riddick, one of the best defensive
players in the FCS, left for West Virginia under the graduate transfer rule. He
didn’t even redshirt at the Big South Conference program, he graduated in three
years with one season of eligibility left, and then felt the Mountaineers
program would better prepare him for the NFL.

Riddick’s departure didn’t create the firestorm of Adams’ pending transfer, but
Gardner-Webb’s loss was significant nonetheless.

If enough NCAA programs are troubled by the graduate transfer rule, it clearly
needs to be re-evaluated. At the least, it’s worth making sure the rule is
being followed the way it was intended.