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O’s Thoughts On The Transfer Portal

Tom Izzo needs more of a say in the NCAA

Happy Thursday everyone. Okay, we got two pieces of news yesterday that didn’t go our way, one almost totally expected and the other almost completely unpredictable. I am, of course, referring to Keon Coleman’s decision to transfer to FSU and former TCU cornerback, Kee’yon Stewart, backing out of his transfer to MSU to go to Arkansas instead. So I guess I am going to use this opportunity to voice my personal opinions on the transfer portal. Before I dive into it, let me get a few things out of the way. One, this is my opinion and does not reflect any official position of TOC or SB Nation. Two, this is a long-held opinion, and not some knee-jerk reaction to these or other recent events. Three, I know many of you will not agree with this opinion and you are welcome to say that in the comments. Four, and this is an official TOC position, if you are going to disagree with someone in the comments (I am not talking about me here, but other commenters), you need to keep it civil. The comment sections have been getting a little feisty in a couple of articles recently. We are asking you to keep these conversations good-natured.

I think the NCAA may just have a secret agenda to completely destroy the industry of college sports. I haven’t quite figured out what their endgame is, as I imagine the big-wigs at the Indianapolis headquarters are rolling around in Benjamins. But it really feels like every decision they make to alter the landscape of college basketball and football leads to a mass disengagement of fans, or at least a mass outcry of disapproval. I guess, really, we aren’t going anywhere and they know it, so maybe they have us by the balls.

The easing of the rules surrounding the transfer portal feels like another example of this. The portal, assisted by the equally recent allowing of NIL income for student-athletes, has turned college sports into a massive free agency market. For years, one of the biggest attractions to college sports was that it wasn’t the pros, that there was no moving around between teams, that a recruiting win meant four years of getting to know and cheer for that player and watch him develop (unless he is really good and goes pro earlier). Watching recruiting classes progress together through their time in a program and develop into leaders and stars was one of the things that kept me interested; the stories of the players’ journeys is what gives sports their emotional aspect.

Now, however, those stories become harder to follow. I don’t mean harder from a logistical perspective; the internet makes everything available if you want to find it. Here’s what I mean. In 2018, MSU brought in 5 freshmen to its basketball program: Aaron Henry, Gabe Brown, Marcus Bingham, Foster Loyer, and Thomas Kithier. If these five would have stayed at MSU for four years, they all would have been able to go out together and their careers would have been forever tied to one another. Had they, hypothetically speaking, delivered a banner to East Lansing in their senior season, we could have talked about them as one of the best classes Izzo ever brought in. As it was, one went pro after three years (questionable in hindsight), and two others transferred to other schools for their final years, largely leaving them as afterthoughts to MSU fans and then playing for a home crowd that really had no clue about them as a player or a person. I know I am not just speaking for myself when I say that I have less emotional attachment, and receive less joy, watching a player come to East Lansing as an upperclassman and succeed than I do the player who spent three or four years wearing the Green & White. Conversely, when an upperclassman comes in and struggles, it upsets me that he took playing time from someone who was recruited out of high school.

But... this is not about the fans. In theory, these new rule changes were made with the best interests of the student-athlete in mind. The question is whether these changes are, in fact, having the intended benefits. If you ask Tom Izzo, and I will generally defer to his stance on these types of matters, then you may believe that any gains realized by a player is minimal at best and may even be a negative in the long run. If you have heard any of Tom’s press conferences where he touches on this subject, then you have heard his warnings of what lessons the portal is teaching to these young adults. In short, it is teaching them to run away in the face of adversity. And it is creating an environment where they do not have to honor their commitments.

Now I am sure I am going to sound like a boomer here (I am the very end of Gen-X), but this is a big issue with society these days. We see it everywhere in the professional world, with people jumping from job to job and company to company (even industry to industry) with ever-increasing frequency. This is having the effect of causing companies to spend more time and resources on recruiting employees, taking away from their ability to focus on doing whatever it is they do. When you aggregate this effect across all the companies in our society, you get a weakened economy.

Similarly, if you we look at this in the scope of college sports, we see programs having to spend more efforts on recruiting, not just high school kids but now also their own players as well as players already in other programs. So coaches are wasting their time on additional recruiting, meaning less time coaching, meaning a team that does not develop fundamentally as much as they should. When you aggregate this across the entirety of NCAA programs, you end up with a diminished product. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to see a better product out there, teams that know how to defend properly (remember defense?) and have an established offensive scheme. In my opinion, basketball has largely degenerated into isolation play and three-point contests, and for the most part I don’t enjoy it when that is what I am seeing.

And back to Izzo’s other point, a part of being a coach is to develop your players as people as well. We know that only a small percentage of college athletes go on to play professionally (anyone know what this percentage is?), though there do seem to be growing avenues to play after college. So, building them with character traits that will help them succeed in the professional world should be on equal footing with helping them operate a triangle offense or read blitzes. The NCAA, through their rule changes, has created an environment where it is harder for coaches to teach some of these lessons.

If the point of making rule changes is to have the most benefit to the largest number of people, then I think the NCAA really messed up on this one. Maybe for the few who transfer and suddenly get more playing time and then make it to the NBA, then it worked out for them. But rules should not be made for only the very small minority’s benefit. Maybe one day, they will reverse this one. But I am not going to bet on the NCAA doing the right thing.


Do you agree with the NCAA’s rule change that allows all players to transfer and play immediately for a new school?

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