A couple of years back, Tom Parrotta, having had little success improving Canisius College's basketball fortunes, decided he'd better get with the trend. Some other schools in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference had made significant additions to their programs by harvesting the robust crop of transfers that materializes on an annual basis. The coach concluded that, like it or not, Canisius would continue to suffer unless it did the same.
Although he was dismissed at the end of last season, Parrotta's fingerprints are on a turnaround that has placed the Griffs near the top of the MAAC. Guards Harold Washington and Isaac Sosa along with big men Jordan Heath and Freddy Asprilla all arrived via the transfer route during Parrotta's tenure. Toss in the addition of guard Billy Baron, who transferred in when his father Jim was named coach, and the Griffs have five players who started their college careers at other four-year schools.
Canisius hardly qualifies as unique. Missouri has opened its arms to seven transfers. Ohio University has six – with not a single freshman on its roster. At La Salle, two of its five transfers have keyed the Explorers' dramatic ascent. At Iona, only three players on the roster began their careers with the Gaels. Three transferred in from other four-year schools while six came by way of junior colleges.
The transfer rate among college basketball players has remained steady over the last few years, fluctuating between 10 and 10.7 percent – or close to 450 players – according to NCAA figures. Still, this dwarfs the rate for other sports, including football, and far exceeds the student body in general.
There are myriad reasons basketball players may seek to transfer out of a program. Some find they've reached too high and are unlikely to see much playing time where they are. Some decide they'd rather be closer to home. Others might be at odds with a coach, or be moved to transfer because of a coaching change. All of these can be rationalized as legitimate reasons to depart.
Rarely do NBA aspirations factor in the decision. Most come to realize that the competition for jobs at the highest level has been increased by basketball's worldwide growth. But while spots on an NBA roster may be ever harder to come by, globalization has created new and lucrative and plentiful opportunities overseas. Name a country and chances are it has a pro league where a player can make a six-figure salary with expenses paid. Many a Big 4 alumnus has continued his career in Europe or Asia.
The NBA's efforts to promote and grow basketball worldwide have impacted the college game far more than has its requirement that high school players must attend a year of college before becoming NBA-eligible. The one-and-done scenario affects a precious few. Opportunities overseas have college players across the country scrambling for playing time, for the chance to compile a resume and make an impression. This could be the core reason some project college basketball's transfer rate will continue to escalate, reaching 500 players in the near future.
The NCAA is re-examining its rules in regard to transfers, as well it should be, because a couple of worrisome trends have emerged. For one, the number of players “transferring up” is on the rise. Bodies are moving from the lower mid-majors to higher mid-majors, from high mid-majors to major conference programs, from major conference programs to elite, title-contending programs.
Regulations prohibiting programs from making contact with a player at another school have grown archaic. Word can be put out through indirect means, through intermediaries, such as AAU coaches, to mask impropriety. So long as there's a system in place somebody's working on how to beat the system. How else would a player at a mid-major know he's coveted by a bigger program? There may be no viable, enforceable solution.
But perhaps the greatest concern is the number of coaches who are compiling programs not through the development of incoming freshmen, but by harvesting large numbers of transfers and junior college players. Instead of identifying a transfer who might fit a particular need, these coaches take all the older and ostensibly more seasoned players they can find. How is this in any way good for the college game or in concert with the ideals of college athletics, as lax as those morals have become?
To advocate the elimination of transfers would be ludicrous. But the rules should be firm and strive to minimize the practice. All transfers should be required to sit out a season, a departure from current NCAA practices that provide players waivers under certain circumstances, such as family considerations. Is that really necessary, especially given many undergraduate degrees have become five-year journeys as it is, even for non-athletes?
Most importantly, a ceiling should be placed on the number of transfers from four-year schools any one program can have on its roster. Loading up on transient players deviates from the essence of what college athletics were meant to be and further fosters the sense of elitism the NCAA has tried – although meagerly so – to quell.
No more than three transfers per school at one time sounds about right. Let's push back closer to the original intent.
Considering his plight, Parrotta had the right idea when he pointed Canisius in a different direction. Trends within the college game compelled him to view recruiting in a different light. Now it's up to the NCAA to eliminate the necessity.