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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Why are There So Many Transfers in College Basketball?

Occam's Razor suggest that the simplest solution is usually the best one.  This article gives some flavor to how big this issues is.  Ergo. . .

1.  You are dealing with kids who have had a lot of success in basketball and are running into failure for the first time.  Head coach and assistant coach woo the kid, project the kid to get all sorts of playing time, possibly to be a star.  Head coach and assistant coach are embellishing if not lying.  Not everyone can be a star, not everyone can get a lot of playing time.  Something has to give.  Kid might be lying to himself -- he might believe what his friends and coaches are telling him -- that he is the man.  Deep down, though, the kid might know that he has to develop his other hand, needs to get more stamina and has to work on his jumper.  But he chooses the easier path -- which is to believe -- totally -- what he is told in the wooing process.  So, after a season or two, when the coach who was sweet talking him turns out to be a meanie, a liar, favoring others and this kid sits at the end of the bench, he gets irritated.  Perhaps he got sold a bill of goods.  Perhaps the coach isn't being fair.  Perhaps he his mad at himself because he wasn't totally sure of the situation.  Most definitely, he isn't ready to give up the dream of finding a better spot.  Transferring, like second marriages, represents the triumph of hope over experience.  It's a leap of faith, especially if you thought you were burned.  And if you didn't think you were burned, you at least are more relaxed and say, "well, it wasn't a good fit for me, and I have to find a better place."  Remember, we're dealing with teenagers mostly, and they are not fully formed.  They are dealing with frustration, disappointment and failure -- many for the first time in their young lives.  They are feeling all sorts of emotions and have started to doubt themselves.  And it hurts.  A change of scenery could help.

2.  Social media doesn't help things.  It's much easier to figure out what is going on at other schools, who will have a need for your position in the following season or two, who might be leaving, who might be unhappy, what have you.  And the kids can read about themselves much more, too.  Imagine if you're eighteen and you read that you didn't show up the way people thought, that you're a stiff, that you aren't a good fit.  And then you match that up with the feedback you get from the coaches and your playing time.  And then you have your friends giving you all sorts of advice.  You're nineteen, your head is spinning.  It gets filled up with all sorts of clutter about your skills, your future, who is being honest with you about your potential and who has lied, what have you.  So, you tap into your network -- your parents, your AAU coach -- and you put out feelers to the schools that recruited you before and, if you're really savvy, schools that might have a real need for your position.  Now, those schools might have warts, too, and they might have openings precisely because kids they recruited didn't think that they got a fair deal.  No matter, because you are desperate to find a better fit and the coach at that school shouldn't make the same mistake twice.  You also might have grown and become more mature in dealing with your first disappointment.  In any event, the omnipresence of the media just heightens the players sensitivities.

3.  Coaches Never Stop Recruiting and Players Never Stop Being Recruited.  When there is an epidemic, there is a persistent, spreading problem.  So, most coaches must think that they are going to lose some of every freshman class.  Their assistants probably keep tabs with a select number of AAU coaches of players that they missed out on, ostensibly to find out about new prospects but clandestinely to see how those kids like their new schools.  Correspondingly, if a kid doesn't like his situation, he taps into his network, which includes his AAU coach, and asks that coach to put out feelers to some of the schools he rejected.  It can become a vicious cycle.  If you're a head coach fighting hard to compete every year, you do the "keep tabs, continuous recruiting of current college players" thing to make sure that you will have a robust roster every year.  If you're a player, well, you didn't become an elite player and draw Division I interest because you were clueless.  After some trending trouble, you'll put out some feelers to ascertain who might be interested in you.  And then the cycle gets worse.

4.  One-year renewable scholarships also are a problem, especially when paired with lucrative long-term deals for head coaches.  If you're a bit at the margins at your DI program, you probably should keep in touch with your high school and AAU coaches just in case you feel that the winds are blowing the wrong way and you might not get renewed.  And you might then want to jump before you're pushed, so to speak, so that the quest to transfer looks like it was your decision.  Invariably, if you were good enough in high school, some other DI coach will view you as a bargain and try to sign you up quickly.  I don't know whether granting kids a four-year scholarship that is automatically renewable would make a difference.  You would think that for some kids who ultimately might be happy sitting on the end of the bench that it might.

5.  The pressure on coaches to win and their lucrative compensation puts enormous pressure on them to win and might encourage unethical tactics.  I don't think I need to write anything more here.  The headline says it all.

I don't blame the kids for wanting to transfer.  Sure, in a perfect world they should pick a school because it's the right fit for them and because they can get a good education.  And most DI basketball players would subscribe to that, especially because most will not play for money after college.  But they have to spend so much time to get good enough to get noticed, it's hard to blame them for not wanting to play in DI after putting all that time in.  Travel basketball is a year-round phenomenon, and the kids want to get the playing time and accolades that they thing that they have earned.  Besides, who wants to have his signing of a letter of intent be the crowning achievement of his career?  College should be the next chapter in a fun journey, not the end of the road for the player. 

The kids are standing up to an authoritarian system and authoritarian coaches.  It's hard to argue with.


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