Monday, August 13, 2018

Unintended consequences of NCAA transfer rule changes

The NCAA recently implemented changes to student athlete transfer rules.  They are well-intended and promote fairness to student athletes seeking different opportunities while balancing these expanded opportunities with institutional needs.  But like all rule changes, unintended consequences and creative ways to use the rules to an institution's advantage will immediately emerge.  Here are a few potential outcomes to these rule changes:

1) Increased transfers - In an environment that already has significant student athlete movement, allowing students to move without restriction will make transferring more prevalent.  Coaching staffs around the country will watch the "free agent list" for their sport to see who has become available and aggressively recruit those individuals.

2) "Tampering" will occur - Any coach will tell you, when a student athlete asks for permission to talk to other schools about transferring, in most cases they're already gone.  "Permission" is just a formality and in some cases contributes to the restrictions coaches have attempted to place on where an athlete transfers.

Under the new system, although a student athlete has to merely inform their current institution they may leave, the risk of losing their athletic aid provides significant incentive for the athlete to do their research before declaring their intent to transfer.

Tampering (influencing someone to transfer to another institution without the student having informed their current institution) will be a level-two NCAA violation, but this will be a limited deterrent because recruiting relationships are essential to providing a steady flow of talented student athletes.  AAU coaches, advisers, quasi-agents and others will continue to have a full understanding of the marketplace for student athletes with whom they are close.  And coaches will certainly have the same understanding of that marketplace and close relationships with those same individuals.  Winks, nods, and "hypothetical" conversations will continue to occur despite the threat of a level-two violation because tampering is exceedingly hard to prove and coaches generally don't turn in their peers, preferring to avoid someone doing the same to them.

Just as it currently is, player movement will continue to be negotiated on the front end in many cases.

3) Faster coaching searches and contract changes - The speed required to make a coaching hire will add pressure to coaching searches. Trying to maintain a roster with no coach in place will be more difficult than ever with student athletes merely having to declare their desire to move once a head coach vacancy is announced.

The speed necessary to fill a coaching vacancy will increase the need for on-going relationships with search firms and agents in advance of an anticipated vacancy where a coach is being let go or may move to a higher profile program.

AD's will have even greater incentive to move quickly in coaching searches because transfers put the NCAA's academic-based revenue distributions at risk.

Internal succession of an assistant coach to head coach could also become more likely with familiarity, connections, name recognition and pedigree facilitating decisions - making the advancement of diverse and female candidates more difficult if they are not tied into these networks.

The primary reason for many athletes choosing a school is a relationship with the head coach or a key assistant. These relationships will take on even greater importance and departing coaches will recruit directly from the roster of their former institution since the athlete's institutional choice cannot be restricted.

I expect to see a new standard contract clause stipulating a coach will not allow a student athlete from their prior institution on the roster of their new institution - a similar concept to buyout clauses requiring a home-and-home series between a coach's former and new schools.  
  
4) Students and coaches will have greater incentive to maximize value and make the market more efficient - Recruiting is an inexact science.  Finding the individual who fits in your system, identifying late bloomers, eliminating recruiting misses and maximizing ability to win will encourage both coaches and athletes to take advantage of the new rules.

Student athletes will have greater incentive to test their value in the marketplace, just as we have seen with graduate transfer rules.  Student athletes have three primary goals when transferring - maximize the value of their scholarship; play more because they're underutilized in their current environment; or play at a higher level to perform against better competition and enhance future professional opportunities.

Coaches will have incentives to encourage transfers as well.  They will seek transfers who can enhance their team's chance to win by actively seeking students who aspire to play more or compete at a higher level.   And student athletes who haven't developed in the manner anticipated by a coach will be "encouraged" to look elsewhere.  Coaches will now have additional incentive to have direct conversations with a student athlete about their ability to play in a program since a coach can immediately recover a scholarship once the student athlete is placed on the transfer list - regardless of whether they actually find a new school.

Coaches will also communicate with their peers who are indirect competitors at lower tier schools to find landing spots for student athletes who need a fresh start.

There are clearly benefits to student athletes in the new transfer rules.  Similarly, coaches will utilize the transfer rules to their advantage while administrators attempt to minimize the negative effects of these same changes through contractual clauses and rapid coaching transitions that utilize search firms and agents to facilitate hiring. 

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