NCAA must to stop shameful restrictions on transfer players

The recent standoff between the Kansas State football program and wide receiver Corey Sutton has once again shed light on an ongoing problem in college athletics. When a student-athlete decides to transfer, major college football and basketball programs routinely dictate where a player is able to transfer to, often blocking that player for going to a school in the same conference or on their schedule. It’s a great example of the powerful stepping all over the powerless just because they can, and it’s time for it to stop.

The case of Sutton is particularly infuriating. He left his home in Charlotte and moved to Manhattan, Kansas, even bypassing his final semester of high school to enroll at Kansas State early. He played in 10 games as a true freshman last season but now wants to transfer to another school, which is not an unreasonable request.

Sutton gave Kansas State a list of 35 schools, none of which are in the same conference or on Kansas State’s schedule in the near future. Yet, head coach Bill Snyder has still refused to give him his release. If he were any non-scholarship student at Kansas State, Sutton would be free to transfer to any school that would have him. There’s no reason why Sutton or any other student-athlete should be different.

The argument that Sutton could go to one of Kansas State’s Big 12 rivals and spill all of the school’s secrets is beyond absurd. Schools actually use this argument to block players from transferring to a school in the same conference. Yet, any coach on the staff is free to leave and go to any school they want. Assistant coaches, and even head coaches, routinely move to schools within the same conference and would be in a far better position to share trade secrets. If this argument held any water, the NCAA would stop coaches from moving from school to school so seamlessly.

Georgia football head coach Kirby Smart showcased the hypocrisy of this early in his tenure at the school in 2016. Smart defended an SEC rule that prevents players from transferring within the conference, even though he left his job as Alabama’s defensive coordinator to become the head coach at a school in the same conference. On top of that, Smart put a restriction on Georgia players from transferring to Miami, which is not in the SEC, where former Georgia coach Mark Richt was hired after being fired by Georgia. Suddenly, and without warning, Georgia’s transfer policy was “adjusted” to fit the desire of the head coach.

Smart hid behind terms like “standard operating procedure” and “protect the interest of your team” when talking about former player A.J. Turman, who wanted to transfer soon after Smart was hired. Smart also added that he didn’t want to have to play against Turman, even though Smart also said Turman was transferring because he wasn’t good enough to get on the field at Georgia, which we can all agree makes no sense. Smart also mentioned not wanting a transfer player to be negative in recruiting, which is laughable because head coaches use negative recruiting against other schools without hesitation.

Smart concluded by saying that Turman “was going to be able to go where he wants to go,” which may have been true. But had Turman wanted to go to another SEC school or Miami, a team not on Georgia’s schedule, then he would not “be able to go where he wants to go.” Meanwhile, if Smart or any other coach wanted to, they could leave and go to any other school without asking any one’s permission.

It’s also important to remember that athletic scholarships are not guaranteed. A few schools hand out four-year scholarships, but most operate on a year-to-year basis. If Sutton, Turman, or any other player is no longer a valuable part of the team, the head coach doesn’t have to extend a scholarship for the following year. If schools are able to cut ties with a player just like that, it’s unreasonable that players can’t do the same when they are just one bad season from potentially losing their scholarship.

To be fair, coaches like Snyder and Smart aren’t the crux of the problem. They are merely perpetuating a system that treats college athletes like employees and not students. Any other college student, even those receiving financial aid, can transfer schools without hassle, and it’s time for the NCAA to alter the system so that student-athletes can transfer without restrictions. Aside from violating their liberty and free will, it’s simply the right thing to do.

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