May 13, 2015

Once more, there is loud talk from coaches, administrator and conferences of eliminating the Graduate Transfer as we know it.

Start with the basics. Graduate Transfer Exception (or Waiver):

The graduate exception is a version of the one-time transfer exception. It is for student-athletes who cannot use the normal one-time transfer exception because they play one of the sports that are not permitted to use the exception.

The student-athlete must have graduated with at least a bachelor’s degree;
The student-athlete meets the other requirements of the one-time transfer exception;
The student-athlete must have at least one season of competition left; and
The student-athlete’s previous school did not renew his or her athletic scholarship or offer an athletic scholarship for the following academic year.

The requirement that the scholarship be cancelled or not renewed is generally not an issue. The scholarship does not need to be cancelled before the transfer or be the reason for the transfer. Because the one-time transfer exception requires you to get a release, what will happen with your scholarship is generally just an administrative detail.

The Graduate Transfer Waiver is often conflated with the exception because they are so similar. There is one key difference.

The graduate transfer waiver is now typically used by athletes who have previous transferred once before and so cannot use the one-time transfer exception (even as a graduate student).

A letter from the previous school saying it does not object to the student-athlete being eligible;

Documentation that the student-athlete has been accepted into a specific graduate degree program;

Documentation about whether that degree program is offered by the previous school;
A student-athlete statement including the reasons for the transfer; and

A statement from the previous institution about the student-athlete’s status on the team.

[Emphasis added.]

Unlike regular transfers, there is no requirement to sit out a year after transferring. The player is eligible to play right away. That is the big bonus for both the player and the school to where he transfers.

Let’s get this out of the way immediately. Pitt is absolutely benefiting from this rule… this year. Pitt’s (likely) back-up QB, Nathan Peterman. The basketball team has added two players by way of the graduate transfer exception for the upcoming season in Rafael Maia and Sterling Smith. There is the possibility of a third via the graduate transfer exception in Sterling Gibbs.

So biases may be in play, but I’ve written before about the graduate transfer rule. How it is a good thing, even before Pitt had utilized it.

Despite grousing and desires to change it from the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC), the rule seemed safe. The impact of graduate transfers had been relatively minimal.

Players may have been pursued arduously — and greater than their talent and impact would suggest. That, however, had (and still does have) as much to do with their low risk/high reward potential. A one year player who at worst helps depth. Only DeAndre Kane comes to mind as a grad transfer who really shined as a star after transferring that way in basketball.

(Seriously. I’m optimistic about Sterling Smith and hopeful that Maia can at least provide some depth. But the interest both those players received from major conference programs far outstripped what they accomplished at their former schools. If they transferred in a traditional way with being required to sit a year — and tie up a scholarship for two years — you can bet the interest would have dipped significantly.)

That is until Oregon “poached” QB Vernon Adams from Eastern Washington as a grad transfer. Vernon Adams had developed from a marginal talent to the Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year, FCS All-American and runner up for the Walter Payton Award, which is given to the best FCS player nationally.

But at only 6-0 and playing at Eastern Washington, he would face a lot of questions and skepticism about being able to play in the NFL. Playing at the 1-A level for a power conference team would help answer some of the questions, significantly increase awareness of him and potentially raise his earning potential via where he would get drafted.

Adams earned his degree in only three years and made it known he would be looking to go to a major conference program. Oregon, UCLA and Texas were among the programs that came calling.

That decision by Adams to take some measure of control of his future shook a lot of forces in college athletics. Suddenly a relatively minor transfer exception/waiver took on an outsized place in the issues and problems in college athletics.

The handwringing at players being poached. Drexel coach Bruiser Flint lost a star player to Louisville this spring and articulated the coaches’ position.

“The thing is, you develop a kid and all of a sudden he’s going somewhere else,” Flint said. “He wants to go to play at a higher level, but he went to Drexel for a reason — because he wasn’t recruited at that level. He wasn’t a player at that level. Now he is, but we helped him get there and now that he is, he’s out.”

If I was a Drexel fan I would be pissed too about losing a good player.  And certainly the coaches play a role in developing the player. But to discount the player’s own hard work and contributions in the previous seasons — and fulfilling the student part of the student-athlete — and act like you have an ownership interest in the player just shows what the real issue is for coaches.

Plus, the coaches know, it is because they can’t really trust their peers.

“You know how coaches work. We’re all thieves,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said with a laugh. “We will find the edge.”

The edge here is investigating, if not downright recruiting, players with ties to other programs.

It’s not supposed to happen.

It happens.

“The reason we’re addressing it is because our integrity is so bad, we’re recruiting each other’s players,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. “It’s a sad indictment of our game. But it’s also bad when there are lists flying around during the season that says who redshirted when or transferred early in their career and is now a good player who would be able to do this. And that is absolutely going on.”

Insane recruiting restrictions — think the old text messaging restrictions — did not come about in a vacuum. They came about because the coaches themselves demanded it. Protect us from ourselves — and then give us cover to complain about the dumb rules when we run afoul of them.

Naturally, even the coaches can’t couch a change to the rule that way. No it has to really be about the student athlete. Text messaging was regulated as for the benefit of the kids so that they would be able to have some respite from coaches recruiting and bothering them. Or running up their bills with too many texts.

The desire to make the graduate transfer like the regular transfer — subject to being forced to sit out a year — is being couched in a similar way.

This is about making sure the student athletes — the same ones who earned their undergrad degree in four or even three years — actually complete their graduate school coursework. Grad school typically takes two years, so only being in school for one year makes it seem like a sham. Why, look at the numbers.

According to the NCAA, only 24 percent of the graduate transfers in football and 32 percent of those in men’s basketball had earned a graduate degree two years after they transferred. The graduate degree numbers are higher for graduate transfers in other men’s sports (40 percent), women’s basketball (47 percent) and other women’s sports (66 percent).

Nearly 40 percent of the football graduate transfers leave at the end of their first graduate term. They typically withdraw when their playing eligibility ends. At this point, it’s worth remembering these players have already graduated and fulfilled the stated goal of going to college.

Interesting. Naturally, there are numbers to show what happens with players that get their undergrad degree, but stay at the same school for their final year of eligibility while enrolled in grad school. Right?

Left unspoken: What about players who graduate and stay at their school with immediate eligibility left? Are we to believe they all seriously pursue a graduate degree instead of simply taking enough classes to play until their eligibility expires? Should those players sit if they stay at their school but are not truly progressing toward a graduate degree? Why is it academically OK for those graduates to continue playing but not transfers?

“Um, I don’t have a good answer for you, because I don’t know that we’re tracking that,” the Pac-12’s Scott said.

Scott is right. The NCAA said it can’t currently provide data on the number of grad students who stay at their same school and earn a degree. That’s pretty important information if the NCAA is going to connect transferring as the root cause for athletes who don’t obtain a grad degree while in grad school.

Mike DeCourcy notes way back in 2005, how Matt Leinart came back for his senior year at USC. But was only 2 credits short of graduating. Rather than just take a course in the summer or some other way to graduate. Rather than pursue a graduate degree early, he enrolled in ballroom dancing. Clearly he was there only for football at that point. No one objected. Instead, we all laughed a little and celebrated Leinart for wanting to stay in school and play football at USC rather than immediately pursue his NFL career.

It begs the question as to why that is good, but even getting a semester of grad school is bad? I mean, isn’t that the NCAA and college institutions rationalization for the good of the one-and-done rule in college basketball? That even a semester or year of college education is important and helps the kids?

There are plenty of other issues in college athletics begging for attention, but this is one that that is starting to suck up the oxygen.

Then there is the blatant hypocrisy in play.

“I don’t think [the rule] fits into the core values of intercollegiate athletics,” Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson told reporters recently. “The kid from Eastern Washington is going to Oregon — and [Eastern Washington is] opening the season [against] them. It just doesn’t feel right.”

“What message does that send to his teammates that have been sweating and bleeding with him for three years?” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told “He gets a better offer and jumps  ship. I’m not sure that’s a great message to send to a group of teammates.”

As NCAA matters go, their hypocrisy is unsurprising, yet no less infuriating.

In 2012, Benson left a job he’d held for 18 years as commissioner of the WAC when it became apparent that conference was crumbling. (It dropped football a year later.) He now oversees a more stable conference. That same year, Bowlsby left his post as athletic director at Stanford, whose football program he’d helped rescue from the ashes, to take a prestigious job as commissioner of one of the Power 5 conferences.

As adults with college degrees, no one questioned either’s right to better themselves professionally. They earned those opportunities thanks to strong performances in their chosen field.

But when it comes to a college athlete like Adams — himself now an adult with a college degree — the ability to leave one place for a career-boosting opportunity at another is seen as a breakdown in need of correction.

And of course the coaches themselves have a penchant for leaving for a better opportunity. Somehow those better economic opportunities should not be applied to the student-athletes.

One of the few coaches speaking for the good of the rule is Stanford football coach David Shaw.

You might think Stanford’s David Shaw would oppose the rule. For one thing, he’s the coach at one of the nation’s most prestigious institutions. If something’s perceived to be making a mockery of academics, he’s likely to be among the chief critics. Furthermore, since nearly all of his players graduate in four years, his team is more ripe than most to lose them. This offseason alone, Stanford has added one grad transfer, Cal defensive end Brennan Scarlett, but lost four of its own, including former starting cornerback Wayne Lyons to Michigan.

“I’ve been excited for those guys,” said Shaw. “They fulfilled their part, they got their undergraduate degree, they’re college graduates. If they want to use that fifth year somewhere else at a different program, I personally see no problem with that.”

Whoa. Sanity.

In short, it’s patently absurd for officials who claim to have athletes’ best interests in mind to be threatening one of the most athlete-friendly rules in their book, not to mention one that specifically incentivizes players to graduate. No, most of them don’t go on to complete their master’s degrees, but that doesn’t mean they don’t better themselves.

Former NC State grad transfer Russell Wilson might have never blossomed into a Super Bowl quarterback without his one season in Wisconsin’s pro-style offense.

Former Valparaiso basketball star Brandon Wood likely never would have experienced the Sweet 16 if not for getting his degree and spending his senior season at Michigan State. Wood now plays professionally in Europe.

Former Florida offensive lineman and grad transfer Ian Silberman became a full-time starter for the first time as a senior at Boston College and got drafted by the San Francisco 49ers earlier this month.

The list could go on and on.

Yet if history is any indicator, the member institutions will have the NCAA change the rule soon. All for the “good” of the student athlete and some nebulous idea of integrity.

ps I do hate the dinocat.

Comment by rkb 05.14.15 @ 10:59 am

I think it is interesting the split of folks between script and block. My personal preference is block. But I do get the tradition of script. Interestingly, UCLA is a good example of a school that successfully uses both block and a script on various uniforms. It can be done, but it has to be done well. I also prefer the modern color scheme, I think it looks really good across the various sports. Once again, the old colors could be great if done well. Whatever they decide upon, I will support…I just want it done well.

Comment by Griogar 05.14.15 @ 11:11 am

FWIW, my preference is modern colors with script.

Comment by wbb 05.14.15 @ 11:32 am

I believe the color scheme for this blog are the current colors

Comment by wbb 05.14.15 @ 11:34 am

The uniform colors I like best are the ones that they wear when they win.

Comment by Dr. Tom 05.14.15 @ 12:12 pm

Alcohol sales are being discussed robustly across many campuses right now for two reasons. The obvious one is financial. Typically, the risk gets transferred from the university to the contractor selling the alcohol (i.e. ARAMARK, Sodexho, etc.). Universities will still get sued, but if contractually transferred appropriately, it isn’t a huge concern on the back end.

The second reason is for the overall fan experience. On most campuses, attendance is down. To state that attendance is down because of a lack of alcohol sales, is on its face, incorrect. For the casual fan, it is easier to stay at home, crack open a beer at your leisure, sit in a comfortable chair, in a controlled environment and watch three replays of every play while switching channels watching other good games. That doesn’t happen at the stadiums.

Alcohol sales in the game should curtail the binge drinking that takes place immediately before entering the stadiums, which leads to…ummm, environmental hazards (puking). Some will always smuggle liquor into the games to mix with a coke, etc. That is an accepted risk. The difficult question still not answered will be whether the AD’s allow non-alcohol sections for its fans with families that don’t want to be subject to the drunken fans. Makes for interesting choices.

My vote continues to be for the Pitt Script and to return to some mustard/blue combo. I despise that Akron, and sometimes navy and sometimes tulsa and some other schools share our colors. The current colors in script are the sharpest, but unfortunately, that color combo is shared by too many! The fact that we are having a discussion about colors and fonts is another clear indication that we have very few, if any.. traditions

Comment by dhuffdaddy 05.14.15 @ 12:44 pm

I am all for the alcohol sales but you must have a family friendly section. Too many kids at Pitt games that don’t need to be around a bunch of drunk Steeler like fans.

Hey, we ranked 5th for ACC uniforms on someone’s list. Maybe Reed is correct about the block letters.

link to

Comment by notrocketscience 05.14.15 @ 12:58 pm

Narduzzi has been wearing Pitt Script, as are most if not all of the asst’s.

And they use script on their twitter accts.

link to

The other teams take their cue from the sport that produces the revenue to even field a team, and that is of course the football team.

Script of course, as it’s classy per Nard Dog. Dinocat is slowing fading away, it’s been minimized on both football and basketball uni’s. We saw it in all it’s dated glory on the rare occasion the Pitt softball team was on TV. The horrid thing needs buried for good and that will happen.. I think.

As for the colors, if we want to be truly unique we go back to Royal Blue and Mustard/Gold Yellow of 1973-1993. As has been noted the current uni’s colors are very similar to Akron, Tulsa, Navy & Toledo.

I’d rather have Pitt had a color scheme that is unique to itself. What is old is new again.

And those vintage uni’s of Dorsett, Marino, Hugh Green, Mark May and so many other of Pitt’s greatest players ever…..would be new to current students and recent grads.

Let’s do it !!

Comment by Emel 05.14.15 @ 1:11 pm

Comment by steve1 05.14.15 @ 1:15 pm

@steve1, you’re smilin’ today!!

Comment by Dan 05.14.15 @ 1:29 pm

Heinz already has an alcohol free family section. It’s section 120 in the lower north endzone. If Pitt decides to sell beer I guess I’ll have to move out of that section after 15 years.

Comment by Nick 05.14.15 @ 3:52 pm

Thanks, Dan. Yes I am. I’m wearing my ancient (’94) Rangers cap. I look like a decrepit Howdy Doody.

Let’s go Pitt women softballers. Beat Cal!

Comment by steve1 05.14.15 @ 4:07 pm

@Nick – alcohol free does not mean free alcohol! Are you smuggling it in? LOL. Just kidding. This is a big question for AD’s regarding how many seats to be in the alcohol free zone.

The financial studies are unbelievable and create a windfall for the athletic departments. They also typically share a percentage of alcohol profits with the serving vendor, which causes conflicts of interest.

I wonder if the broncos sell more food since the allowance of marijuana to be smoked…

Comment by dhuffdaddy 05.14.15 @ 7:07 pm

Does anyone know who was first to use the Pitt script on their helmets, Pitt or Pittsburg State?

Comment by Grizzly1 05.15.15 @ 7:13 am

UCLA and Pitt were the only script schools.
Pittsburgh St picked it up only after Pitt dropped it. I believe UCLA was first to use script.

Comment by Spindler's Spirit 05.15.15 @ 7:54 am

While the mustard and royal blue are unique, there is something that makes the old uniforms not appealing except for us Pitt fans of the 70 and 80s.

We need to see it with a modern twist. Maybe I can’t get past the old uniform style.

Comment by notrocketscience 05.15.15 @ 8:51 am

Who is Pittsburg State.

Morons don’t even know there’s in ‘H’ on Pittsburgh.

Comment by Emel 05.15.15 @ 4:10 pm

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