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Why the graduate-transfer rule is decimating the mid-majors

There are unintended consequences for just about every rule, and the graduate transfer rule — put in place by the NCAA five years ago to reward student-athletes — is no different.

"It's forcing our hands to do something that's not good for education," one mid-major men's basketball coach said.

"So many of these mid-majors are getting crushed," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski told ESPN. "The fifth-year transfer is the one. I hate what it does for our profession."

Another mid-major head coach, who lost one of his best players to a BCS school this past offseason, told ESPN he would be "slowing down the graduating process" for his players in order to ensure that he doesn't lose another to the high-major ranks.

When asked to elaborate specifically on what "slowing down the graduating process" would entail, he said instead of enrolling a player into a pair of summer school classes in two sessions, they might not have that particular player take summer school at all — or take just one class per session. Another prevailing thought is to put players in just the minimum 12 hours of classes each semester.

"What kid is going to argue and want to take more classes?" one mid-major coach said. "There aren't many."

Mid-majors have been penalized for doing their jobs well due to the grad transfer rule, which allows players who earn their degrees before completing their athletic eligibility to transfer elsewhere and play immediately.

Some high-major schools admitted to ESPN that they are already compiling lengthy lists before the season of those who will be eligible to leave mid-majors and play their final season elsewhere.

Many admittedly will call the high school or AAU coach of a player to make their interest clear, should that player have any desire to leave. Some coaches believe that players are being contacted directly by their peers.

"If that's the case, that's not good for our profession," Krzyzewski said.

College of Charleston would have benefitted from having Canyon Barry this season. Instead, he's at Florida. Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Sure, the intention of the rule was pure — to reward academics. College of Charleston transfer Canyon Barry will take his 4.0 GPA to Florida this season, play for the Gators and major in nuclear engineering, which wasn't offered at Charleston.

But let's face it: Barry is the minority here. The vast majority of the 125 or so men's basketball grad transfers this past year will be making the move primarily for athletic reasons. There are certainly some who wind up getting their graduate degree, but many remain in school for just one year in what is almost always a two-year program to earn a graduate degree.

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A year ago, Cleveland State head coach Gary Waters could have trotted out a starting lineup that included Trey Lewis and Anton Grady. Instead, Lewis spent the season at Louisville. Grady took a grad transfer year at Wichita State and Waters went just 9-23 and will have some pressure on him this season instead of working on a contract extension. Both Lewis and Grady are playing professionally overseas this season.

Former Drexel coach Bruiser Flint got fired after going 6-25 this past season, something that wouldn't have happened if he hadn't lost star Damion Lee, who wound up leading Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals in scoring a season ago.

"This isn't a university issue, or a student-athlete issue. It's blatantly an NCAA issue," Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson told ESPN.

Hinson just lost his starting big man, Bola Olaniyan, to Alabama.

"You can't blame a student-athlete for looking at their options, and you can't blame coaches for doing what's in the guidelines of the rules," Hinson added. "But the NCAA needs to do something about this — and the reason they aren't is because they are running scared of a lawsuit."

Kent State coach Rob Senderoff lost one of his players, Kellon Thomas, to IUPUI as a grad transfer. He nearly lost his top player, Jimmy Hall.

"The rule is the rule. I get that," Senderoff said. "But when you have guys getting recruited off a list that's passed around to coaches on who are potential fifth-year guys, that's just wrong to me. There's no reason a list should be going around."

"Jimmy ultimately decided to stay, but he and his family were being called directly by coaches. There's no gray area on whether or not that happened. To me, that's a problem. It shouldn't be happening."

According to numerous coaches — including current National Association of Basketball Coaches chairman Jeff Jones — the prevailing thought is that the grad transfer rule isn't going anywhere, largely due to the legal implications.

"My impression and what I believe is that the ship has sailed and I don't see this rule as changing," said Jones, the coach at Old Dominion.

"There's a strong opinion among school presidents and higher-ups who feel that if a kid comes to school and graduates, he's done his part," St. Joe's coach Phil Martelli told ESPN. "I just don't see the rule going anywhere. I get it and accept it."

Kentucky coach John Calipari watched his good friend, Flint, be fired months ago and said he feels as though there should be more of a commitment for the coach who is taking the grad transfer.

"If the kid gets his grad degree in one year, fine," Calipari said. "If he doesn't, you've got to use the scholarship for two years."

"I think that would penalize the kid," North Carolina's Roy Williams said. "Let's face it: This is a great rule for the kids and a terrible one for the coaches that lose these kids. In principle, it's OK. But it's not very good for college basketball."

That's the overriding thought about the rule from the college coaching fraternity. The mid-majors don't like it because their top players get plucked, and the high-majors are almost forced to utilize because their competitors are doing so. Then there's the tampering issue.

There may be no ideal solution, but Calipari's suggestion would temper the rising rate in grad transfers. Hinson also has an idea that would be an improvement over the current system.

"Just have people sit no matter what," he said. "If you transfer, you have to sit a year."

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