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The Debate: Discussing the value of graduate transfers to college basketball.

North Carolina is bringing in two grad transfers this year. Is this a good trend?

Auburn v North Carolina Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The NCAA has an informational page available to student-athletes who are contemplating a transfer. It can be found here. Beginning in October of 2018, the NCAA created what we now know as the transfer portal and changed the rules for transfer eligibility. The portal enables players to register themselves as being eligible for and potentially desiring a transfer. Registering does not mandate that a player must ultimately transfer. Additionally, there is no separate requirement to get permission from the current school in order to make the move.

One of the biggest effects of the new system is the very public nature of putting one’s name on the portal. Registering essentially creates a new recruiting period where all schools can reach out to the player. It is the a sort of redo of these players’ recruitment out of high school.

There are several types of transfers. The first are players who have not completed their degree at the current school and are simply looking for a change of atmosphere. Seventh Woods is a good, UNC-related example. These players must sit out one year before playing at their new institution.

The second type ,which is what we’ll be discussing today, are players who have graduated from their current school with years of eligibility remaining. This typically occurs by graduating in three years or redshirting a year and graduating in four with a year of athletic eligibility remaining. These players can play immediately at their new school. Cameron Johnson fell into this category by both criteria. He redshirted his freshman year due to injuries, graduated in three years from Pittsburgh, and thus had two years of eligibility at Carolina.

There are also limited circumstances where non-graduated players can get an exception to play immediately. This is a very small group and includes players who were never recruited and did not sign a National Letter of Intent.

North Carolina does not have an extensive history with transfers, but that changes a little in the upcoming year with two single-year transfers: Justin Pierce and Christian Keeling.

Which brings us to this week’s question:

The Debate for the week of June 3: Is the current system of immediately-eligible graduate transfers good or bad for college basketball?

Point: Why should transfers be treated differently than high school seniors? This system is a good thing.

The college basketball players who regularly get the most attention over the summer have never played a single college game. Highly rated recruits who are bubbling with potential are the start of the off-season show. The one-and-done (OAD) era is here, although my colleague Jake Lawrence has done some very interesting work about the success, or lack thereof, of OAD-fueled teams. This is a pool that Carolina did not regularly swim in until recently, but with two OAD players from the 2019 season and at least one more likely in 2020, they are there with no signs of slowing down.

Although only having a player for a single season can cut short the Luke Maye type of relationship that fans build over a four year career, the story of the season still fully involves the young stars. In some ways, knowing that a player will only be around for a year forces fans to accelerate their appreciation.

The same is absolutely true for graduate transfers. These players have completed their academic commitment to their old school by graduating a year early. Surely, fans should not bemoan that kind of academic achievement from a student-athlete.

The decision to leave after graduation should be solely within the player’s discretion. Once the call is made, the process should turn public to allow all schools to compete on an even field. Increased transparency can only be a good thing when it comes to the NCAA.

Counter Point: The portal has turned graduate transfers into a side-show.

The comparison between graduate transfers and one-and-done freshmen is not totally accurate. There is a very small percentage of in-coming recruits out of high school that declare for the NBA after only a single season. Many who look initially like they’ll be ready to make the jump realize that their development may require more than a single season of college (see E.J. Montgomery at Kentucky). This could also be impacted by the fun of the college game at a school with a fantastic and fluid offensive system, like Carolina.

The same is not true for graduate transfers. With very limited exceptions (like Johnson), these players have a maximum of a single year at the school. In some ways, they feel like rentals that are filling holes on a roster rather than potential stars. Of course, this analysis varies by school, but there are literally hundreds of players (certainly not all of whom have graduated) who have taken advantage of the transfer portal system since it was made live. The easier it is, and the more that OAD players leave voids for programs, the more players will seek recruiting attention for a second time.

All college players have a limited time at their schools. That is part of the majesty and mystique of the college game. There is a big difference, however, between potentially four years and definitely one year. It’s just a different relationship between player and fans. This is not to disparage players that leave a school before completing their eligibility there. Instead, this is a critique of the ease of a system that creates a public ranking and recruiting competition. If students want to transfer, they should be allowed to do so and should contact the schools that they are considering. Providing crystal ball predictions for graduate transfers demeans the entire situation. Seeking to recreate the recruitment cycle for another class of players is merely a ratings grab.

Graduate transfers are academically accomplished adults. They should not be treated like high school kids.

Time for you to decide! Is the transfer portal a good thing for graduate transfers and the college game generally? Or is the portal the bane of the upperclassman’s existence?

As always, readers are encouraged to join in through the comments and point out what we got right, what we got wrong, and what we never thought of. Also, please feel free to provide suggestions for future topics so we can cover what interests readers and what information is needed to ensure victory when debating slow-witted friends who don’t read the articles!