ORONO, Maine — Transfers are an accepted but hotly debated part of NCAA Division I athletics and nowhere more so than in men’s basketball.
The most recent NCAA data (from 2010-11) show that approximately 40 percent of Division I men’s basketball student-athletes will not be competing at their original school by the end of their sophomore year. Not all are transfers as some quit school, flunk out or go pro.
Student-athletes who transfer do so for many reasons. Some seek more playing time and the chance to win more often. Others depart because of a coaching change or philosophical differences with the head coach.
A few discover their skill set might be better suited to a lower level of competition, while a handful turn professional and others simply want to be closer to home.
University of Maine coach Ted Woodward said discussion about transfers was expected to consume a large chunk of the Division I head coaches’ meeting Friday during the National Association of Basketball Coaches convention at the Final Four in Atlanta.
“Transfers are a big part of college basketball,” Woodward said.
“It’s grown drastically over the past five to seven years,” he added. “Lots of factors enter into that, but it’s something that coaches and the NCAA are concerned about.”
“Forty percent of men’s basketball student-athletes aren’t at their original school by the end of their sophomore year because they’ve transferred, they’ve dropped out, they’ve moved on,” Emmert said. “So we’ve got a significant lack of persistence. And we know that kind of movement, one way or another, is really detrimental to kids getting an education.”
Justin Edwards’ announcement last week that he is leaving UMaine at the end of the semester has created a buzz among Black Bear fans.
Edwards, the America East scoring leader this season (16.7 points per game) and a second-team all-conference selection, said through his Twitter account he wants to play at a higher level. He has not disclosed what schools he is considering.
Woodward publicly supported Edwards’ transfer decision, despite losing his most dynamic player.
Assuming Edwards finds a new home with a program ranked above the league Maine competes in, America East (No. 23 among 32 Division I leagues in the Rating Percentage Index), he will become part of a growing trend.
Last July, Luke Winn of SI.com wrote a story about transfers that focused attention on the increasing number of players who are moving to higher-level programs.
His research revealed there were 12 such players who became eligible to play during 2011-12, but the number doubled to 25 for the 2012-13 campaign. That group includes Louisville’s Luke Hancock, a transfer from George Mason, whose Cardinals are in the Final Four.
Winn suggests the trend is disturbing because recruitment of declared transfers to top-level programs further opens the door for potential tampering as coaches try to entice players.
Another recent dynamic involves student-athletes who earn a degree in four years, but have a year of eligibility remaining and transfer to play a fifth season elsewhere.
Final Four participant Wichita State has six transfers on its roster. Combined, they had attended two other Division I schools and nine different junior colleges before landing with the Shockers.
Though Edwards likely won’t be playing for the likes of Duke or Louisville, his transfer to a more prominent program would place him in an elite group of players who have transferred out of UMaine.
Rick Carlisle, head coach of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, played two seasons for coach Skip Chappelle from 1979 to 1981. He then transferred to the University of Virginia, where he was a co-captain on the team that reached the Final Four in 1984.
Carlisle, the ECAC North Atlantic Conference Co-Rookie of the Year in 1980, was chosen in the third round (No. 70 overall) by the Boston Celtics in the 1984 NBA draft and played four-plus seasons with three teams before becoming a coach.
Champ Godbolt, who played alongside Carlisle at UMaine, transferred to Holy Cross. He was an eighth-round pick of the Celtics (184th overall) in the 1984 draft.
While Godbolt’s move might be viewed as lateral, both players appear to have enhanced their pro aspirations by virtue of transferring.
Edwards hopes to follow a similar path.
The UMaine men’s basketball program has routinely availed itself of transfer talent in the last several years.
During Woodward’s nine years in Orono, UMaine has brought in nine transfers, including two this season from two-year junior colleges.
The Black Bears added Jon Mesghna from North Dakota State College of Science and Leon Cooper Jr., who first redshirted at Utah State during 2010-11, then played 2011-12 at Howard Community College. Cooper had an undisclosed medical problem that forced him to leave the team.
Other recent transfers were Raheem Singleton (2010-12), Terrance Mitchell (2009-11), Travon Wilcher (2009-12), Kaimondre Owes (2007-09), Brian Andre of Valley in Bingham (2006-08), Ernest Turner (2004-06) and Rashard Turner (2004-05).
Most proved to be productive players who made significant contributions to the team.
A dozen UMaine players have transferred out during Woodward’s tenure, including Murphy Burnatowski (to Colgate) after the 2010-11 season. Nonscholarship players Ryan Martin of Wayne and Stefano Mancini of Falmouth left to accept Division II scholarship offers.
Burnatowski is the only one who landed at another Division I program, while five wound up at the Division II level.
Noam Laish turned pro after an injury-marred 2011-12 freshman season and a few, including Mainers Mark Socoby and Jordan Cook, stopped playing altogether.
Woodward said UMaine utilizes websites and recruiting services that help the coaching staff stay abreast of all available players who might help the Black Bears.
“It’s got to be the right situation,” said Woodward, who explained there are numerous factors to consider.
“We do research on our needs, the [players’] talent level. Character is a critical factor,” he added.
Winthrop Intelligence, a service that studies trends in college athletics, analyzed a database that contains information regarding transfers across all divisions of men’s college basketball between 2002 and 2013.
Last month, it reported there were 3,596 transfers involving Division I schools during that time frame. Only 412 of those (11 percent) included a student-athlete moving from one Division I school to another.
Most (2,849) transferred from a lower-level school to Division I, while 665 relocated from Division I to a lower division.
Of the 412 student-athletes who transferred between Division I programs, 188 (46 percent) were in the Bowl Championship Series conferences such as the Big 12, Big Ten, Southeastern, Atlantic Coast, Big East and Pac-12. In that group, 139 transferred down to teams in non-BCS leagues.
The smallest group is made up of the 41 transfers who moved up into one of the BCS conferences from lower-level programs. That sample is smaller than the SI.com statistics showing upward movement not restricted to BCS schools.
The NCAA’s 2010-2011 figures for Division I transfers in all sports show approximately 6.4 percent of all student-athletes moved from one Division I school to another that year.
Football had the highest number of transfers (969), followed by men’s basketball (445), women’s basketball (364) and baseball (200).
NCAA rules in those sports require student-athletes to sit out a year of competition before becoming eligible with their new teams.
Transfers continue to play a vital role in the fortunes of teams around America East as league teams averaged 2.3 transfers, slightly higher than the two at UMaine.
League men’s basketball champion Albany utilized three transfers this season, all in reserve roles, after losing three players via transfer to other schools.
Vermont had four Division I transfers on its roster, two of whom were sitting out the transfer year. The group included key performers Trey Blue and Candon Rusin. The Catamounts had lost 2012 league rookie of the year Four McGlynn to Towson.
“It’s happened as much in our league as it has in any league,” Woodward said. “It’s part of the business.”
New Hampshire and Maryland Baltimore County each had three transfers. Stony Brook and Binghamton rosters included two each, Hartford used one graduate student and one transfer, and Boston University had one transfer.
In other sports, there have been only a handful of UMaine student-athletes in recent memory who have transferred to what would be perceived by most as a higher level of play.
That group includes football player Lofa Tatupu, who transferred to the University of Southern California. He won two national championships there and moved on to the National Football League.
Two baseball pitchers have left UMaine in the last 17 years to pursue greener pastures. Pete Fisher played for the Black Bears in 1996 before transferring to Alabama of the SEC, where he appeared in the College World Series. He was a fourth-round draft choice of the Minnesota Twins in 1998.
Steve Richard pitched for UMaine in 2004 and 2005, then left to complete his career at Clemson of the ACC. He stayed one year, then signed after being taken in the eighth round by the Seattle Mariners.
Thus, there is a precedent for UMaine sending student-athletes to more prominent schools. However, Edwards’ decision to transfer to a higher-level program has been an uncommon occurrence, particularly in basketball, over the last 30 years.
At UMaine, because of its geographic location, its low profile in NCAA Division I athletics as a member of America East and the recent struggles of Black Bear teams virtually across the board, it is a dynamic that is unlikely to change in the near future.
Update: This story corrects Brian Andre’s high school to Valley of Bingham and updated the number of players transferring out of the UMaine men’s basketball program under head coach Ted Woodward.