June 24, 2019
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NCAA transfer rule change presents new challenges for UMaine, other Division I programs

Transferring student-athletes are part of the puzzle for NCAA Division I athletic programs around the country, and the University of Maine is no exception.

The Black Bears men’s and women’s basketball teams have experienced significant roster turnover in recent years. The UMaine men’s program has lost nearly a dozen players to transfer over the past two years, including several following the 2017-2018 season.

The UMaine women had six players leave the program for other schools during that time, including five after the 2016-2017 campaign.

The Black Bears football program has experienced only a few such departures, but lost sophomore tailback Josh Mack to transfer after last season. Mack, the leading rusher in the Football Championship Subdivision with 1,335 yards in 2017, is set to continue his career at Liberty University nisin Lynchburg, Virginia.

A proposal approved recently by the NCAA’s Division I Council will change the process by which the transfer process begins.

The new “notification of transfer model” that becomes effective Oct. 15 will allow a scholarship student-athlete to inform his or her current school of their desire to transfer — rather than having to seek permission from the school to contact another college in order to move on.

The school is then required to enter the student’s name into a national transfer database within two business days and, once the name is in the database, coaches from other schools are free to recruit the student-athlete.

Nicholas Clark, a recent graduate of and former football player at Coastal Carolina who represents the Division I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee on the council, said in an NCAA press release announcing the change that it promotes fairness and the well-being of college athletes.

“This creates a safe place for student-athletes to have a conversation with their coaches and makes the whole process more transparent,” he said. “This will clean the process up and give more influence and flexibility to the student-athlete.”

The change seeks to discourage coaches from recruiting student-athletes from other Division I schools while also addressing a practice in which some coaches or administrators have sought to prevent student-athletes from having contact with specific schools, according to the Washington Post. Individual conferences; however, still may make rules more restrictive than the national rule.

“I think this rule’s a bad one. We’re basically becoming a farm system now for all the other schools, especially FBS schools, because we’re at the I-AA level,” UMaine football coach Joe Harasymiak said. “It’s like a waiver wire. If a kid wants to test the waters and see if he can gain interest he’ll put his name in the pool, and I’ll find out from compliance. He doesn’t even have to come see me. He can just tell compliance he wants to transfer, they’ll put his name in there, I’ll get alerted to it and then he basically goes in a transfer pool and teams can start talking to him.”

Richard Barron, the former UMaine women’s basketball coach who in March was named the men’s basketball coach, said he didn’t anticipate the new database for transferring student-athletes would be of much help to coaches with sudden roster vacancies.

“I don’t think there are a lot of kids deciding to transfer without knowing where they’re transferring to,” he said. “By the time they put their name on the list they pretty much know or have an idea of where they’re deciding between.”

Barron said one aspect related to the new rule that already has been approved by the NCAA’s autonomy conferences — the Atlantic Coast, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 12 and Southeastern — could make coping with the loss of players who transfer a little easier for college teams.

“Now if someone says they’re going to transfer you can go ahead and notify them in writing that they will not have a scholarship for the following year, which up until now you couldn’t do, so you were kind of on the hook waiting,” he said. “This allows the student to say ‘OK, I’m going,’ put their name out there and they’re on that list and that’s great, and then the university can say ‘OK, we’re going to go find a replacement.’”

Harasymiak said one of the biggest defenses schools have against the continuing frequency of transfers rests within each athletic program.

“It’s all going to come back to what type of culture you’re developing,” he said. “If kids like being there, then they’ll stick with the program and stick with being a backup if that’s their role.”

But that can be a difficult sell for some athletes.

“It’s just that a lot of kids these days want the instant gratification of, ‘I’m the best kid ever, I never had to work for anything, I was the best player on my high school team, so play me coach,’” Harasymiak said. “It doesn’t work out that way in Division I, it just doesn’t.

“If we have a linebacker coming in now, he’s got to understand that Sterling Sheffield is a four-year starter and two-time All-CAA player, so he’s probably not going to play right away. But if that kid’s upset and he gets someone in his ear that’s telling him, ‘You’re better than him,’ then that kid’s probably going to want to transfer, and that’s a mistake.”

The NCAA’s Transfer Working Group will continue to consider other transfer issues, including rules surrounding postgraduate transfers, and still is exploring the possibility of uniform transfer rules.

Both Harasymiak and Barron agree the NCAA’s transfer formula remains a work in progress.

“I think it’s going to be a long sort of tinkering process,” Barron said. “And as for us, we’ll just go about our business and do the best we can.”

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