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How Not to Defend Transfer Restrictions

LAS VEGAS - NOVEMBER 20:  Head coach Bo Ryan of the Wisconsin Badgers paces the sideline during a game against the UNLV Rebels at the Thomas & Mack Center November 20 2010 in Las Vegas Nevada. UNLV won 68-65.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS - NOVEMBER 20: Head coach Bo Ryan of the Wisconsin Badgers paces the sideline during a game against the UNLV Rebels at the Thomas & Mack Center November 20 2010 in Las Vegas Nevada. UNLV won 68-65. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Wisconsin basketball coach Bo Ryan made some news recently by restricting a redshirt freshman from Iowa from transferring to a whopping 25 different schools, including the entire ACC and Iowa State. This is the latest incident in a string of recent ones where more and more attention is being paid towards the ability of head coaches to prevent players from transferring to certain places for any reason.

It's hard to say why it's become a big issue now, just as it's difficult to pinpoint why precisely oversigning became an issue two or three years ago. In the case of transfer restrictions, I think it has to do with coaches going beyond preventing players from transferring to in-conference teams and future non-conference opponents. I've yet to see anyone get worked up over those kinds of restrictions, though many coaches don't even go that far.

St. Joseph's basketball coach Phil Martelli and Kansas's Charlie Weis are two recent examples of coaches getting called out for harsh transfer restrictions. It hit closer to home in this league when Maryland's Randy Edsall blocked (temporarily, it turns out) three players from transferring to Vanderbilt where former Terps OC James Franklin is head coach.

Ryan is the first one to take to the media to defend coaches' abilities to restrict player transfers live on air. Here's how he argues the case on ESPN's Mike and Mike program (video via the Big Lead):

Ryan doesn't help his case by building up to a point and then dropping it right before the conclusion several times, that's for sure. Comparing a scholarship contract to a job contract, two very different things, isn't a great move either. He also tries to play the invalid "you never played" card on Mike Greenberg, then wants to portray himself as a victim here (!) because he's thinks getting scrutiny where others haven't. As I documented above, he's hardly the first coach to have to answer these tough questions in the last 12 months.

Ultimately his argument boils down to three things: he won't let someone leave without a discussion if they've invested time and effort in the team, it's no different than a non-compete clause in an employment contract, and coaches have always been able to do it. The first point is not coherent in light of the questions asked of him; Ryan's current policy allows the player to transfer to many places without further discussion. The second point doesn't make sense because these players aren't professionals, and some states (like California, for instance) don't allow non-compete clauses to exist for most everyone anyway. The third point is irrelevant. No rule should exist if it can't be justified no matter how long it's been around.

Ryan even completely fails when answering the obvious question (that he even said he knew was coming) of why it's fair for coaches to restrict transfers when they can leave for another job without any similar restrictions. He responds by saying that it's fair because ADs can fire coaches, which is mostly if not entirely a non sequitur. So what if ADs can fire coaches? What does that have to do with coaches leaving for other jobs? Mike and Mike do a decent job volleying that by bringing up buyouts, but that ignores the obvious response. Players are on only one-year scholarships, so coaches can "fire" players by not renewing the scholarship. But again, that has nothing to do with transfer restrictions.

Ryan's closing argument is just more claiming he's a victim and wondering why we're talking about his actions instead of the rule that allows those actions. What he doesn't do once in the entire five minutes of discussion is offer one single, solid reason why coaches should take advantage of the permissiveness of that rule. Just because you can do something, it doesn't mean you should do it.

I can stomach transfer restrictions against a team's future opponents, though I'd like to see some kind of evidence of tampering first. What I can't understand is the rule as it currently reads. This is one policy the NCAA needs to fix, and soon.


Wisconsin and Ryan have caved, as Weis and Edsall did before him, by reducing the restrictions to just Big Ten schools. Officially, Ryan only put down restrictions to force the kid into the appeal process and the discussions that happen there. What, he wouldn't accept Ryan's Outlook meeting invitations to come down to his office to chat? Ridiculous.