B1G debate: Should Big Ten players be allowed to transfer without sitting?
Editor’s note: Ryan O’Gara and Connor O’Gara grew up following sports in suburban Chicago. The brothers, separated by 20 months, debated about their favorite teams and players so often that their father would often have to remind them, “This isn’t PTI.” Each Friday, they’re bringing that debate to you, centered around the Big Ten and college football as a whole.
This week’s debate: Should B1G players be allowed to transfer without sitting?
RYAN: Since the Big Ten decided to postpone its football season until the spring, there has been some talk about whether players should be able to gain immediate eligibility. After the B1G’s announcement, I read your column on why the NCAA should grant those athletes immediate eligibility if they want to transfer to a school that is playing. I understand the injustice to B1G players, but I disagree that they should be given immediate eligibility.
I don’t think it makes complete sense for a few reasons. For one, it would absolutely decimate Big Ten programs and put them in an even bigger hole than they’re already in. If Ohio State’s best players decide to go to the SEC, where they were probably all recruited to play in high school, it would set the Buckeyes back years and years. The Big Ten not having football is not Ohio State’s fault. It’s not any individual team’s fault. This was a decision made by Big Ten presidents and commissioner Kevin Warren.
I also don’t think it’s in the best interest of the players right now. Everyone is understandably very emotional about this situation, because livelihoods are on the line. I don’t think it makes sense to allow kids to up and leave to schools that they aren’t familiar with and join them just before the season started. The libertarian in me cringes at that argument, but I’m not saying kids shouldn’t transfer; they should just have to follow the normal rules.
I also don’t think it’s fair to the guys on the teams that are still playing. What happens to the player who was supposed to start, and all of a sudden is a backup because a stud lineman comes in and takes his spot? And how would programs even have room? They are limited to 85 scholarships, so is another guy quietly being dismissed from the team? There could be a lot of collateral damage.
CONNOR: I feel for the institutions. I really do. I know how brutal that would be if I’m Ryan Day and there’s nothing I can do if Justin Fields wants to leave my program and play football somewhere else this year (that’s just an example).
But this is about doing right by student-athletes, which the NCAA says is its main objective. How is it fair that a kid can have his season canceled and that’s seen as a hardship while Tate Martell gets immediate eligibility elsewhere for … not being a system fit? That’s the problem. It’s the precedent that’s been set by the NCAA even during this quarantine. How is Taulia Tagovailoa able to get immediate eligibility at Maryland but someone like Journey Brown can’t leave and play immediately to help his NFL Draft stock?
And as for whether or not this will decimate programs, I don’t think this would be a death penalty-type situation for the simple fact that these remaining teams are limited with scholarships. Would some coaches get creative to fill a need immediately? Absolutely. But I also don’t think you’ll see Michigan’s entire starting lineup leave and play football elsewhere, especially when the opt-out is on the table.
Kids don’t deserve to have a year of their athletic primes wasted in normal circumstances. They especially don’t deserve to have them wasted when a pandemic told them that they couldn’t play but that others could.
Ryan, you played baseball at Valparaiso. Imagine if the NCAA told you before your junior year — that all-important junior year — that you were one of the conferences who wasn’t playing. Imagine if the NCAA said to you — in a year in which eligibility isn’t even going to count against non-transfers — that you couldn’t play immediately. That’s not right.
RYAN: Fair point. I’m not going to lie, that would be tough. But I would still have a junior season in the spring, and I would still have a senior season. I sympathize with players from the Big Ten and all of the other leagues that had their seasons canceled. They are (reportedly) trying to play in the winter or spring, though, so they could showcase their skills then. It may not have the same prestige as playing in the fall, but it’s still an opportunity to play and put good film on tape, which is what it’s all about, right?
Maybe the correct answer is somewhere in the middle. What if only seniors were given immediate eligibility? It could be like a free graduate transfer. That way, someone like Shaun Wade, Journey Brown or Trey Sermon — the ones that really needed this season to improve their draft stock — have a chance to showcase their skills in the fall. And then Ohio State isn’t losing guys like Garrett Wilson, Zach Harrison and others who are supposed to be stars in the fall of 2021. Those seniors who are draft eligible probably aren’t playing in the spring anyway, so it wouldn’t be a big loss for Big Ten teams. I think some would play in a winter season because as LSU showed us last year, it’s a great opportunity to improve your draft stock and make some money.
You’re absolutely right that the NCAA has made a mess of transfers in the past and that there is no consistency. The difference in my mind is that those are individual cases. How could the NCAA grant an entire conference immediate eligibility? Either way, there needs to be a more uniform approach to transfers in the future. The one-time transfer without a penalty is a popular solution, and I like that idea.
CONNOR: The 16-year old version of myself is reluctant to say this, but crap, you hit the nail on the head with that compromise. It would probably have to be academic seniors, so as to include redshirt juniors. That way, the NCAA has nearly everything covered. As much as it would be frustrating to see anyone waste a year in their athletic prime, especially in a sport like football with such a small window, I do think the NCAA recommending that eligibility won’t count in 2020 should help. It feels like that’s their way of trying to avoid getting overloaded with waiver requests.
Real quick. Remember in the spring when the NCAA admitted that the waiver process was “strained” and that it was “unsustainable?” In the time since then, they’ve done everything in their power to ensure that it remains “strained” and “unsustainable” by denying the 1-time transfer rule from passing, and my randomly allowing immediate eligibility for certain players (high-profile quarterbacks) who transferred the past 5 months.
But I digress. I think your compromise is probably the most realistic scenario here.
Well, that also implies the NCAA is about to use common sense. I suppose I won’t hold my breath on that.
RYAN: Here’s to hoping that the NCAA uses the pandemic as an excuse to shake things up — for the better. The bar is so low that it just might clear it!