The Basketball Transfers Epidemic:  Some Thoughts

Every year I buy several College Basketball Yearbooks and this season was no different.  Among the many features in those, I’m always interested in the transfer list-the names of the players and their previous and new schools. It’s no secret that over the years the list has grown significantly.   In the 2017-18 Street and Smith College Yearbook, there are nearly 500 Division I basketball transfers listed as eligible this season (not to mention the DI transfers who fell through the cracks and weren’t listed and all the D2 and NAIA transfers) and another 300 transfers already listed as eligible next Fall.

During my own career, I had two transfers at the college level; one couldn’t have worked out better and the other one was a little rocky at first but in the end, it was a positive.  At the high school level, I had two and neither worked out-even though one of the two was a very good player.  Neither really fit into the school or the program.  Making generalizations on four examples isn’t very wise so I won’t-except to say that since the college game is at many levels a business, transfers are more readily accepted and understood.  At the high school level, transfers are a bit trickier since they are often regarded by the players and parents as intrusions into the community.      

I’m not sure the transfer phenomenon can be easily or totally explained but it’s certainly a worthy discussion topic.   So, with that said, here are some thoughts:

  • Most Division I transfers “transfer down”.  A few examples: Nebraska-South Dakota; Washington St.-Angelo St.; Arizona St.-Nicholls. An examination of that Street and Smith list is eye-opening and highly recommended.
  • However, there has been a slight bump in the number of transfers “up” because of 5th year transfers being eligible immediately.  Players who have had good 4 year careers are very desirable by higher level programs.  Another type of “transfer up” is the high school sleeper who signs low and then outplays the comp at his level.
  • In both cases, the player likely signed at the wrong level and perhaps the wrong program.
  • In cases where a player transfers to an equivalent level, it’s very likely the level was correct but something went wrong at the first school or program.
  • Rampant transferring starts in high school.  Players who attend 4 or 5 high schools in their careers aren’t as rare as they used to be.
  • One transfer at any level often leads to another or several other basketball transfers.
  • Players are often “set up” even before high school by their parents, relatives, teachers and even their coaches by being described with superlatives- “the greatest”, “the best ever”, “phenom”.  When actual results don’t match the superlatives, it has to be the current program-either insufficient playing time or the way the player is utilized.  Players and parents thinking they are “entitled” is very common.  I often use the San Antonio Spurs as positive examples of anything basketball, and that organization is on record for rejecting any kind of entitlement.
  • Some college (and high school) coaches will tell players and parents what they want to hear. Unrealistic expectations, more than anything else, is at the core of the transfer problem.
  • Transferring has always occurred but with the wealth of information available on the internet and the explosion of travel hoops, many parents and/or surrogates have access to bits of information that lead them to believe they are “experts”.  This often leads to meddling and undermining the current program. As the saying goes, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”
  • There is a lethal combination that leads to transferring-players wanting to play at the highest level (even if there are signs the level is too high) and coaches over-recruiting to protect their jobs. There are players who sign at a higher level than they should from a playing time perspective, but do so knowing they may never get into the playing rotation.  They are OK with this decision because they want to attend that particular school for other reasons.
  • In an instant gratification era, the notion of “paying one’s dues” is a foreign concept.
  • Players transfer for other basketball reasons also.  A player may not fit the system, or like the coach, the other players or the basketball culture.
  • Players transfer for non-basketball reasons including home-sickness, academics or social issues.
  • Transferring, in and of itself, can work.  If the first decision didn’t work out, the second can. 
  • If I had to choose one word for why things don’t work out for a player at a particular school, I would choose “fit”.  The school/program and the athlete aren’t a good fit.  Better due diligence on both the coaching staff and the athlete and his surrogates is really the key.

Leave a Reply