Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan, Maryland’s Randy Edsall, and many other college coaches have earned some recent notoriety with their attempts to limit player transfer to a “Coach’s Transfer Blacklist” of forbidden schools. The resulting intense discussion and debate was significant not just because the outcry appeared to have caused the coaches to back down and allow less restricted transfer, but also because a flood of twitter-based hoots and catcalls appeared to have been a collective, “crowd-sourced” outcry for fairness which actually caused substantive change in heretofore widely accepted NCAA practice.
But the media and social media debate failed to dig deep enough when trying to parse out why the blacklists were imposed in the first place, emphasizing as it did, for example, that Bo Ryan’s effort to restrain player Uthoff’s transfer was probably based on: a) a need to avoid “poaching” of players by other programs; b) some schoolgirl fussiness about having his Wisconsin team play on the same floor with the newly-transferred Uthoff, or c) some need to “protect” his playbook.
The emphasis on poaching is humorous: in effect, it is coaches all admitting that they just “can’t restrain themselves”, so that players must be restrained as a result. Poaching is poaching and (assuming it is “wrong”, which is not entirely clear, since “poaching” in any other setting is legal “job recruiting”) must be reported, as a part of the “self-regulation” which is fundamental to the NCAA system.
But Walter Byer, the former long-time NCAA Executive Director provides a much different — and street-wise — explanation for the long-standing NCAA antipathy toward player transfers in his book “Unsportsmanlike Conduct”:
“Student-Athletes will seldom talk about illegal activities at the college where they play. Having moved to another college, where they usually cannot be intimidated by coaches or college players, they often tell the truth about their former school.”
If you think this is harsh, or downright incredible, then just refer to the colorful history he cites:
“At the 1985 “Integrity Convention,” a group of seven universities, four from Texas, introduced the “Texas Resolution,” which would have required NCAA investigators to alert college officials in advance about possible investigations. Hearing this on the convention floor, I imagined what would happen if the police – before they secured the evidence – had to tell a suspected burglar they had seen a footprint in the mud outside the ransacked premises.”
“Footprint?” the burglar says. “What footprint?” Sure enough, when the officers return to make a plaster case, therre is no footprint. Luckily, members of the Infractions Committee and others diverted the Texas resolution before it became law….”
“Then [NCAA Secretary Treasurer and soon-to-be President] Wil Bailey of Auburn escalated the struggle…[and] in the months before the 1987 convention … tried to restrict interviews of college transfer students by our investigators.”
The effort failed. But the history gives insight into the NCAA’s current strange, petty Transfer-Blacklisting rules, and the actions of coaches like Ryan and Edsall, who seize upon their power to restrict transfer as a means of avoiding more detailed scrutiny of the “inside” of their “programs.”
By this common-sense view, the NCAA’s transfer restrictions, and their utilization by coaches like Ryan, are not just efforts to “protect the playbook”, but based upon fear that NCAA violations might be laid bare.
In this light the NCAA’s current transfer restrictions are anti-competitive, because more free access to transfer by a player would be a built-in “self-enforcement” mechanism, derived from the coach’s healthy wariness that some current player might be a later source of information about the real details of the way he runs his “program.” Players should be allowed to freely transfer.