College basketball has a perceived transfer issue in its sport. Some like to refer to it as an epidemic. Others use it as a generalization of the NCAA’s ongoing struggles.
The truth is in the numbers, and the numbers tell us nearly double the amount of Division I basketball players are transferring compared to just six years ago.
And as the NCAA tries to put its finger on transferr reform across all sports, basketball continues to generate the most discussion.
“That's some of the concern we look at that we're just not giving the young man or young lady enough time to really understand where to plant your roots a little bit and stay there and not just jump around,” West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons told CNHI in March. “Our goal is to have these young men and women graduate from college. That's the importance of being a student-athlete and that's what we're trying to create as well and have a balance there.”
A June 2017 NCAA research report for the 2015-16 season showed men’s basketball had the highest transfer rate among revenue sports at 13 percent. Only men’s soccer (14 percent) and women’s beach volleyball (14 percent) had higher rates. The average NCAA transfer rate was 6.5 percent.
The report said about 40 percent of men’s basketball players depart their initial school by the end of their sophomore year.
The NCAA’s data goes back to 2004 when men’s basketball transfer rates sat at 9.4 percent. It rose close to 11 percent in 2007 before plateauing until a 1 percent spike in 2012. It peaked at 13.3 percent in 2014. The rates are for Division I student-athletes transferring from four-year colleges to four-year colleges. They don’t include those who transfer down to the junior college ranks or non-Division I level.
As of Tuesday, 4,945 players have transferred in the past seven years, including 429 this year, according to Verbalcommits.com, a website that has tracked each DI transfer since 2002. That number will easily surpass the 577 transfers recorded from 2012. The website reports 800 players transferred in 2016 and an additional 885 in 2017.
The question is why the increase. Lyons pointed to youth basketball as a possible culprit.
“You look at some of the student-athletes' history, they are going from one team (AAU, high school or club team) to the next even from the time they are 10, 12 years old,” Lyons said.
“'Well, I'm not playing enough here, and I want to transfer or go to this team.' Some of this is looked at to say this is occurring before they even got to college. Now, you have a lot of people in there are sitting there saying you're a freshman, you deserve 25 minutes a game and you're only getting 18 minutes on average. Well, maybe if I go somewhere else and play I can get more minutes and that's some of the concern we look at.”
The majority of players transfer for more playing time, as opposed to attempting to transfer to a more prestigious program. Glance through annual transfer lists and many of the names don’t particularly stand out. There are only a handful of impact transfers in a given year, many of whom are graduate transfers with immediate eligiblity.
The NCAA examined 689 transfers from 2017 and reported less than half (48 percent) transferred to another Division I school with a majority headed to the NAIA/JUCO ranks (26 percent) and the Division II level (25 percent).
A study of Verbalcommits.com’s data shows Power Five conferences make up for 17 percent of outgoing Division I transfers since 2012.
The Southeastern Conference has seen the most turnover among Power Five conferences with 14.9 transfers per school since 2012. The Big 12 and Pac 12 average around 13.3, while the Big Ten and Atlantic Coast Conference have the most recent stability, averaging 11.8 and 11 transfers per year, respectively.
On average, most programs bid farewell to one or two transfers a year. There are, of course, exceptions.
North Carolina lost a transfer this year for the first time since 2011. Notre Dame, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Stanford, Georgia and Kentucky all have fewer than six transfers since 2012.
Arizona State has a whopping 27 transfers during that same time, and Missouri has lost 25, 21 of which are due to three coaching changes in the past five seasons.
The numbers, albeit a limited case study, show coaching longevity is generally a quality indicator of stability. For example in the Big 12, Kansas coach Bill Self and Baylor coach Scott Drew just wrapped up their 15th season at their respective programs. Baylor has the fewest transfers in the league since 2012 with eight, while Kansas has just 10.
Texas Tech, meanwhile, has dealt with three coaching changes during that span, including two years (five transfers in 2016, six transfers in 2012) that ballooned the transfer list to 23.
Thus, any transfer proposals allowing transfers to be immediately eligible if a coach leaves or is fired could further exacerbate the problem.
Some players are even transferring two and three times to find the right fit.
Former Ole Miss signee Dwight Coleby found a home on his third try in 2018, going from bench fodder averaging just 5.6 minutes a game at Kansas to scoring in double figures in nearly 30 minutes a night at Western Kentucky.
Former five-star recruit Carlton Bragg will be on his third team in 2019. He left Kansas for Arizona State last summer before arriving at New Mexico in January.
“Sometimes it may be a better fit or a kid wants to take a year and just try and get better,” Michigan coach John Beilein said at last month’s Final Four. “But there's also situations where the grass is just greener somewhere else and it's not. There's a process that people have to go through to become a better basketball player, a better student-athlete. And we have to really work at finding — I don't know the answer — but to make sure that kids really have, transfer for the right reasons. There's got to be compelling reasons to transfer.”
Division I transfers since 2012
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Big 12 men's basketball transfers
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Isabella covers the Big 12 for CNHI Sports.