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Kevin Gorman

Kevin Gorman: College transfer proposal is left with many flaws

Kevin Gorman
| Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018, 9:57 p.m.
North Carolina's Cameron Johnson, center, drives to the net while defended by Clemson's Elijah Thomas and Clyde Trapp, right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018, in Clemson, S.C. Clemson won 82-78. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)
North Carolina's Cameron Johnson, center, drives to the net while defended by Clemson's Elijah Thomas and Clyde Trapp, right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018, in Clemson, S.C. Clemson won 82-78. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

When Clemson played North Carolina on Tuesday night, I couldn't help but think about whether Robert Morris coach Andy Toole and Pitt's Kevin Stallings were watching and wondering what could have been.

Clemson was led by Marcquiese Reed's 20 points, eight rebounds and five assists, as the No. 20 Tigers beat the No. 19 Tar Heels, 82-78, despite a career-high 32 points from Cameron Johnson.

If those names are familiar, it's because both started their college basketball careers at local Division I programs.

Reed played his freshman season at Robert Morris before transferring to Clemson. Johnson spent three seasons at Pitt before transferring to Carolina.

The Colonials and Panthers could be enjoying drastically different seasons with Reed and Johnson, respectively, as both are scoring in double figures for nationally ranked teams. Reed is averaging 15.6 points for Clemson, while Johnson is putting up 12.7 a game for North Carolina.

What makes it harder for Stallings to swallow is that Pitt has to play against Johnson when the Panthers visit Chapel Hill on Saturday.

Johnson would have been Pitt's top returning scorer, and Stallings tried to block Johnson from going to another ACC program. But Stallings had no grounds because Johnson had earned his bachelor's degree in three years at Pitt.

Although it was to the detriment of the programs they were leaving, both Reed and Johnson did so within the confines of NCAA rules.

Reed had to sit out a season, but Johnson was allowed to switch schools without waiting a “year in residence” because he was a graduate transfer.

But a preliminary proposal to change transfer rules could alter the college landscape.

Changing the NCAA transfer rules could turn men's basketball — which already has a 40-percent transfer rate — into a free-for-all feeding frenzy.

The proposal, by a pair of Big 12 faculty representatives, offers two key changes that would allow athletes to transfer without restriction.

The first would take power away from programs to prevent players from transferring to their school of choice, even if it's to a conference rival.

The second would make athletes immediately eligible if their coach is fired, resigns to take another job or the school is facing a postseason ban.

“Basically, we're saying kids can go anywhere they want,” Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard told CBSSports.com. “For the first time ever in college athletics, the student-athlete is empowered.”

The proposed rules changes wouldn't have prevented players like Reed and Johnson from transferring or affected their eligibility status. But they could have an impact on Pitt, Duquesne and Robert Morris, depending on if and when they become NCAA legislation.

Pitt has to decide what to do about Stallings, who is in the second year of a six-year contract. The Panthers are winless in the ACC and attendance is dwindling at Petersen Events Center.

Not only would Pitt have to buy out Stallings, but the proposed rule changes would allow Panthers players to transfer to another D-I program and be eligible immediately. If so, Pitt would be facing its second mass exodus in as many years.

But by allowing players to transfer without penalty when their coach leaves — long one of the greatest hypocrisies in college athletics — it could have an impact on a different type of recruiting that has flown under the radar.

High-major programs have been poaching players from mid- and low-majors for years, players they passed on in the recruiting process until they proved themselves at the D-I level.

That has been detrimental to programs like Duquesne and Robert Morris.

The Colonials lost Reed after he led them in scoring at 15.1 points a game as a freshman. After the Dukes fired Jim Ferry last spring, freshman forward Isaiah Mike transferred to SMU.

There is concern on The Bluff that Power 5 programs could come after star freshman guard Eric Williams Jr.

The proposed NCAA transfer rules changes could empower athletes and change college sports, especially basketball, for the better in the future.

But the fear is we could see more players who start their college careers here finish them somewhere else.

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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