Fourth and Long

Published 10:42 am Friday, April 20, 2012

Everyone that knows me knows that I am rarely short on opinions. Bring up most any topic and I can hop on my soapbox and tell you why I adamantly support or vehemently despise any said position.

Every once in a while, however I come across something for which I find myself sitting on both sides of the fence. Such was the case with the drama that followed Bo Ryan and Wisconsin men’s basketball this week.

In case you haven’t heard, Wisconsin red shirt freshman forward Jarrod Uthoff sought to transfer from the Badger program.  NCAA rules state that a head coach can block a player’s transfer to any school and that is exactly what Ryan did.

The veteran coach reportedly attempted to discuss the transfer with Uthoff on several occasions without success and finally chose to block the young man’s transfer to any school in the Big Ten, Marquette, Florida, Iowa State or any team in the Atlantic Coast Conference. In other words Ryan wanted to ensure that Uthoff would not be facing Ryan’s Wisconsin team in the future.

When a player is blocked from transferring he or she has the right to appeal the decision to the university and as expected that is exactly what Uthoff did. In the end he was granted permission to transfer to any school outside of the Big Ten.

It seems to those on the outside that Ryan wanted Uthoff to remain with the team and when it became clear that Uthoff had no intention of doing so Ryan at least wanted an explanation for his decision to transfer. Uthoff apparently had no intention of doing that either and Ryan felt the only way to force Uthoff to explain himself was to make him appeal the decision to school officials.

It was a bad situation made worse by public comments and, while that certainly did not work out well for Bo Ryan or Wisconsin athletics, it did bring to light a problem that has gone largely unnoticed by the national media.

What Bo Ryan did is not the exception, it is the rule. Ryan is not the only coach or administrator to block a player from transferring to another school. It has happened many times before and is happening right now at Tulsa.

While my first thought is that it is a bad rule I have to take a moment and wonder what major college athletics would look like without the rule in place.

College coaches can leave whenever they feel like it and while the sentiment is that a student athlete should choose a college based on the institution and not the coach, it is simply not the reality. Prep athletes choose schools based on many factors not the least of which is their coach and playing style. If the coach leaves or the system changes shouldn’t the player be allowed to pick a new coach or new system of their choosing?

What if the coach didn’t leave, however for whatever reason a player just isn’t as happy there as they thought they would be, shouldn’t he or she have the right to pursue something more fitting to their style? Keep in mind that should the school or coach at any time find themselves unhappy with a student athlete they can revoke their scholarship.

The system simply isn’t fair but I am not sure getting rid of the rule altogether is the answer. Without it what would stop college athletics from looking like a free agency market? Am I to believe that without rules in place that opposing coaches wouldn’t attempt to entice players to change schools and come play for their squad? Of course they would.

Before you know it smaller Division I schools would become college basketball’s version of a farm league system. In no way is that good for the university, its athletic department or even the student athletes.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that the system in place is not working. It gives too much power to basketball coaches and university and given all they have to lose they cannot be counted on to, in the words of Spike Lee, “do the right thing”


David Friedman is a long-time contributor to Roanoke-Chowan Publications. A Bertie High School graduate, he and his wife currently reside in Wilmington. David can be reached via e-mail at