This summer is the Summer of Autonomy. The world of college athletics watches and waits for a crucial vote in August that will either grant conferences more power or maintain the status the quo (which could lead to the creation of a new super-division atop the NCAA pyramid). It's assumed that autonomy will indeed be granted and that the Power Five conferences -- ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC -- will be allowed to provide full-cost-of-tuition scholarships to their athletes.
There are plenty of other questions surrounding the upcoming autonomy vote: If not all athletes, then which ones will receive the larger scholarships? How long before Title IX becomes an issue? How long before athletes in non-revenue sports demand better scholarships and better insurance?
Those are the issues that have drawn most of the media focus in recent weeks. But big decisions on the existing NCAA transfer rules also loom on the horizon. Depending on the outcome, the non-Power Five conferences might become a de factor minor league system for the big-money conferences.
Currently, the Power Five leagues want to tweak the transfer rules to benefit student-athletes. Ralph D. Russo of The Associated Press writes that "the days of coaches having a say in where an athlete can transfer could very well be going away, though it's not likely deregulation will lead to a system where athletes come and go as they please." He also writes that the Power Five conferences "are willing to work with all of Division I to come up with a solution, but they also want the power to make their own transfer rules if need be as part of an autonomy structure the NCAA is moving toward."
And there's the rub. If the Power Five leagues are given the autonomy to make their own rules, how is it possible for their rules not to impact those smaller conferences that never had a say in the changes? Answer: It's not. And that's got schools currently outside the Power Five conferences worried:
"I still haven't gotten a good answer as to why transfer rules have been included in the autonomy bucket. I'm hopeful that will remain something that is voted upon by the entire membership." -- SMU athletic director Rick Hart
"The example that I used is Kellen Moore at Boise State. He came in as an un-recruited player and by the time he was into his junior year he showed he had some unbelievable talent. If the transfer rules are eliminated and there's free movement, does that allow that type of a player to quote 'go up' without any type of sitting out?" -- Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson
If you're thinking to yourself, "So what, let 'em transfer to my SEC school," you'd best think on the subject a bit longer. In a world with more liberal transfer rules coaches would likely have to dedicate time to re-recruiting their own players. How many talented backup quarterbacks, for example, would be willing to sit for two years behind a junior starter if there are plenty of other schools with starting jobs available?
Easing the transfer rules would lead to more tampering as well. Never in the history of the NCAA has an athlete transferred from one school to another without in some way making contact with his preferred landing spot. And you can be certain that it's not always the player who contacts the school. Depending on what rule changes were enacted, a coach who lost a recruiting battle for a player might keep right on recruiting him under the table even after he's arrived at college.
Opening the doors for transfers would also invite an increase in the amount of cheating. If you're Coach X and your blue-chip freshman isn't happy to be riding the bench, how do you re-recruit him? Do you give him playing time ahead of a blue-chip sophomore or junior? Then what do those kids do? Which brings us back to the oldest dirty trick in the recruiting handbook: You -- or some booster -- pays the kid to stick around. Think in terms of an Alabama or LSU where running backs wait in line to become the next "gotta haves" for NFL teams. It's doubtful that players of that quality would silently, patiently wait their turn if the system suddenly allowed them to up and move to a program offering a starting spot.
And, as the Sun Belt commissioner stated, what of the small schools who invest time and money into developing players that the Power Five teams passed on out of high school? It would be totally unfair for the little guys to have to worry about their stars transferring out and up to schools with more prestige... offering full-cost-of-tuition scholarships as an added inducement.
For that reason -- and because we don't want to see college football become the ridiculously transient sport that college basketball has become -- we at MrSEC.com believe the transfer rules should be taken out of the "autonomy bucket" as SMU's AD put it. If the transfer rules are changed, the full Division I membership should have a say in that decision. Because regardless of who makes the changes, the full Division I membership will be affected by them.