BLOOMINGTON — College basketball free agency is in full swing this month, with more than 500 players in the Division I transfer portal in search of more playing time or a better fit.
Yet NCAA brass is considering curtailing one quicker path from one school to another — the graduate transfer.
Under current rules, a student-athlete who completes his or her undergraduate degree with eligibility remaining can transfer to another school without sitting out a year.
At the Final Four earlier this month, NCAA president Mark Emmert said member institutions are discussing a proposal that would take away an available scholarship if a graduate transfer plays for just one year and does not complete his graduate degree.
According to the NCAA's most recent data, there were 94 graduate transfers in men's basketball in 2017, and only 32 percent of those transfers completed their graduate degrees.
"That's been a highly debated subject inside the membership, but I wouldn't be surprised to see some move in that direction going forward," Emmert said.
Purdue basketball coach Matt Painter said while he utilizes the graduate transfer market in an attempt to fill holes on his team, he wouldn't mind seeing the rule done away with completely.
"I don't think it's right for everybody in college basketball, for low-majors and mid-majors especially," Painter said. "These guys are leaving low- to mid-majors and going to the high-majors and what we would rather get as a transfer, we'd rather get a 22- or 23-year-old with a college degree. That just makes sense to have that discipline and that experience on your team, but it's also depleting some rosters of the people at the low- to mid-major level, where I've coached."
That happened to Indiana assistant coach Bruiser Flint when he was the head coach at Drexel. Flint lost his top player, swingman Damion Lee, to Louisville as a graduate transfer following the 2014-15 season. Without Lee, who was fourth in the nation in scoring at 21.4 points per game in his final season at Drexel, the Dragons fell to a 6-25 record, and Flint was fired.
"One of the opportunities that you can be good is that you build it from the beginning and you can have a good team," Flint said in an interview two years ago. "When you lose your best player and you think you are going to have him, it makes it tough for you. And now it's going to the point where you can lose multiple players. For a small school, it can just devastate your program."
The impact has been opposite for major conference teams. Texas Tech added a pair of standout graduate transfers — guard Matt Mooney of South Dakota and center Tariq Evans of St. John's — that fueled the Red Raiders' run to the NCAA Tournament final, where they lost to Virginia in overtime. The sharp-shooting Mooney scored 22 points in Texas Tech's 61-51 Final Four win over Michigan State.
"I like the rule the way it is because it worked out for me," Mooney said. "It allowed me the opportunity to play at the highest level and to play right away."
Mooney said there are instances when graduate transfers can benefit mid-major programs as well. He pointed out when he was at South Dakota, the school added Nebraska grad transfer Nick Fuller, who averaged 8.8 points off the bench to earn all-Summit league newcomer honors.
"If he would have stayed at Nebraska for his senior year, he would have finished his career and probably not gotten much playing time, and instead he transferred down and got to play right away," Mooney said.
IU added a graduate transfer this week — redshirt sophomore center Joey Brunk from Butler — who completed his undergraduate degree in education in three years. The 6-foot-11 Brunk is one of the rare graduate transfers who will enter his new school with two years of eligibility, giving him ample time to complete his master's program.
But as statistics point out, most men's basketball graduate transfers come in with one year of eligibility, and the majority don't finish their graduate degrees.
"They called this an academic rule, and this might be an academic rule, but it's an academic rule for a small percentage of them," Painter said. "It doesn't mean people aren't getting their degrees, but when kids are making their decisions, they are talking to you about, 'Hey, I want to see where I fit. I want to go to March Madness. I want to play in the NCAA Tournament. I want to play at a high level. I want to make the NBA.' That's what they are talking about.
"Do they throw in the academic piece of it? Yeah, sure. But the majority of kids are making this as a basketball decision. So I don't understand why we've stuck with that rule when our premise for the rule, initially, was for academic purposes."