Transfers now part of the college game
Published: Thursday, December 26, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 25, 2013 at 10:01 p.m.
Players transferring in all sports has become something that has gone from rare to common as the landscape changes for college athletics.
Sun sports columnist Pat Dooley looks at the phenomenon and also ranks the 10 best incoming transfers and 10 who got away. For these rankings, junior college players were not considered so players such as quarterback Cam Newton, safety Reggie Nelson and pitcher Chelsey Sakizzie were not on the lists.
Neither was Janoris Jenkins, because he was booted off the Florida team. We all have to have our standards.
Every year we hear a lot of noise about the one-and-done rule in college basketball. It's ruining the game, people will tell you. And the noise is loud because we're dealing with the stars, the NBA-ready players forced to go to college by the league.
Under the national radar, the game is changing so much that it's difficult to keep track. ESPN's Jeff Goodman has been doing it for the last few years and recently published his latest list of players who have transferred away from the schools they signed with.
In the last year, that number is 489.
Let that sink in for a minute, and forgive me if I'm off by one or two because it's not easy to count screen to screen. Certainly, the number is startling and shows that college coaches have to deal with rosters that change like chameleons.
“Recruiting has changed,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “Because of the way the rules are set up, kids aren't making the best decisions. Believe it or not, because of social media, because of texting, because of Facebook, there's not as much of a personal connection.”
There are a myriad of reasons why players transfer. Some of them simply realize they have made a mistake in their choice. For some, it's a matter of playing time. Girlfriends change schools, teammates aren't friendly. In the extreme cases, a coach is impossible to play for (see Eli Carter, a UF transfer from Rutgers).
But it is hardly an issue exclusive to basketball. Florida started two offensive linemen this season (Tyler Moore from Nebraska and Max Garcia from Maryland) who were transfers. On the other hand, seven players have transferred away from UF since the end of the season.
(We're not talking about junior college players here because that's a natural progression).
It's been a common practice for quarterbacks who do not win the starting job at one school to take their football and move on to another. Brock Berlin did. So did Jeff Hostetler and Joe Flacco in their day. Tyler Murphy graduated from Florida one day and bolted the next.
But now the practice is becoming as much a part of college sports as marching bands playing bad 1970s tunes.
“We've been very exclusive about (taking transfers),” said Florida softball coach Tim Walton. “In every situation I've dealt with, they're transferring for a reason. You have to get down to the heart of the reason.
“You research everything. You look at their Twitter page and their Facebook page. And you find out more from the coaches who have played against her than her own coach.”
Walton has one transfer in third baseman Stephanie Tofft, who transferred from Northern Illinois and helped UF reach the Women's College World Series last year. In softball, unlike most other sports, players are not required to sit out a season when transferring.
“I almost wish we did,” Walton said. “Because we have a ton of transfers in our sport. If they had to sit out, the student-athletes would put more stock in their original decisions.”
College baseball didn't used to have a sit-out rule and transfers were fairly common. But in 2008, the rule changed and baseball players wanting to switch schools do have to sit out a year.
“But what happens is that they want to leave they go to junior college where they can play right away,” said Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan. “Transfers were rampant in our sport but now we don't have too many.”
One reason — with 11.7 scholarships for 27 players, most baseball players are paying a good portion of their way to school.
“Why sit out a year when you have to pay money?” asked O'Sullivan.
Athletes who want to transfer are not restricted at Florida, according to athletic director Jeremy Foley. Sometimes coaches will tell a player he can't go to a certain school or within the conference, but any appeals to transfer go through Foley.
“They don't all come across my desk but the problems get to me,” he said. “It can be an emotional issue for a lot of different reasons.”
Donovan said he always tries to talk players out of transferring. He has seen 16 players transfer out since 2004, but recently the street has gone both ways. Players such as Vernon Macklin, Mike Rosario and Dorian-Finney Smith have helped the Gator program.
“Transfers we've taken are guys I've known or someone I'm close to knows about him,” he said. “Guys who transfer, you know there is a problem and you have to figure out what it is.
“The thing about guys who transfer is they know it's the next stop and, 'I've gotta go get it this time.' There's nowhere else to go. So there is a sense of urgency.”
For all of the coaches who have lost players to transfers, there has to be a sense of loss. Money and time is put into recruiting, but the exhilaration of landing a player can give way to waving goodbye less than a year later.
“I never want them to leave but if they want me to make a promise or a guarantee that I can't, well, I can't,” Donovan said.
A good example was David Huertas, who left in between Florida's national championship teams because he wanted more shots. He went to Ole Miss and had success, but not a championship.
Erik Murphy was among the many players who have walked into Donovan's office planning on transferring who came out ready to go to work.
“You get guys all the time who want to know what their role is going to be,” Donovan said. “I tell them, 'You create your own role. I don't create it. I'm plugging you in.' With Erik, we were losing our front court. I told him, 'You can't say the opportunity is not there.' “
Still, players often have — as former UF coach Urban Meyer used to say — fifth cousins in their ears telling them they should play more.
“I think with recruiting the way it is now with the TV announcements and social media, the kids — and sometimes the parents — come in with unrealistic expectations,” Foley said. “And then they think the grass is greener somewhere else.”
For college coaches around the country, transfers can be added depth or sudden stars. But it's an ever-evolving flow of give and take.
Complicating the matter is that some players in football and basketball have been able to work the system so they don't have to sit out a year making it easier to transfer. College basketball coaches have expressed disdain for the erratic NCAA reasoning for granting some waivers and not others.
"There should be no exceptions," Duke's Mike Krzyzewski told ESPN.com. "Everybody should have to sit out, that includes a fifth-year player, just to make it equal. I think it's a farce, really."
But in what has become a transfer culture, it's also reality.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.
The Top 10 Incoming Transfers
1. Danielle Fotopoulos from SMU.
Became all-time NCAA goal scorer and led Florida to national championship in 1998.
2. Jill Craybas from Texas.
Won NCAA tennis singles title in 1996 and led Florida to NCAA team title that year.
3. Trace Armstrong from Arizona State.
First team All-American at defensive tackle for the 1988 Florida team.
4. Kelsey Bruder from UC-Santa Barbara.
A two-time All-American, Bruder was the 2011 SEC softball player of the year.
5. Ann Woods from Clarion State.
Woods was Florida's first superstar gymnast and first All-American.
6. Zach Piller from Georgia Tech.
Starting offensive tackle on UF's first national title team. Without Piller, UF lost to FSU in Tallahassee. With him, they won Sugar Bowl against Seminoles.
7. Jeff Barlow from Arkansas.
Helped Florida to second-place national finish in golf in 1990 and led NCAA Tournament after 36 holes.
8. Conor Dwyer from Iowa.
Four-time NCAA swimming champion and Olympic gold medalist.
9. Will Claye from Oklahoma.
Won NCAA indoor title in the triple jump in 2011.
10. Vernon Macklin from Georgetown.
Big reason why Florida's basketball team was able to get back into the NCAA Tournament in 2010 and reached Elite Eight in 2011.
Honorable mention: Pitcher Alan Horne from Ole Miss and catcher David Ross from Auburn; swimmer Greg Burgess from Tennessee; goalkeeper Meredith Flaherty from Clemson; volleyball player Ashley Mullis from Ohio State; basketball player Mike Rosario from Rutgers; football's Ark Newton from the Hendrix College, Ryan Smith from Utah.
10 Who Got Away
1. Colleen Ward to Illinois.
All-American volleyball player who helped Illini beat Florida in NCAA tournament in Gainesville in 2011.
2. Cheyenne Coyle to Arizona State.
Hit 20 homers to lead Arizona State to Women's College World Series in 2013.
3. Erik Kresser to Marshall.
After sitting behind Danny Wuerffel, led Thundering Herd to Div. 1-AA national title as a senior.
4. Lea Loveless to Stanford.
A 19-time All-American, she was a part of three NCAA swimming and diving championship teams.
5. Brock Berlin to Miami.
The QB went 5-0 in games against Florida and Florida State.
6. Whitney Hedgepeth to Texas.
A three-time NCAA swimming champion.
7. Jeanne Marie Busuttil to Arizona State.
Was a part on NCAA championship golf teams in 1997 and '98.
8. James White to Cincinnati.
Ended up being the 31st pick in the NBA Draft.
9. Jamie Burns to North Florida.
Won two individual and two team NAIA golf titles and is UNF Hall of Fame.
10. Kenny Kadji to Miami.
Made All-ACC basketball teams twice and led Miami to the NCAA Tournament.
Honorable mention: Basketball's Mario Boggans to Oklahoma State, Jai Lucas to Texas and Ryan Appleby to Washington; gymnast Betsy Hamm to Iowa State; quarterback Ingle Martin to Furman.