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The Big South has become the epicenter of the ‘transfer epidemic’

Nick McDevitt

UNC Asheville coach Nick McDevitt talks to his players during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, N.C., Friday, Nov. 14, 2014. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)


I’ve never really bought into the idea of the “transfer epidemic” being, you know, an epidemic.

There have already been over 600 transfers this offseason, and the heavy majority of the names on that list fall into at least one of the following three categories: 1) Players transferring down a level because they’re not good enough, 2) Players transferring up a level to get a shot at the “big time”, or 3) 1) Kids that you never have and never will again hear of.

And that’s to say nothing of the fact that the rate of college basketball players transferring is about equal to the rate of normal college students transferring.

No one really complains about a kid at the end of the bench of a Big Ten program transferring to the MAC or the Summit League once he realizes he’s never going to get any shine playing against the big boys, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone outside of the respective teams that gives a damn about Hayes Gerrity transferring from Utah Valley to Idaho State or Denzel Dulin going from Bethune-Cookman to Alcorn State.

The biggest issue people seem to have is with the up-transfers, players that go to a low- or mid-major program, star at some point during their career and then transfer to a team in a power conference.

It’s great for the players. Every single player at the Division I level thinks -- or, at the very least, wants a chance to prove that -- they are good enough to play for and against the best players in the sport, and if they create an opportunity to make that happen, who am I to tell them it’s a bad thing? Just because Louisville blew their evaluation on Dwayne Sutton when he was playing high school ball in the city doesn’t mean that the kid shouldn’t take advantage of the opportunity to transfer into the Cardinal program that a monster freshman season at UNC Asheville created.

Hell, I’m a proponent of totally doing away with mandatory redshirt years for transfers. If these kids are truly “student"-athletes and unpaid amateurs, I just can’t support the idea that punishing them for changing schools is a good thing. I’m the wrong guy to come to if you’re looking for someone to rail against social media culture or transfer epidemics.

That said, I absolutely get the frustration for the little guys.

Take UNC Asheville, for example.

Bulldogs head coach Nick McDevitt is better at his job than you are at yours. Prior to last season, he identified Sutton and Dylan Smith as potential impact players, recruited them into his program, invested a scholarship in them and helped coach them up to the point that both averaged double-figures as UNCA advanced to the NCAA tournament.

They then transferred to Louisville and Arizona, respectively. The year before, Andrew Rowsey, who averaged 20 points as a sophomore, transferred to Marquette, following in the footsteps of Keith Hornsby, who left for LSU two years earlier.

In total, the Big South, the league UNCA plays in, lost four players to high-major programs and six potential all-league players to transfer this offseason.

Do you realize how difficult it is to grow a program when doing your job well means you lose your best players?

“The topic of transfers probably took as much time, if not more, than any other singular topic we discussed,” Big South commissioner Kyle Kallander told the Fayetteville Observer on Monday after the league meetings. “That was basketball coaches, athletics directors and the presidents. It’s a real concern on our part and has been for some time - not just because we’ve been impacted pretty heavily this year.”

“It’s a really difficult subject. We’re trying to seek answers to a topic that’s really challenging because we support the ability for student-athletes to have choice.”

There’s no easy answer here.

The players are looking for their best opportunity, and for the most part, that’s going to be at a bigger school. With all due respect to the Asheville program, Smith’s going to have a better chance to turn himself into a professional basketball player at Arizona than he will at UNCA, and he’ll be do it while spending four years on scholarship in Tucson, playing in front of 14,000 at the McKale Center.

This is no different than any other profession, either. I walked away from freelance jobs and running my own website when NBC offered me a full-time gig. Lawyers leave law firms when a better job comes along. Free agents leave small market teams in every sport. If Louisville or Arizona offered McDevitt their head coaching gig he’d be stupid to turn it down regardless of how loyal he feels towards his alma mater and the players he brought into the program. This isn’t any different than Jim Boeheim getting burned when the likes of Malachi Richardson or Tyler Ennis get too good too quickly and bounce to the NBA.

Where are the people caping up for Jimbo?

I feel for McDevitt. I feel for the rest of the low- and mid-major coaches that did their job so well they sent their best players to a better program.

But don’t be the guy that’s out here telling people it’s a bad thing that a kid from Mobile, Alabama, who picked UNCA over UT-Pan American -- which isn’t even called UT-Pan American anymore -- coming out of high school is getting a chance to play for a top ten program with arguably the best young coach in the sport.

Because you look foolish when you do.