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Graduate transfer rule is hot topic at Big Ten meetings

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Jake Rudock

Rosemont, Ill. — The idea of a college student transferring from one university to another is hardly a new phenomenon.

However, the practice of a graduate transfer in college sports has taken off in recent years, primarily in football and men's basketball, and several high profile cases have the issue front and center again from many universities.

While former Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson decided on Tuesday he would complete his career at Florida State, Michigan will have a graduate transfer jumping into its quarterback battle this fall.

Jake Rudock, who started for two years at Iowa, will have a shot to be the starter in coach Jim Harbaugh's first season.

The topic wasn't a formal topic of discussion Tuesday as the Big Ten's athletic directors met for their spring meetings, but it was certainly being talked about, including by Iowa's Gary Barta, who had nothing but positive things to say about Rudock.

"I've had great conversations with Jake. Jake is a great kid," Barta said. "So he did what the rules allow. I wish Jake would have stayed at Iowa. He's a tremendous quarterback. It was announced he got beat out and he made a decision and it was within the rules. So I wish he would have stayed but he chose not to.

"But again, it leads to a bigger discussion. I think we have to make sure the student-athlete's well-being is being taken care of. It's about rights and responsibilities. It is the right of a student to transfer but we have to talk about responsibility on their end if they come to the University of Iowa. Right now it is fully within the rules to transfer out as a graduate and until that changes we'll be supportive. We were supportive of Jake leaving, even though we would have loved it if he would have stayed."

The practice has been much more prevalent in men's basketball, but football is starting to catch up and the debate is beginning whether it is good or not for college sports.

Harbaugh said he's open to having more graduate transfers and wouldn't rule out more this season.

"I don't really have a crystal ball on that, but it's possible, sure," he said.

The graduate transfer rule began as an academic issue, allowing a student-athlete who earned their undergraduate degrees and had eligibility remaining to transfer and play right away. But in men's basketball and football, it has become more of an athletic issue.

Some argue an athlete should be allowed to transfer just like any other student while others see all sorts of problems, especially when many of the transfers never complete their graduate degree.

"I'm concerned about it because the original intent is not working," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said. "Originally, the conversation was, as a graduate transfer you would go to a school because the school you were at did not have your master's major. So you go somewhere else to get it. We know that's not happening. So, that's flawed. The other part that concerns me is that the graduate transfers are not graduating from those graduate schools. If I have a graduate transfer in a graduate school, I'm concerned about my graduation rate. If I'm taking people who aren't going to finish — and you know they're not going to finish — that's a challenge.

"We need to talk about it. We need to be fair for the kids. But we also need to look at it differently. It's not an academic issue. It's not. They got their undergraduate degree, so let's quit the facade and just say 'They've got one more year of athletic eligibility, so how do we facilitate that?' "

Many coaches and administrators don't exactly love the rule as it stands and would like to see some adjustment. At the same time, however, many are still taking advantage of it.

Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo benefited from the transfer of Brandon Wood in 2011 from Valparaiso, a move that helped the Spartans win the Big Ten title in 2012.

But he also worried where it was headed.

"I'm worried that we're going to start recruiting people off people's campuses," he said.

Several years later, the debate about the pros and cons continues.

Minnesota athletic director Norwood Teague has seen both sides of it. As the former AD at VCU, he's seen plenty of his athletes leave for bigger schools but has seen the benefit while at Minnesota.

Smith is in the unique position at Ohio State where the football program has three accomplished quarterbacks on its roster. One — Braxton Miller — could take advantage of the rule.

However, Smith believes he will stay at Ohio State.

"In my conversation with him, which was well before spring ball started and he was rehabbing in the training room, he was committed to coming back," Smith said. "He's taking courses and he's going to come back. So I don't have any reason to believe he's not."

And whatever happens with the rule, Smith doesn't want to constrain student-athletes.

"If you have the philosophy of student-athlete welfare — which I do — I don't know how you restrict them," he said. "I think we're beyond those type of restrictions today. We're trying to go the other way and let kids do what they're wanting to do. If you have your undergraduate degree, you did what we asked them to do. So if they want to go, let them go."