Big Ten coaches worried about ‘epidemic’ of transfers

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Rosemont, Ill. — With the list of college basketball players looking to transfer growing to nearly 600 this year, it’s becoming harder and harder not to call it what it is.

“It seems like for some reason this thing has taken on an epidemic form in the last three, four years,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “You combine the social media with the transferring and it just seems like it’s the hip thing to do.”

Added Northwestern coach Chris Collins, “It’s a vicious cycle. Where we’re headed is ultimately free agency, and that’s not a good thing.”

Judging by the numbers, it does appear transferring in college basketball seems like the thing to do. Some argue whether it’s truly an epidemic, as Izzo pointed out, but there’s no doubt it’s happening at a much greater rate than it has in the past.

And for the coaches in the Big Ten, who met the past two days at the conference’s headquarters near Chicago, there is a desire to come up with a solution.

“I think we all feel very strongly there are issues with the transfers and we’re finding every situation is unique,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “We’re trying to say, ‘OK, the solutions are varied but just let’s keep putting ideas out there to make this better.

“I think it’s everywhere in men’s basketball, and couple that with NBA attrition, it’s hard for coaches sometimes to build programs when you’re patching tires and that’s the whole idea. How can we get a better solution?”

It’s something Izzo and Beilein have been dealing with for some time, especially the last couple of seasons.

At Michigan State, forwards Javon Bess and Marvin Clark Jr. transferred after their sophomore seasons ended in 2016, while junior Eron Harris played his first year for the Spartans after transferring from West Virginia. Bryn Forbes, Michigan State’s second-leading scorer, was a transfer from Cleveland State two years ago.

The Wolverines have seen Aubrey Dawkins, Rickey Doyle and Kam Chatman leave since the end of the season. Michigan also saw Max Bielfeldt leave as a graduate transfer after the 2015 season while Spike Albrecht is headed to Purdue next season as a graduate transfer.

What can be done about the constant movement is still in question. Nebraska coach Tim Miles said most Big Ten coaches are in favor of transfers sitting a year, even graduate transfers.

“I don’t know about Big Ten coaches,” Izzo said. “I think most national coaches would probably have some theory on it.

“The grass isn’t always greener. Adages that lasted from my parents’ parents’ parents still have withstood the test of time. That is one of them, it’s not always greener somewhere else and you just don’t know it. And so kids transferring all the time is probably not healthy.”

Michigan State will be welcoming a graduate transfer this season when Ben Carter of UNLV joins the Spartans. It’s not official yet, but it’s nearly a done deal.

As for Beilein, he’s had to deal with two graduate transfers staying in conference with Bielfeldt going to Indiana and now Albrecht to Purdue. Even after that, he’d be open to accepting one at Michigan.

“I would think if it was a situation where we had great dialogue with the other coach and knew a lot about the situation, I would entertain that,” Beilein said.

However it shakes out, Izzo and Beilein — as well as the other coaches in the Big Ten — emphasized they are pushing for what benefits the players the most.

“I think the problem is getting the balance right now, of understanding their needs and their rights, but also understanding what’s best for them,” Izzo said. “There’s not a coach in this building that isn’t always trying to look out for the kids’ best interest. … I could leave tomorrow and be fine. It’s not about me. But that’s just an example.

“We see how many kids leave early and don’t make it, but that’s forgotten about. Same with the transfers. Everybody wanted to transfer when they were freshmen. Hell, I wanted to transfer from a Division II school when I was a freshman but you learn how to work through things and I just think we’re missing that a little bit and we got to make sure that it is in their best interest.”