In advance of the 2017-18 season, the Big 4 basketball coaches joined The Buffalo News for a conference call on a variety of subjects. Here, Niagara coach Chris Casey, Canisius coach Reggie Witherspoon, St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt and UB coach Nate Oats share thoughts on the rampant growth of transfers:
Q: When you talk about transfers, what is the way to negate that? Should the NCAA consider a stiffer – I don't want to call it a penalty – but you have to sit out one year. If they made it two years, would that change some minds? Maybe more kids would stay in one place, although that's a big ask to have two years.
Witherspoon: The way it has been explained to me, is that the NCAA is not inclined to penalize the student-athlete more because they don't think they'll win that legal fight. What has been explained to me is that they're looking down the avenue of making it a little bit more difficult for institutions to take in transfers, especially of the graduate-transfer variety. The complication is that people were naïve to think that these transfers would be more inclined to be academic more than anything else. Lo and behold, after years of having it, they're now seeing it.
Initially, they said graduate transfers could transfer if the graduate program was not being offered on your campus. Upon further review, they said most of the kids who are graduate transfers don't get a graduate degree. There is some talk about maybe, if they don't, that you have to lose that scholarship for two years. Now I don't know if that will go through, but that's going more along the lines of the institution.
Q: Can I ask each of you about the LaVar Ball factor? Do you see the trickle-down effect? In other words, you have kids who have their parents or people around them who are constantly in their ear like, "Hey, if you moved out of here, you could go somewhere else?" Do you deal with that on a certain level or a high level?
Schmidt: No question. It's funny, in the recruiting process, you try to find out who the hammer is. Who is the person who is going to help that kid decide? A lot of times, it may not be Mom and Dad. It may not be the AAU coach. It may be the guy at the barber shop. Kids have a lot of noise going around. Everybody is trying to tell them what they think and where they should go. When you're 18 years old, it's going to matter – You should go here or you should go there or it's not a high enough level – because those kids are impressionable. They're going to go, for the most part, where people tell them to go. It's not necessarily Mom and Dad.
We tell kids all the time, when we recruit them: "There's only so many people in your life that really know you, that really care for you." They couldn't care less if you go to Bonaventure, Niagara, Canisius or Buffalo. They want you to go to the place where you're going to be happy. But there's other people in this process that they want the kid to go to the highest level so they can tell people, "My boy went here" or "my boy went there." For the most part, these young men that we recruit have to listen to the people that really care about them. Sometimes, it's trying to find out who really cares about him and who doesn't.
Q: Chris, did your head explode when I asked that question? You've been hit harder than anybody (with transfers).
Casey: We got hit a couple times. When I first got here, there was an exodus. I took the job in May. By the end of May, there were five guys on the team. Now you're recruiting in July and August and trying to find players. We retooled the roster to some degree, and then at the end of 2015, it hit us again. Last year, we lost one guy, which I thought was significant improvement. It's part and parcel of what the climate is, I mean, Memphis lost six guys. Some of the bigger schools can lose a chunk of guys, too. That's what it's so important to do the best you can with the makeup of who you're bringing onto your roster.
It's so important to have carryover from year to year. Otherwise, you become like a prep school or a junior college. You're recruiting almost a whole new crew every year. Our league is full of good players, just like Nate's league and Mark's league. Our league is full of good players, and it's all really good coaches, too. You're not getting by with smoke and mirrors. You need good players. You have to be able to track good players on your roster and guys that want to win and are committed to it. You have to coach them hard, and you have to get a little lucky.
It's an issue, but you know on the other side of that, guys, players have a right to go wherever they want. This is America, you know? If they want to go somewhere for a year and leave, that's what they want to do. You can't really turn around and stop them from doing it just like you can't stop a coach from taking a new job when he wants to move his family and take a new job.
I just think it's unfortunate, and I'm being a little redundant here, but I think we're losing the value of perseverance and stick-to-it-ness and understanding that you have to fight through some things to get what you want. There's a large tendency in a large group of players that will not do that and think the grass is greener at the next place. What's not realized is that all your issues and things you have to conquer come with you. They're not left behind. I go back to what was said previously, that only a small percentage of guys make a big impact when they transfer.
There are some guys who there who have done it. You applaud them. It's good for them. But the majority of guys don't improve their numbers, don't improve their level they're at and in a lot of cases worsen their situation. Those are the situations that you don't hear about and read about.
I agree with Mark: There's a lot of people in their ear. The message now in large part is, "I can move here" or "you can move here" and "this will be better for you." It's not, "Hey, stick it out. Stick it out and persevere and try to conquer it, and it will make you a stronger person, and it will make you a better player" like Matt Scott did. That's less of the message now. I'm not saying it's good or bad. I'm saying that's what the climate is. That's what us, as coaches, have to work under, and we have to find ways to continue to evolve. The more guys we keep, and the more guys we're able to develop, as evidenced by Mark, the better your team is going to be.
Q: As you try to identify that hammer, or the person who is the deciding vote for a kid, are you finding that it's less often Mom and Dad, as it used to be, and it's more often the guy at the barber shop or the AAU coach?
Casey: Honestly, and I don't mean to dominate this part of it, but I think the hammer changes. It can be one guy, but it could be a different person sneaking in who's just going to tell you what you want to hear – when you're not getting minutes, maybe, that you think you deserve, or you're not getting enough shots that you think you should get. You've got to find guys, and that's important to a certain degree, but it's more important to find a home and develop. I think the hammer can change. It can be different people at different times.
Oats: We had one significant transfer, and I agree with Chris 100 percent. Parents are the ones we dealt with getting it done here. When it became time to decide whether he was going to leave or not, it was somebody in his ear. His parents were adamantly against him leaving and didn't want him to leave. It was somebody else who convinced him that he could get X, Y and Z from somewhere else. He listened to them and, I think, regrets it. He tried to call back and come back, but at some point kids need to grow up and be their own man and not listen to mom and dad. Sometimes, the hammer changes, kind of like Chris said.