Graduate transfer problem needs to be fixed now

After a season hijacked by injuries, Bruiser Flint looked at his returning roster and allowed himself to dream. With virtually all of his players back, including Damion Lee, who ranked fifth in the nation in scoring, there was good reason for Flint and his Drexel Dragons to be optimistic.

And then Lee walked into Flint's office and said he'd be leaving. He'd completed his course work, ready to graduate from Drexel with a degree in general humanities and social science coming his way, and under the current NCAA structure for graduate transfers, would be eligible to play anywhere immediately.

All of a sudden Flint's phone started ringing.

"I got coaches calling, 'Hey do you think we have a shot with him?' I'm like, 'Man I don't want to help you out.' This is a guy who was going to be really good for me. Not just good, but really good,'' Flint said. "I get it. Coaches are doing what they do, but I'm not going to be like, 'Yeah, let me help you take my guy.''

And that really is the crux of the graduate transfer issue.

As the NCAA likely looks to close the loophole and make graduate transfers sit out a year like all other transfers, critics argue that the number of players involved (21 percent of all transfers, according to Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News) are disproportionate to the outcry against the rule, and that there are bigger issues for the NCAA to care about right now.

Fair enough, but try telling that to someone like Flint, whose plan for his entire season, largely centered around Lee, went up in smoke six months before it begins.

"The thing is, you develop a kid and all of a sudden he's going somewhere else,'' Flint said. "He wants to go to play at a higher level, but he went to Drexel for a reason -- because he wasn't recruited at that level. He wasn't a player at that level. Now he is, but we helped him get there and now that he is, he's out.''

The NCAA prefers to offer the more Pollyanna rationale for why there needs to be a rule change -- namely that, by sitting out and then playing, athletes are more likely to finish graduate work which traditionally takes two years to complete.

"Look we all know this isn't about getting a degree,'' Flint said. "They aren't doing this to get a master's degree.''

No, players are doing it to up their exposure for the NBA and more problematicly, they're able to do it because coaches are searching for them.

"You know how coaches work. We're all thieves,'' Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said with a laugh. "We will find the edge.''

The edge here is investigating, if not downright recruiting, players with ties to other programs.

It's not supposed to happen.

It happens.

"The reason we're addressing it is because our integrity is so bad, we're recruiting each other's players,'' Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. "It's a sad indictment of our game. But it's also bad when there are lists flying around during the season that says who redshirted when or transferred early in their career and is now a good player who would be able to do this. And that is absolutely going on.''

Wooed by more television exposure and bigger arenas, players believe, or are convinced, that to make it to the NBA, a bigger brand program is better (though newly minted NBA MVP Stephen Curry would argue to the contrary).

And so when coaches, desperate for quick fixes to their own roster turnover issues, come calling, players go.

"It's quickly becoming the thing to do,'' Brey said. "It's almost like you gotta go because everyone else is doing it. It's sexy for your stock. You can't stay. You gotta go, and so more and more kids are going.''

Brey said he's never taken a graduate transfer and doubts that he would. It's mostly because he thinks it might hurt team chemistry. He prefers transfers to sort of earn their stripes by sitting out a year. But he's also guided by his own experiences. Brey began his coaching career at Delaware, a smaller school that had its share of successes largely because he was able to grow players over the course of four years and enjoy the benefits of their improvement.

Exactly like Flint.

He recruited Lee out of St. Thomas Moore prep school, besting La Salle, Northeastern and Valparaiso -- good teams, but teams that certainly won't be confused with the big boys.

Lee turned into the CAA Rookie of the Year and a second-team all-league selection as a sophomore.

With much expected of him as a junior, Lee played just five games before injuring his knee and missing the rest of year as a medical redshirt.

This season, healthy (though he missed the final three games with a broken hand) and thanks to the extra season rehabbing now on target to graduate, he exploded, averaging 21.4 points per game.

Now he's off to Louisville, a team in desperate need of a good shooter, and Flint is left remolding his team again.

"I know if it were me and my family, they'd be saying get your butt back to Drexel,'' Flint said. "You've exceeded your expectations because of what they helped you become. You don't leave now.''