How will the new NCAA transfer rule impact future roster building for Ohio State, others?
The rules for building a roster are changing in college basketball. The NCAA has seen to that, allowing all student-athletes one penalty-free transfer effective for the 2021-22 school year.
So while that will obviously have a pronounced effect on Division I players, the trickle-down effects are only just beginning to be understood. As coaches prepare for June’s first chance for in-person recruiting since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the future of high school recruiting also stands on the precipice of significant change.
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With the ability to land immediate, college-tested help through the transfer portal, will coaches invest the same amount of energy in recruiting and developing high school players? It’s an open question that could differ from the high-major level to the low- and mid-majors.
“I’ve had coaches tell me they’re going to recruit exclusively the portal,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. “High-major coaches. That’s one way to do it. I don’t look at it and say it’s right or wrong, that’s just a way of doing it.”
When it comes to the Buckeyes, Holtmann said he will always have a blend between landing transfers and bringing in high school players. As the 2021-22 roster currently stands, Ohio State will welcome four new faces — transfers Joey Brunk (Indiana) and Jamari Wheeler (Penn State) and freshmen Malaki Branham and Kalen Etzler. Of the 14 players who could be with the Buckeyes next year, eight will be in their final seasons of eligibility.
Three players have given verbal commitments for the class of 2022, but Ohio State has five open spots for the 2022-23 class. How those get filled, and whether more spots open due to transfers, remains to be seen.
“I do think you’ll see this affect high school kids, unfortunately,” Holtmann said. “I do. I think it’s going to provide a few less opportunities. That is a by-product of this that probably hasn’t been talked about enough.”
College is proving to be just one of several options for talented high school players, too. In addition to the NBA’s G-League Elite program, the Overtime Elite league will launch in September with spots for 30 players and also will allow players to train and be paid rather than play in college. Plus, the looming threat of changes to the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement could ultimately negate the one-and-done rule, allowing high school players direct access to the NBA.
Three of the top 10 recruits in the 2022 recruiting class are already projected to pursue a professional option, according to "Crystal Ball" projections on 247Sports.com. That's up from just one top-10 prospect in 2021 opting to skip college basketball.
The changes have made roster retention even more important than roster building. Down US-33 in Athens, Ohio University coach Jeff Boals said that while the Bobcats will be out during the first live evaluation periods in two years, it won’t be the same.
“I’m not going to go out every day,” he said. “I want to be around my kids and spend time with them and make sure they’re OK, because the most important recruit is the one you have on your campus and the most important team is going to be the one you have coming up this year. It’s going to be a year-to-year deal now.”
Players already in college will feel the impact, too. With nearly 1,600 players in the transfer portal, plus junior-college players, lower-division players and high school recruits all fighting for roster spots, someone is going to get squeezed out.
Plus, the constant turnover figures to affect graduation rates and APR (academic progress report) ratings as well.
“There’s going to be so many unintended consequences that come out of this thing,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “It’s going to be the new norm. It’s more general manager right now than coach, and you’re filling a lot of hats trying to put the best team together. There’s a lot of coaches out there doing the same thing.”
The impact from that is going to trickle down to the mid-major level, where coaches such as Boals will be spending some time recruiting this summer with the hopes of establishing relationships with kids who will sign with high-major programs but could wind up in the transfer portal after a year or two in college.
Across the sport, things are about to change.
“You’re probably not going to fill your whole roster with 13 scholarships,” Boals said. “You’re probably going to keep one or two open just in case. The roster is going to be fluid until whatever the first day of classes are.”
And, as college basketball continues to morph, for beyond that as well.