As the 2021 offseason trudges on, new downstream impacts of this recent batch of unprecedented player movement continue to take shape.
According to college basketball insider Jon Rothstein, several mid-major programs are choosing to op out of guarantee games vs. high-major programs. The reason: some mid-major schools appear frustrated with power programs recruiting their players as potential transfers. These games provide an evaluation period of sort, according to their logic.
Sources: Multiple mid-major programs are opting to not play guarantee games against high-major programs because it gives power conference teams a "free live evaluation" of future players who could move up via the transfer portal.
The level of separation has NEVER been greater.
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) May 25, 2021
This may have been a long time coming; for a long time now, high-major programs have mined lower division as means of landing experienced talent. Given how quickly rosters turnover these days, and the general importance of roster construction, this has become a key method for high-major programs to add players.
Look at just the 2020-21 season, for example. Baylor won the NCAA Tournament, thanks in part to multiple transfers, including two mid-major players: MaCio Teague (UNC Asheville) and Adam Flagler (Presbyterian). Carlik Jones, arguably the top guard in the ACC this season at Louisville, was a 2020 offseason addition from Radford.
(Over the last decade, Asheville has produced several eventual high-major players, including Clemson’s Jonathan Baehre.)
Those are just three examples, but it’s three players — all from the Big South — going on the have profound success at their next locations.
Really, this should be seen as a good thing. Three players, who were under-recruited out of high school, made the most at their first stop in college, got better and then took a leap. Teague and Jones will have the opportunity to make an NBA roster next season, albeit with minimal odds. (Teague really could be a great professional over in Europe.) Flagler should have a similar opportunity next year, too.
The Big South even pushed this out as a source of pride during the Final Four.
— Big South Conference (@BigSouthSports) April 6, 2021
Beyond that, it’s college athletes — who historically have little agency over their careers — getting to dictate where they want to play, on their own terms.
However, with COVID eligibility rules in effect now — and the one-time transfer rule here as well — the landscape of college hoops is going through a bit of a makeover. Of course, there’s going to be some pushback, especially from college coaches, who aren’t exactly the most flexible human beings on the planet.
On one hand, you can understand the frustration. Smaller programs, which operate on tighter margins, recruit and develop a player. This is a process that can cover years and include vast quantities hard work and dedication — from a variety of people. But before the player’s career concludes, some Power Six program that didn’t know this player until eight months prior swoops and makes an offer.
Given how broken the system of major college athletics is, though, it’s hard to argue against this as progress. Those analyzing this from a team-side perspective likely won’t agree with that notion, of course.
There will be more reactionary decisions, such as this. Although I’d be willing to bet that the coaches and programs the lean in on this new paradigm will be the ones that have the most success going forward. Programs that can sell themselves as a player-development resource, one that will help you get to whatever and wherever the next goal is, will become destinations. That’s an edge on the recruiting trail.
Furthermore, this decision not only a little tyrannical; it’s also mostly nonsense. There’s certainly (some) value to on-hand scouting of a player. However, there are services like Synergy Sports and Pivot Analysis that provide video and/or statistics for every college basketball team and player in the country. That’s all available, 24/7, and can be accessed on a laptop with ease.
Some mid-major programs may stop playing these types of games, but that won’t actually shift the Overton Window. There’s been too much success for high-majors getting these guys for that tap to be turned off.