Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo speaks to the media on Monday, Oct. 28, 2019, in East Lansing.
Chris Solari, Detroit Free Press
EAST LANSING — As Joey Hauser waits in limbo for the NCAA to determine whether he will be eligible for Michigan State this winter, coach Tom Izzo had some strong words about the state of transfers in college athletics.
And a passionate request to the governing body of college sports: Be consistent in those decisions.
“Whether Joey Hauser gets eligible or not, it doesn’t change,” Izzo said Monday during his weekly news conference. “So you’ll say, ‘What a hypocritical guy you are. If your guy makes it, you’re happy with it.’ No, I’m not, I’m not. But what I’m not happy with is if my guy doesn’t get it and other people are getting it, that I’m not happy about.”
The NCAA denied Hauser’s initial waiver appeal for immediate eligibility after the 6-foot-8 sophomore forward left Marquette in mid-April and chose MSU in late May. Hauser was an All-Big East freshman last season, averaging 9.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists.
MSU is on its third appeal to the NCAA in hopes of getting him cleared to play immediately.
The NCAA streamlined its transfer process in April 2018 “to allow waivers for immediate eligibility in cases that met specific criteria” while also creating the transfer portal that athletes can enter their name into at any time. The Division I Council continued to massage and relax the process this summer, allowing a slew of high-profile football players to change schools in the offseason.
Although Izzo has been outspoken for years about the increasing number of transfers, he admitted most of his frustration is with what he believes is inconsistent application of the waiver process.
“I’m so confused,” he said. “There will be teams that, as you prepare, you’re gonna be preparing for teams that might have a player that becomes (eligible). It’s the reason this thing to me is a real problem. …
“How people cannot see this is mind-boggling to me. There should be one rule, that’s the way it is, no exceptions, no nothing. But now, once you open it up, I don’t want to be playing against people when I think I got a guy that just as well can be eligible as somebody else’s who’s already eligible.
“It’s a real problem.”
‘The new norm’
MSU football coach Mark Dantonio saw six players enter the transfer portal in the middle of the season; no Spartans player did so in 2018. MSU did add Jayden Reed in the summer, a Western Michigan transfer who was a freshman All-American wide receiver in 2018, and has other off-the-radar transfers on the roster such as tight end Matt Seybert (Buffalo), defensive lineman Jonathan Brys (New Mexico) and running backs Noah Sargent and Alante Thomas (Saginaw Valley State).
“I think it’s the new norm, sad to say,” Dantonio said Oct. 22 after losing three reserves to the portal in one week. “ … There’s a different reason for everybody making these decisions, but I think in the end, it’s about an opportunity to play in a lot of ways. It’s about patience at times for younger players or for older players.”
Izzo dabbled in seeking the occasional transfer during his first 24 seasons. Notably, Southfield’s Mike Chappell left Duke to help MSU win the 2000 national championship, and Eron Harris transferred in from West Virginia and was part of the 2016 Big Ten championship team, but both were required to sit out one season, per NCAA rules.
In 2014, Izzo benefited from the transfer process as guard Bryn Forbes was declared immediately eligible; he helped the Spartans to the 2015 Final Four and a 2016 Big Ten title. The Lansing native was granted the waiver to return to his hometown from Cleveland State to be closer to his ill sister and then-newborn son.
That situation was an exception to Izzo’s general view on excess transfers.
“More than anything, I think it hurts the student-athlete. It makes you not work for things, it makes you not appreciate things,” he said. “It puts you in a position, as I’ve heard in other sports — and I don’t know this — where we got guys putting their name in the portal and wanting to come back. … We got guys or gals putting their names in and not having any place to go.
“We’ve had many people in women’s sports that I’ve been told don’t even get a scholarship — they lose their scholarship because they think it’s just easy to put your name in. It’s really sad what this has come to. … It would shock you how much it costs to go to school now, and that scholarship is worth something. The education you get is worth something. And I think we’re kind of devaluing that, and I think that’s a shame that we’ve devalued something that is so critically important to 99% of all athletes. And that scares me.”
Women’s teams affected as well
MSU’s women’s basketball program,picked to finish second in the preseason Big Ten poll, also has a prized transfer playing in Shay Colley. The senior guard began her career at South Carolina and played 11 games in 2015 before transferring to Pittsburgh in January 2016. She left the Panthers’ program and arrived at MSU in June 2016, but the Spartans were denied an NCAA appeal for immediate eligibility, coach Suzy Merchant said Monday.
“I don’t think any of us coaches really know who’s gonna be immediately eligible and who’s not, but I think we’re gonna get to that point,” she said. “I think they’re probably gonna move that way, where it’s just gonna be immediately eligible because it’s just getting too tumultuous with why this kid and not that one.”
“I mean I know we fought for Shay when Shay transferred here. We fought for her to get a waiver and we didn’t get it. And then we might go play somebody that started every game at their last school, didn’t have a coaching change – you don’t really know everything, but they’re starting and playing at that other school, and they actually went further from home and didn’t come closer.”
Merchant was on the other side of the transfer portal in the spring, when former McDonald’s All-American Sidney Cooks left the Spartans for Mississippi State after two seasons. Cooks is ineligible this season, per NCAA rules.
The 13th-year coach said female athletes are being just as affected by the rise in transfers as in men’s sports.
“I think we’re in a day and age that a lot of kids we’ve been recruiting have been on two or three different AAU teams, they’ve sometimes transferred high schools,” Merchant said. “I just think they’ve grown up in an era and a time where it’s just like whatever fits them best at the time. I think uniquely, I’ve had kids that have transferred that have come back and said, ‘Man, I thought the grass was greener somewhere else, and I’m not sure I should have left.’ And then I’ve had other kids that have gone on and might have been a better fit for them. And I’ve equally benefited from it, too — from grand transfers to legit sit-out transfers.”
Though it is rare in college basketball, Izzo has dealt with two outgoing transfers during the middle of a season, Brandon Cotton in early 2004 and Brandan Kearney in late 2012. Asked whether he thought the portal would create more of that, as it has in football, Izzo was not sure.
“Football’s thing is, to me, outrageous, because they have the (rule) you can play four times (and still redshirt), so that makes it a lot different than basketball,” he said. “What will we see in basketball? What will they do with that rule? You’re supposed to be able to play so many games in the first half of the season. Are we gonna see guys go six games?
“If you always have an excuse for everything instead of being held accountable to what you gotta do, that’s my reason. I think we’re helping people in the short end. We’re winning the battle, but we’re losing the war — and the war is a lifetime. And that’s why I struggle with this stuff.”
Izzo said he is not alone in the coaching fraternity in his thoughts, but he believes others are “afraid to say anything anymore” because “what we say in public and what we believe are sometimes two different things as you’re worried about hurting someone’s feelings or hurting your recruiting.”
“I want my guys having a great experience here, but a greater life later on. And I think what we’re teaching is not,” Izzo said. “So what’s gonna happen in basketball?
“This is new territory. I don’t like what I think I’m gonna see in that garbage can. There’s been a lot of different things that have happened in all sports. There is an enormous amount of more people in it since we called it that word. I don’t see where that’s healthy for anybody. But maybe I’m wrong, too. I’ve been wrong before. Maybe I’m wrong.”