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Overreaction Monday: Winds of Change Coming to College Basketball

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March is a time of change around the world. That’s especially true in college basketball. What changes are coming to Iowa City?

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Minnesota
Things they are a changin’ in college basketball.
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

This. Is. March.

You can tell by all the change. There was the time change over the weekend, of course, and the weather (at least in Iowa City and the Midwest) that keeps oscillating back and forth between a move into spring and a reversion to winter. There were also about a million changes to NFL rosters toward the end of last week. And then there’s college basketball, where this month brings so many different changes for virtually every team.

Yesterday, for example, we saw the hopes and dreams of an NCAA Championship die for all but 68 teams. In reality, it’s more like all but 20 or so teams, but you get the idea. For some schools, the season isn’t over even if they missed out on the NCAA Tournament. Nobody dreams of playing in the NIT, but it beats sitting at home and watching.

That’s what your Iowa Hawkeyes will be doing. But don’t think that just because their season was already over, they didn’t get some change in the last week.

I’m sure you’ve seen by now that Tyler Cook, after first not commenting on his future, then squashing rumors of a potential transfer to Mizzou, formally announced his intentions to test the NBA Draft waters. There had been rumblings that was the way he was leaning. There were also whispers he was thinking of hiring an agent and eliminating his option to return to Iowa.

Given those rumors, Hawkeye fans should feel pretty good about the announcement that he’ll be undergoing evaluations without hiring an agent. It really is a best case scenario. Cook gets honest feedback and experience with the process, but he keeps his options open to return. Iowa may get to keep their prized power forward and perhaps the feedback will spark further improvement heading into next season. Overall, it’s a good development in my opinion.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Iowa vs Illinois
The loss of Tyler Cook to the NBA could be huge for the Hawkeyes. Will it be the only departure?
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

But the Cook rumors were hardly the only ones swirling in Iowa City. Quite the contrary, I think I’ve read somewhere or another a rumor about quite literally every Iowa player potentially leaving the team since the end of the basketball season. They run the gamut from guys transferring (Moss, Dailey, Pemsl, Kriener, Nunge) to guys graduate transferring (Ellingson and Baer) to guys switching sports (Wagner to football or McCaffery to baseball) to guys leaving their home-state school to follow in their brother’s footsteps (Bohannon).

It’s almost certain that none, or almost none, of them have any credence whatsoever. But in today’s college basketball world, you can never be certain of anything. This was not a good basketball team and certainly not what any of these kids signed up to be part of when they came to Iowa. This was not the Lickliter era where they were had their eyes wide open - they were sold on a successful program under a successful coach and a chance to win a lot of games. So it would be easy to see why any of them might be as frustrated as you and I are following that disaster of a year.

And they would hardly be alone. With dozens of teams still playing and even more mere days beyond the end of their seasons, there are already nearly 100 announced transfers in college basketball. Last year there were 883 Division I transfers. That’s 2.5 per school. Put another way, that’s north of 19% of all scholarship players who transferred a year ago (even more if you were to take out the number of players who were seniors and out of eligibility following the season).

It’s the way the world works these days. Kids end up at schools for any number of reasons. They choose to transfer for any other number of reasons. The fact Fran has had relatively low roster turnover of late is an exception to the rule and it’s not something Iowa fans should expect to continue.

That’s not a knock of McCaffery or the program, that’s just how things are in today’s college basketball world. It can even be a healthy thing for a program. Nebraska, for example, was nothing short of a dumpster fire this time a year ago. They finished the season 12-19 (6-12 in the Big Ten), which was enough to convince five players to head for the exits. This year, they finished 22-10 (13-5) and 5th in the conference, just missing out on the Big Dance. They didn’t meet their goal, but overall, change worked for the Huskers.

Nebraska had 5 players transfer out a season ago. They were much improved this season.
Screen shot via verbalcommits.com

Could it work for the Hawkeyes? Who knows. Something has to be different from this season or the change will come at the top. Whether that’s personnel, wholesale style changes or just some tweaks remains to be seen.

Just from a pure numbers standpoint, Iowa fans should be prepared for at least one more player to choose greener pastures (Christian Williams is already listed among the year’s transfers). I would expect we would go from rumors swirling about every Iowa player to potential announcements on 1-2 departures in the next couple weeks.

While the impact of that could be anywhere from completely devastating to potentially addition by subtraction (I’ll let you, dear reader, decide how that would shake out), it’s something that could change itself if the NCAA has its way. I know what you’re thinking, with nearly 900 kids changing schools a year, something probably needs to change. But this change isn’t one to discourage transfers. No, no, the NCAA is considering a couple of potential changes to the transfer rules to allow kids to change schools with fewer impediments or repercussions.

According to the NCAA, a working group will spend the next month or two evaluating all the options on the table.

Some exceptions now under consideration include:

Allow students who meet specific, high-achieving academic benchmarks to play immediately after the first time they transfer during their college experience.

Allow prospective student-athletes who have signed a National Letter of Intent to transfer and play immediately if a head coach leaves the school of the student’s choice, as well as under other exceptions already in the rulebook. Because the Collegiate Commissioners Association manages the NLI, this idea would be referred to the CCA for consideration.

The working group is not considering — and never entertained — a model that would allow all student-athletes to transfer and compete immediately. Member schools noted that such a rule change would not lead to more student-athletes achieving academic success and graduating.

Expect the changes to rosters to only grow with the changes to NCAA rules. And with those changes, expect there to be changes to coaching staffs.

In Iowa City, that doesn’t mean a change to the head coach. Not yet. The massive buyout Gary Barta added to Fran McCaffery’s contract assures the head man of that. But it honestly wouldn’t have mattered anyway.

Fran took some heat for his dismissal of questions about his job security, and rightfully so - the media has a right to ask any question they see fit to ask and a responsibility to not simply ask the ones the coach wants answered. But he was also kind of right. His body of work absolutely stands alone as a reason he will be back as the head coach next season. Beyond that, removing any head coach after a single dismal season is not a recipe for long term success. If we get through next year and see similar results to this season, it’s a different conversation, but the buyout isn’t why McCaffery still has a job. And if his performance was truly that bad, the buyout wouldn’t have stood in Barta’s way.

It didn’t stand in the way of UCONN, who would have owed Kevin Ollie more than $10M after firing him following a pair of losing seasons. Instead, the school was able to fire him for cause (we’ll see what justifies cause at an institution that has turned a blind eye to the type of activities that Ollie and the program are under investigation for).

It also didn’t stand in the way of Arizona, who fired Sean Miller and paid him more than $10M in a buyout BECAUSE he was fired for cause (just imagine for a moment if Fran’s contract was actually going to pay him more money if he was fired for cheating than if he was fired for losing). Nor did it stop Pitt from shelling out north of $9M to get rid of Kevin Stallings.

The buyout should make the AD think long and hard about making a change, but when a school needs to move forward it isn’t the deciding factor. Fran McCaffery isn’t going anywhere. Yet.

But this is March. This is a time of change. Changing the clocks, changing the seasons, changes of scenery for players and changing of the guard for programs. There are certainly (hopefully) changes coming to Iowa City, and if something doesn’t change for McCaffery and the Hawkeyes next year, 2019 may be the year where Fran’s job status is the change.