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Overreaction Monday: NCAA Rules and Your Iowa Hawkeyes

The NCAA changed a pair of college basketball rules last week. Luckily, they’ll have to enforce them equally - something they’ve failed to do with a number of other rules.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Columbus Practice
If I had to guess, I’d say Fran McCaffery is a fan of the newest NCAA rule changes. Just don’t ask him about their enforcement of other rules.
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

If you can count on the NCAA for one thing, it’s consistency. Well, consistently being inconsistent, that is.

Such has been the case with not only the pace of change in rules in college basketball as well as their actual enforcement. That goes for both on and off the court, where perhaps the inconsistencies are most obvious.

Last week, we talked about the culture of transfers in college athletics and college basketball in particular. There are a remarkable number of players entering the transfer market each and every year. The real issue, however, is the way in which the NCAA hands out their waivers for immediate eligibility.

Per the NCAA, a player is only eligible immediately following a transfer if they meet three specific criteria:

  • You are transferring to a Division II or III school, or you are transferring to a Division I school in any sport other than baseball, men’s or women’s basketball, football (Football Bowl Subdivision) or men’s ice hockey. If you are transferring to a Division I school for any of the previously-listed sports, you may be eligible to compete immediately if you were not recruited by your original school and you have never received an athletics scholarship.
  • You are academically and athletically eligible at your previous four-year school.
  • You receive a transfer-release agreement from your previous four-year school.

So there you have it, if you want to be eligible immediately, just don’t play football, basketball, baseball or hockey. That doesn’t really clear things up, though, for the vast majority of the transfers people care about. Luckily, the NCAA has some pretty clear guidelines for those folks:

Waiver: An action that sets aside an NCAA rule because a specific, extraordinary circumstance prevents you from meeting the rule. An NCAA school may file a waiver on your behalf; you cannot file a waiver for yourself. The school does not administer the waiver, the conference office or NCAA does.

See, you just need a “specific, extraordinary circumstance” that prevents you from not meeting those three criteria. In other words, if you play a revenue sport, the NCAA has complete subjective rule over your transfer waiver.

That’s exactly how Kaity McKittrick, deputy athletics director and senior woman administrator at Lafayette and chair of the Committee for Legislative Relief explains it:

“Each waiver request is reviewed individually, as they each present a unique fact pattern and almost always confidential information of the student. Our committee and the staff operate with the membership’s guidelines in mind, and are not driven by a specific approval percentage.”

That might explain the relative absurdity that seems to be driving the decisions. There are no set rules and really no direction whatsoever for the general public. And worse yet, the players cannot seek the waiver themselves - it depends on the school submitting the request on their behalf.

In 2018-2019, nearly 80 waiver requests were submitted in college basketball. More than half were granted. In the world of college football, only 29 waiver requests were submitted, but a whopping 66% were granted (19). That’s an incredibly high number.

Which is why it’s so mind-boggling to know that Luke Ford, a big time tight end who transferred from Georgia to Illinois this past season, didn’t get one. See, Ford is from the great (feel free to debate) state of Illinois. He also has a grandfather who is terminally ill. Had he been granted his waiver, nobody would have batted an eye. It seems like the perfect example of a specific and extraordinary circumstance, yet his waiver and his appeal were both denied.

However, there were a slew of high profile quarterbacks to get waivers this past year, including former Ohio State Buckeye Tate Martell, who ended up immediately eligible at Miami because....??

The transfer fiasco is just one example in a web of head-scratchers that spans the UNC academic fraud scandal, myriad instances of high profile schools getting off with warnings following recruiting violations while lower-level schools get the hammer for similar offenses, and of course, the ongoing FBI investigation into widespread payment of (hundreds of thousands) dollars for basketball recruits that has led to no change whatsoever. The bottom line is, big name schools operate by a different set of rules than the little guy whether it’s eligibility waivers, major fraud cases or recruiting violations.

That’s also true on the court, where the NCAA continues to look for ways to improve the college game. In the past, they’ve looked to create more offense and increase scoring.

The biggest example was the freedom of movement rules, which were aimed at stopping all the grabbing and holding done by college defenses and allow offensive players more freedom in their movements with and without the ball. It was a major point of emphasis which Iowa fans looked forward to helping tilt more than a few games in their favor.

While Fran McCaffery hasn’t been known for his defensive prowess at Iowa, the Hawkeyes have been tremendous at scoring points and a big part of that has been an ability to get to the free throw line. The one drawback on the offensive end has been the lack of quick, penetrating guards.

That may be changing this upcoming season with the addition of freshman Joe Toussaint and the recently announced graduate transfer Bakari Evelyn from Valpraiso, but without those penetrators, Iowa has had problems with teams like Michigan State that play a style of defense predicated on the use of hands to stop penetration until the officials make a call.

When the new rules were rolled out, the officiating crews did just that. For a while. Then we got into the depths of Big Ten play and postseason tournaments and we were right back to the old days. Fran McCaffery was not a fan.

There has never been any consistency with rule enforcement at the NCAA when there is any subjectivity involved whatsoever.

Thankfully, the newest rule changes coming to college hoops should not allow for interpretation. Last week, the NCAA announced two major changes to the game for the upcoming season:

  1. Moving the 3-point line back to the international line.
  2. Only resetting the shot clock to 20 seconds after an offensive rebound instead of a full reset.

On the surface, these seem like positive changes for the University of Iowa. The shot clock rule, in particular, seems to favor teams whose defensive prowess isn’t the strong suit. That fits the Hawkeyes to a T.

You’d be hard pressed to recount the number of times Iowa gave up a bucket last season (and several others under McCaffery) after a long defensive stand that forced a bad shot, but resulted in an offensive rebound. Or perhaps even multiple rebounds, only to leave the defense worn down and giving up an easy basket. Ten fewer seconds to defend on an offensive rebound should be a good thing.

The flip side of that is the Hawkeyes have been known to struggle in the half court without key players on the floor. Without guys who can create their own shot, if ball movement hasn’t created a clean look we’ve often seen Iowa forced into a really bad jump shot late in the clock. Taking away ten seconds after an offensive rebound could simply force that bad shot sooner.

That’s where the additions of Toussaint and now Evelyn will be critical. The Hawkeyes will need those newcomers to get into the heart of opposing defenses and either get a finish at the rim or cause enough of a collapse to get good looks for the likes of Wieskamp, Fredrick and others.

That penetrating ability comes at the expense of three point shooting ability. Neither guard is a bad shooter, but neither is stellar either. Certainly, neither is going to challenge Jordan Bohannon’s three-point record. But when Bohannon himself returns, don’t expect the longer three-point line to impact his game at all.

It may cause issues for a guy like Connor McCaffery, who hasn’t been a great shooter thus far in his career. Perhaps the biggest victim for Iowa could be Luka Garza. The big man shoots it very well for his size and position, but extending the line by almost a foot and a half could push him outside his range.

It could also do the same for opponents. That could be key for the Hawkeyes if they work more in a zone as they did this past season. While the additions of Toussaint and Evelyn will ostensibly give them two more solid on-ball defenders for a man-to-man defense, the zone was certainly the most effective a season ago and not something we should expect Fran to bury. Having opponents forced out another foot plus could help stop them from shooting Iowa out of their zone.

But most importantly, these new rules are hard and fast. There’s no interpretation and no subjectivity. The NCAA can’t enforce them against some teams and not others. They are what they are. Players and coaches may or may not like them, but they can adjust and adapt to them. Now it’s time the governing body does the same with things such as freedom of movement, recruiting violations and transfer eligibility.

They won’t.

Happy Monday everyone. Play by the rules this week. Or make them up as you go. It’s all subjective anyway.

Go Hawks