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Player transfers prove blessing, curse for college coaches

A view of the NCAA logo during the first round of March Madness on March 21, 2019, at XL Center in Hartford, Conn. The NCAA announced it plans to hold the 2021 Men's Division I tournament in a single geographic location.
A view of the NCAA logo during the first round of March Madness on March 21, 2019, at XL Center in Hartford, Conn. The NCAA announced it plans to hold the 2021 Men's Division I tournament in a single geographic location.

Since the dawn of college athletics, schools have held a hammer lock on athlete movement, making it virtually impossible for players to correct a mistake or to find a better fit, the same way coaches do.

But, in recent years, the yoke has been significantly loosened, and the result has been breath-taking, with thousands of athletes changing schools in rapid-fire fashion. Just this week, for example, the Maryland women’s basketball team saw four players give notice that they would be entering the NCAA’s transfer portal.

That list includes the Terps’ top two scorers, All-American forward Angel Reese, a Baltimore native, and guard Ashley Owusu, key players on what would likely have been a national championship contender next year. Meanwhile, the LSU men’s basketball team saw all 11 scholarship athletes from a squad that reached the NCAA tournament, announce plans to leave, likely ahead of possible NCAA sanctions for wrongdoing in the program.

In short order, the words transfer portal have become both the blessing and bane of college coaches, who find themselves, in some cases, having to make up for losses they perhaps hadn’t counted on.

But before you go into complete sympathy mode for the poor, misunderstood coach, consider Chelsey Lucas. Lucas is the new volleyball coach at Grambling, hired at the Louisiana HBCU in February.

Brought on after the Tigers limped to an 11-19 mark last season, Lucas has set about recasting the Grambling program in a big way and then some.

Lucas, herself a Grambling alum, met with each player on the roster, as is customary after a season is over and a new coach takes control.

What isn’t so customary is what happened next. Lucas informed each member of the squad – 19 in all -- that, based on their performances in three offseason practices, the school would not renew their scholarships. The move was so thorough that by the end of the week, each player’s picture and bio had been removed from the team website.

Lucas apparently has not commented on her decision, but Brian Howard, an athletic department spokesman, said there would likely be no spaces on the roster, as Lucas was bringing in quality players.

Said Howard quote I hate to say out with the old, but in with the new a little bit. Obviously we don’t want them to be cut or lose their scholarships or whatever that might be or whatever that might look like. At the end of the day, Coach Lucas has a goal, has a vision. We have a goal as an institution and a vision as well to win and that’s first and foremost unquote.

Not to be outdone, Grambling’s athletic director Trayveon Scott added to the institutional lack of compassion with a statement reading quote Just as the transfer portal empowers student-athletes, our coaches are also empowered to make the decisions they deem necessary to advance their programs unquote.

Call me naive, but shouldn’t the idea of college athletics be to produce smarter athletes, not toss kids aside that don’t fit?

Perhaps there should be some tinkering with the transfer portal, but the result should still be to give students more protection and more freedom. And not the Grambling kind of freedom.

And that’s how I see it for this week. You can reach us via email with your questions and comments at Sports at Large at gmail.com. And follow me on Twitter at Sports at Large.

Until next week, for all of us here, I’m Milton Kent. Thanks for listening and enjoy the games.

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.