What would essentially be free agency in college sports looks to be on the horizon, meaning the Duke basketball family should be smiling.
A proposal now on the table would allow all student-athletes to transfer without having to sit out a season (a privilege that collegians outside the basketball, football, baseball, and men’s ice hockey variety already enjoy). And such change would almost certainly work to the advantage of the Duke basketball program more than any other.
First, the Division I Council might approve the new rule, which would give each individual one such penalty-free transfer option, in time for the 2020-21 academic year, per the NCAA’s Michelle Brutlag Hosick (her article does not specify exactly when the moves could begin taking place nor whether players could transfer between an academic year’s two semesters and still immediately become eligible).
So how would this help the Blue Devils in the future? One way to answer that is by examining a current predicament:
Assuming a couple of freshman big men in Durham depart for the NBA after this season, next season’s roster looks a little light in terms of players taller than 6-foot-8. If Mike Krzyzewski and his staff wait until Vernon Carey Jr. and Matthew Hurt officially announce their plans for next season, then barring the reclass of some heralded 2021 prospect, the Duke basketball coaches could be stuck with limited options: grad transfers and undecided three-star recruits.
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Also, technically, six 2020 signees are in the bag while eight scholarship underclassmen are in town right now (not even counting junior guard and former walk-on Mike Buckmire, who surely understands he will have to pay his own way if necessary next year).
Doing the math, with 13 being the allowed number, Krzyzewski has already offered one more scholarship than he would have available next season should each of his underclassmen decide to stick around (a highly unlikely scenario but a possible one, nonetheless).
But this type of quandary in Durham is not limited to this year. As a leader in the one-and-done movement alongside Kentucky, the Duke basketball recruiting machine consistently faces such uncertainty that affects decisions by the coaches and the actual recruits.
After all, the occasional stud out of high school does stay in college for more than one season.
Had former five-star Tre Jones opted at the end of last season not to come back for his sophomore campaign, Hurt probably wouldn’t be on the current team with his fellow Minnesotan. Also, Memphis freshman Boogie Ellis, who had signed with Duke in the fall of 2018 while thinking then-freshman Jones was a goner, probably would be the starting point guard for the Blue Devils in the present.
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With the new transfer rule in place, though, Coach K & Co. would have a luxury. The recruiters could target fewer preps for the next year while seasons are in progress, knowing that, come summer, players unhappy at other schools would jump on opportunities to fill existing needs at Duke and thereby have shots at boosting their stocks.
Consider that, nowadays, no college or pro team in any sport sees a higher percentage of its games on the primary ESPN channel than Duke.
Another issue the rule would address is the disgruntled wanna-be one-and-done players who currently possess few ideal options should their freshman campaigns turn out to be total busts. These types of ballers typically want to be in the pros by the second year out of high school. They definitely don’t want to sit out an entire year just to seek more playing time at another school. As a result, when these dudes opt to return to Duke, where they don’t truly desire to be anymore, well, you know…
Attitude issues ensue.
In summary, this new rule could alleviate concerns about over-recruiting while helping to ensure all those who are Blue Devils in any given season do indeed want to be Blue Devils.
It sounds like a plan that should happen, will happen, and might just happen to prevent a few types of Duke basketball headaches in the process.