Virginia basketball fans are all to familiar with the phenomenon of transfers in college basketball. However, evidence shows that we may be no more than the first victims of a growing trend. The list of transfers this season is currently over 300 players, and it's still growing; by the end of the season, D-1 schools will average over 1 departing player each. It remains to be seen how coaches and programs will react to the issue. But if Bo Ryan's recent actions are any evidence, the answer may be....questionably.
Earlier this week in a routine move, Tony Bennett contacted the University of Wisconsin for permission to talk to Jarrod Uthoff, a forward who decided to transfer after one year as a Badger. The routine action would have been to grant the permission without a thought and get back to work; after all, Uthoff had already decided to move on, and Virginia is not remotely a rival school, nor is it in Wisconsin's conference or on Wisconsin's schedule. Bo Ryan's response was to place UVA and the entire ACC on a still-growing list of banned schools.
In these situations, it is common for coaches to put some stipulations when granting player releases. This usually means that players cannot transfer to in-conference schools or major conference rivals. Thus, Ryan initially denied departures to other Big 10 schools and in-state Marquette. He added Iowa State to that list, the first strange move. The Cyclones have gained the reputation of taking on more than the normal amount of transfers, but it is unclear how this affects Bo Ryan (Uthoff is an Iowa native). There isn't precedence for refusing transfers to entire other conferences, but that was his next step when the ACC was put off-limits. Last night, Florida earned a spot on the blacklist also, as they have a future home-and-home scheduled.
From a Virginia basketball standpoint, there isn't terrible reason for distress. Jarrod Uthoff was a decent recruit, ranked 90th by ESPN with 4 stars and 149th by Rivals, picking up 3 stars. We don't know much more than that, as he spent his first year redshirting. Thus, if he did arrive in Charlottesville, he would have to sit out a season per transfer rules, would only be eligible to play three seasons, and wouldn't have the added experience that transfers usually bring. Additionally, there is no evidence that UVA would be a better fit for the forward, who cited style of play as a reason for departing. Wisconsin is ranked dead-last (345th) in KenPom's adjusted tempo. Virginia's ranking of 338 doesn't seem like the ideal landing place.
That said, who the heck is Bo Ryan to tell a college student he can't come here? (While not granting a release does not imply an actual ban, it would necessitate a two-year absence from the court, which isn't really an option). It's possible that Virginia and Wisconsin could one day meet in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge, and technically that's true for any team in the conference. Still, that reasoning is pretty weak. After all, if one looks a few years down the road, any school in the country could qualify as a potential future opponent. And really, why does it matter if the Badgers one day face their old comrade? The impact to the University of Wisconsin was essentially negligible, especially compared to the potential harm that's been brought on by negative publicity in the past days.
Ryan's response was unhelpful, to say the least. "There are rules of a scholarship," Ryan told ESPN. "I didn't make them up."
Frankly, I don't blame Bo Ryan and Badger fans for being annoyed. Jarrod Uthoff committed to play in Madison and redshirted for a season, gaining a year of first-class education and elite basketball tutilage for free, while absorbing a precious scholarship. Now, he is skipping town without seeing the court. Still, Uthoff is just a college student who obviously wants to spend the next couple years in a better situation for himself. There isn't a chance for reconciliation at Wisconsin - what's done is done. Bo Ryan should have rolled his eyes and signed off on whatever he had to (as Tony Bennett did twice this season, minus the eye roll). Not doing so is an asinine move that just comes off as vengeful to fans everywhere.
What does everyone think? While the rules permit Bo Ryan to permit transfers to wherever he sees fit, is he overstepping his bounds here? Will more of these situations arise as transferring becomes an increasingly prevalent part of the college game? While you ponder that, here's a bit of the best from the Twittersphere:
Bo Ryan left UW-Milwaukee for Madison after just 2 years. Was his contract up? Was his "commitment" satisfied? Should HE have been blocked?— Jay Bilas (@JayBilas) April 18, 2012
BREAKING: Bo Ryan has blocked Jarrod Uthoff from choosing Pizza Hut, Dominos, or Papa Johns for dinner.— RossWB (@RossWB) April 18, 2012
Bo Ryan joins Roy Williams and Phil Martelli in the "drunk off my own power" club.Disgusting individuals.— Tomas Clark (@Tomas502) April 18, 2012
I don't want to say anything inappropriate here, but Bo Ryan is being a thing that rhymes with mouchebag.— Phony Bennett (@IfTonyTweeted) April 17, 2012