A spirited conversation with UGA’s Mark Fox about transfer controversy
I’ve had a few recruiting discussions with UGA basketball coach Mark Fox over the last couple of years. But none was as spirited as this week’s talk.
UGA's Mark Fox: "Coaches can’t move around freely. Coaches are bound by buyout agreements ..." (AJC)
The topic was restrictions on transfer players, which has suddenly transformed into a hotly-debated topic in college athletics.
For the record, Fox is what transfer players consider “one of the good guys.” He has an “open release” policy, allowing his players to go anywhere they want, even an SEC foe or archrival Georgia Tech.
That’s where we will pick up the conversation.
- So why would you let one of your players freely transfer to another SEC school? What if he comes back and helps beat you? “I think as coaches, as long as there hasn’t been tampering, I don’t see why you should preclude a kid on going somewhere where they can pursue their lifelong goals. I don’t think, in those situations, that there’s any reason to try to steer them away from any particular school.”
- What do you think about the public backlash to college coaches putting severe restrictions on transfer players? Some people feel like it’s unfair to put restrictions like that on a player who is already penalized by having to sit out one season … while a college coach can move freely at a moment’s notice to take another high-paying job and leave his players behind. “That’s not true. Coaches can’t move around freely. Coaches are bound by buyout agreements and everything else. That’s not accurate. If I wanted to leave Georgia, which I don’t and never want to … there’s a buyout in my contract that discourages that from occurring. For those who say coaches go wherever they want to go, that’s not true. I think in 90-percent of the contracts, there’s a buyout provision that if a coach would leave, there would be something given to the school that he’s leaving. I don’t think that has been portrayed accurately. I think the big issue was when there has been tampering that leads to a transfer, there ought to be, from athletic director to athletic director, some ability in place for them to restrict kids to go to schools that have tampered with the current situation.”
- I could be wrong, but I don’t think a buyout is really a restriction. If a player transfers, he has to sit out a year. If a coach takes a job at another college, he doesn’t have to sit out a season or anything like that. “But that’s apples and oranges. Every kid, no matter if he’s restricted or not restricted, he has to sit out a year. You can’t say ‘Why don’t coaches have to sit out a year?’ We’re talking about restricting releases to certain schools. That’s different. I think they’re tying in unrelated issues.”
- Besides, if another college really wants to hire a coach, then they will just pay him enough money to absorb the buyout. “I think it’s [Sports Illustrated’s] Seth Davis, who I know … who wrote ‘Why should coaches be able to move and players can’t?’ There are clauses in contracts that coaches and schools agree to. I think that’s a poor comparison. I really do. And you’re talking to a coach that never wants to go anywhere. I don’t think that’s the same thing.”
- I realize that transfer restrictions can be a complex issue inside college basketball circles. But I do think mainstream America sees it as ‘Why should coaches be able to move on and players can’t?” like you mentioned. That’s how they are seeing it. “Why do they feel that way? Because they read what Seth Davis or Michael Carvell write. I’m glad you’re doing the story so you can accurately portray it. Again, we’ve got no issues with any of it because I don’t have any guys leaving right now. If, when we’ve had some guys leave, we’ll let them go wherever.”
- What do you think about the NCAA president saying the transfer rules need to be looked at to make sure they are fair to student-athletes? “I hope the NCAA looks into a lot of things.”
- So you think it’s fair to kids, let’s say, when John L. Smith was recently hired as the Arkansas football coach, months after signing a recruiting class as Weber State’s coach? Then he leaves for Arkansas. “Let’s flip this around. Think about this for a minute: When a school makes a coaching change, people are writing, well it’s the coaches that can leave. But if a school fires a coach, then do the players have a right to do whatever they want? All 13 basketball players on scholarship and all 85 on a football scholarship? Should they be able to transfer without penalty because the school made the decision for the coach to leave and not the coach?”
- That’s a good point. But in basketball, with such a small roster, it seems like many newly hired coaches are more than happy to see players transfer so they can bring in their own. “With the APR, you can’t do really do that. If you’re APR is too low, you can’t play in the NCAA tournament. So that’s impossible.”
Since I wasn’t well-versed on the APR rules, I told the coach that we’ll have to talk about that another day. I took the conversation in a different direction, asking Fox his thoughts on Georgia Tech’s restriction on players transferring to UGA. You can read about that here.
Mark Fox had some interesting thoughts and opinions. I appreciate him for sharing them. What are your thoughts? Is a contract buyout really a restriction? Yes or no? What do you think about his other comments? Please post below.
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