FCS schools want to tighten graduate transfer rule

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(STATS) - It seems every day in recent weeks there's a top player coming up from the farm system or there's talk of one on the way.

If you're an FCS football coach, you're hoping the news is coming out of Major League Baseball and not from your sport. Or worse, your roster.

The growth in graduate transfers leaving one program for another has trickled down from the FBS to the FCS. Under the rule, a student-athlete who has earned his undergraduate degree and not used all of his athletic eligibility can play immediately at his new school as a graduate transfer.

Former Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams, who left his FCS program last year to spend his final season guiding Oregon's offense, wasn't the first FCS standout to take advantage of the NCAA's graduate transfer rule, but he's been the highest-profiled.

It didn't take long for Oregon to find a potential replacement for Adams. It reached into the Big Sky Conference again and signed former Montana State quarterback Dakota Prukop as a graduate transfer.

Like Adams a year ago, Prukop might have been the best quarterback in the FCS in his final year of eligibility.

"It's a complicated issue - I really believe that. I don't think there is a right or a wrong," said Montana State first-year head coach Jeff Choate, who won't have the chance to coach Prukop.

"I think you can make the case that these young men have fulfilled their academic obligation and certainly done a nice job of playing pretty well if they're being pursued by another four-year institution at a higher level. You wouldn't want to limit their opportunity to maybe achieve a dream or a goal.

"At the same time, you can certainly understand that when you invest into a young man in terms of paying for their education and developing them that it's hard to see them go their fifth year to another program, or their fourth year in some cases. It's really counterintuitive to what I think college athletics is about, which is kind of that loyalty. That's not right for the brand, if you get what I'm saying."

The floodgates haven't opened with graduate transfers pouring out across college football. For one, the graduate transfer has to do what the name of the rule says - he first must receive an undergraduate degree from his current school to both transfer and be eligible elsewhere.

But the number of graduate transfers is increasing. Besides Prukop, players who earned all-conference honors last year who have used the graduate transfer rule this offseason include quarterback Jared Johnson (Sam Houston State to UTSA), offensive tackles Tyler Catalina (Rhode Island to Georgia) and Zac Morgan (Dayton to Oregon), and defensive end Gabriel Sherrod (Delaware State to Syracuse). Other standouts making FCS-to-FCS moves have included wide receiver Malik Golson (Delaware State to Murray State) and defensive tackle Steve Mercado (Lafayette to Western Illinois).

The graduate transfer rule was enacted to allow a student-athlete to pursue a graduate degree that isn't offered at his current school. In many ways, the rule's intent is highly supported.

In contrast, coaches can leave a school at any time for another one and not have to sit out one season, as undergraduates do when they initiate a Division I transfer while still part of a program.

What many in college football want to ensure, though, is that the graduate transfer rule is being followed properly and not just creating pseudo-free agency for players.

"I think there has to be some additional level of requirement for transfers," said Kyle Kallander, the Big South Conference commissioner. "And by that, I mean I would like to see us take steps so that we're ensuring that the graduate transfer is actually a graduate student. I get concerned that people are using the rule just to extend their eligibility and go play somewhere else and really not be serious about being a graduate student."

NCAA research shows the graduate transfer rule isn't living up to its goal. Among the FBS players who earned undergraduate degrees in 2012 and '13 and transferred to another school to pursue a graduate degree, 24 percent had graduated, 7 percent remained enrolled and 68 percent had withdrawn by the summer of 2014.

Adams left Oregon after one semester to pursue a professional football career.

The Big Sky Conference has been the most outspoken on the FCS level considering the transfer of Adams followed by Prukop. There hasn't been formal NCAA legislation, but the discussion appears headed in that direction as there have been suggestions and proposals to tighten the rule.

One idea gaining traction is the potential loss of Academic Progress Rate points for schools whose graduate transfers don't complete the graduate program. Another suggestion is to allow a two-year scholarship to graduate transfers to provide sufficient time to get the graduate degree.

On the FBS level, the Southeastern Conference has added a rule in which a graduate transfer has to complete the program or the school can't enroll another student-athlete under the exception for three years.

"That is a way to say to our universities, 'Bring people in at the graduate level who are serious about going to school,'" SEC commissioner Greg Sankey told The Associated Press.

Eastern Washington slumped to a 6-5 record last year in a season in which Adams would have been the senior quarterback and made the Eagles a contender for the FCS national title. Montana State hopes the loss of Prukop won't have a similar effect this year.

The Bobcats are coming off their first losing record (5-6) since 2001, hence the change in head coach with Choate. He's filled the void with a transfer quarterback, Tyler Bruggman, coming up from the junior college level.

"I can certainly see the student-athlete's perspective, I really do," Choate said. "I looked at it like this: I've moved around as a coach, and if the situation was better for myself and my family, I took advantage of that situation. It's hard for me as a coach to look at a young man and feel the same way about his career and counsel him out of that.

"But you would like to see some compromise on that. For example, if a young man is going to do the graduate transfer, if they don't complete their master's degree, maybe there's a penalty for an APR point for that program, so it doesn't just become a six-month deal - that there's some piece that makes somebody think twice about grabbing a graduate transfer."