It used to be that college basketball players — unlike most other NCAA-sanctioned sports — could not be immediately eligible to play as a first-time transfer. What’s more, it used to be custom that transferring within the same league was prohibited altogether.
Then the NCAA changed its stance on that in 2021.
Thank goodness that era’s over, right?
There are still two leagues that prohibit intra-conference movement, restricting all their student-athletes from transferring within their leagues without having to sit a full year. Those leagues: the Big South and SoCon.
That brings us to the dilemma of Messiah Thompson. He spent the past three seasons playing for the Campbell Fighting Camels. His sophomore season was his best. Thompson, a 5-foot-8 point guard, averaged 8.4 points and 2.1 assists on 40% 3-point shooting. He could have transferred a year ago. Debated it. Decided to stay. His junior season didn’t go quite as well (8.1 points, 2.0 assists on 32% 3-point shooting with slightly less playing time). On March 16, Thompson put his name into the transfer portal, and two schools initially reached out. One of them quickly lost contact after another point guard committed with haste. Thompson watched the NCAA Tournament come and go and waited to see if any other school would find him with genuine interest.
On April 12, three more contacted him, including Radford … which is in the Big South. That means, as of now, Thompson is not able to transfer there and automatically be eligible to play.
“It surprised me,” Thompson said. “Right now, I want to go somewhere I’m wanted, and I’m not saying Radford is the only one that wants me or that I want to go to, I just want to have them as an option.”
Radford might be Thompson’s best opportunity. Thompson’s father, Jermaine, told CBS Sports that Radford put in for a waiver request on Monday. The timeline for the waiver request to be reviewed is normally two weeks. Will the Big South approve the waiver? League commissioner Kyle Kallander told CBS Sports that there have been multiple athletes in various sports in recent years who have applied for an intra-league waiver.
All have been rejected.
“We’re continuing to evaluate the rule,” Kallander said, later adding, “we are looking at [it] in a different light than we have in the past.”
That might be encouraging, but Kallander also said he would not comment on the specifics of any eligibility case. Why is this rule still in place to begin with? One source told CBS Sports that many league presidents want to rescind the Big South policy — they just don’t have all the votes yet.
“We obviously evaluate this very closely and had a lot of discussions about this last year when the NCAA changed the transfer rule,” Kallander said. “One of the great things about the Big South is we’re very collegial. There’s a lot of mutual respect and a lot of working together. There was concern on the part of our presidents that doing away with the intra-conference transfer would impact that. There was concern about poaching, relationships between schools and teams. Certainly there can be legitimate reasons for student-athletes making those moves beyond just wanting to go from one team to another, so ultimately our presidents decided not to make a change at this time due to those concerns.”
The Big South will convene again on June 2 and might well change the rule this year. But Thompson can’t afford to wait seven more weeks. He can barely wait another two, lest his opportunities at other programs get taken by other players in the portal who are soon to commit. To be clear, Campbell has signed off on the transfer. Radford obviously wants Thompson. This shouldn’t be complicated.
“Given the current environment, it’s certainly worth looking at our process and how we’re evaluating these waivers,” Kallander said. “We are going to be speaking with our compliance committee about what are those extenuating circumstances, should there be more specificity around this with the current environment?”
To put it plainly: The era of restricting first-time transfers under any circumstances should be over. It’s a wonder this is a thing that still needs to be addressed in 2022. The Big South looks bad here, no matter if the player is a hooper from Campbell or a bench player in women’s soccer or men’s lacrosse. Now, Thompson isn’t Radford-or-bust. He’s not even set on going there. He is considering a few other schools as well, but Radford also has a lot to offer. He’d like to legitimately consider the school as a choice, but won’t do that if he has to redshirt.
To hear Messiah explain it, Radford might be best equipped to evaluate him because he played against — and beat — that team multiple times in recent seasons.
“I want to have options in my recruiting, and right now I feel like — I don’t know where I’m going to go — but I feel like Radford is a good option for me,” Thompson said. “For the Big South, that is the only one of the conferences that has this rule, I don’t feel like it’s fair. It’s proven for kids to be successful in other conferences. KD Johnson transferred from Georgia to Auburn and he had a great year. In-conference could be better for a kid because those coaches know your game best. These coaches have seen me for three years. They’d know me better than any other coach from a different conference.”
This is a layup. Campbell is good with it, Radford is good with it, almost every other conference operates under new guidelines. The Big South isn’t trying to be in stories like this, yet here we are. The only thing worse would be to reject Thompson’s waiver and willingly opt in on outdated thinking and athlete disenpowerment.
“How quickly — that’s my biggest concern,” Jermaine Thompson said. “He’s out of school at the end of April. It’s pretty urgent that this happens soon. We don’t have another month.”
The league can return its decision on or before May 2, but Kallander later clarified that, although the waiver process is usually two weeks, there is no guarantee that window will be met.
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