Earlier this week the NCAA granted an extra year of eligibility to winter sports athletes and moved a step toward allowing all players to transfer one time without having to sit out a season.
Those landmark changes to the way college sports have operated for decades left basketball coaches around the country, James Madison included, wondering how it would affect their programs in the years to come.
“I’m just working through it all right now, quite honestly,” JMU women’s coach Sean O’Regan said. “That will affect how we recruit, for sure. I just don’t know exactly because it’s not like anyone is committing tomorrow, but it will have an impact.”
In past years, most programs have known which players would leave the program after running out of eligibility, then perhaps have to adjust in the spring and summer as a few opted to transfer or go pro.
“You’re going to have to evolve,” JMU men’s coach Mark Byington said. “Just imagine if you try to do things exactly how they were done 10 years ago or 20 years ago, you’d be so left out of how the game is being played now in recruiting and putting a roster together. Even two or three years ago is going to look dramatically different than what this next year is going to be all about.”
As it stands now, coaches may retain players they entered the school year expecting to lose at the end of the season, but also see even more transfers than usual with players able to leave and be eligible at a new school right away.
Plus one key aspect of the new NCAA reality has yet to be decided: scholarship limits. Currently, Division I men’s programs can carry 13 scholarship players while D-I women’s squads are allowed 15 scholarships.
Coaches will have to figure out a way to balance veteran players who now have an extra year with incoming recruits who were expecting to see spots open up. The JMU men have five players who transferred in this past offseason who wouldn’t be eligibile to for the one-time transfer exemption.
The JMU women’s team has four high-major transfers on its roster.
“What everybody wants to do, especially when you are not at a Power Five school is get old,” Byington said. “Teams that make runs in the NCAA Tournament or make runs in our league are junior and senior dominated teams. Very rarely is it freshmen and sophomores. It’s going to help us be older, but it’s going to be difficult having continuity on your roster going forward.”
Both the JMU men’s and women’s teams have full squads for the 2020-21 season and have already secured commitments for multiple players in the 2021 recruiting class.
In the event everyone wants to stick with the Dukes, it could result in overloaded rosters, though many around the sport believe the more liberal transfer rules will take care of that kind of scenario at many schools.
“You don’t know if everybody will stay based on playing time and all of that,” O’Regan said. “But that’s the challenge right now, is dealing with all of that.”