Rules changes over the past decade have crippled mid-major basketball programs’ ability to make it to the NCAA Tournament and compete when they get there.
Major changes in interpreting what constitutes a defensive foul along with transfer rule changes have unintentionally (or perhaps intentionally) worked to the advantage of larger schools, by taking away the benefits of hard work over time by mid-major coaches and players.
NCAA officials say they wanted to increase the excitement of the college basketball game several years ago by re-interpreting foul rules so any touching of an offensive player’s arms or back (“arm barring” by defensive players) is an immediate foul.
Under those new rules, the fabulous Saluki defensive teams from 2002-2007 would have fouled out all their starters using the in-your-face defensive tactics that won them five at-large bids.
“Floor-Burn U” would have degenerated into “Matador Defense U”. In the 2000’s, mid-major giant, Missouri Valley Conference sent up to four teams per year to the Big Dance — and they all did well. SIU went to two Sweet 16’s and were often joined by UNI, Bradley and other non-power-five teams.
Now there is a premium on offensively skilled players that only big schools can sign. And the three, four and five star recruits of those schools can dominate the new-look defenses by just being “long” physically instead of being taught to be in the proper defensive position and playing physical like the old time mid-Cinderella did.
As if that wasn’t enough of a body blow to mids, recently the NCAA passed its graduate transfer rule. That rule deemed that if a player finishes his undergrad degree in four years and still has a year of playing eligibility left, he may transfer to another school (that has the grad school major) and play basketball without sitting out a year.
On the face of it, the rule seems fair. It seems just that a player should be free to go where he wants for his last year. But, like the foul rules, there were dire consequences for mid-major teams.
Since 2012, the amount of players transferring up (from mids to high majors) has more than tripled. In 2012, there were only nine graduate transfers, and in 2016 there were 49. All were from mid-majors like SIU — where one great player transferring may be the difference in winning 20 games or winning 15 games. Mids are becoming the farm clubs for hungry major teams.
“Smaller colleges are becoming the minor leagues for the big schools,” says Pete Thamel in a www.SI.com article. “Mids are being punished for good recruiting and development of players.”
The mids develop the player by redshirting them as freshmen, but by doing so they allow their player to graduate early — thus setting themselves up for the player to take their last year of eligibility elsewhere. But, ultimately, it is up to the player.
New MVC member Valparaiso University’s Alec Peters was loyal enough to stay with his team this past season even though many bigger schools came calling. SIU’s coach Barry Hinson’s Salukis were not so lucky.
SIU’s leading rebounder Bola Olaniyan took off to University of Alabama this past spring and SIU fell from a 22-win team to one winning 17 and losing 16. Olaniyan, one of the best rebounders in the MVC in 2015-16, would have helped the Dawgs a bunch with his physical play defensively.
As a result of the transfer rule, Hinson has changed his entire philosophy of recruiting the past two years. To counter the transfer trend, though his recruiting classes will still have plenty of high school players in them, he will concentrate on recruiting from junior colleges to get his “long,” athletic players and avoid the loss of them to the grad transfer-up phenomena.
Chris Barron is a sports reporter and columnist for the Carbondale Times. He is a Salukis and Terriers fanatic.