July 29, 2006

New transfer rule starting to make sense

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After initial skepticism, college football coaches appear less concerned over a new rule that allows some athletes to play immediately after a transfer.

The NCAA passed a proposal in April that allows athletes who have earned a bachelor's degree to be eligible immediately after a transfer - rather than requiring them to sit out a year. The athlete must enroll in graduate classes at the new school, and the player is eligible immediately if the graduate program was not offered at the previous institution.

So far only a handful of players have taken advantage of the rule. Those that have switched schools will be able to play only months after leaving one Division I-A institution for another.

"I think that will kind of die in the wind because I don't think it will happen very much," Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said. "If the guy's a good player, he's probably going to stay at the school he's at because he's having a good time (and) he's playing. I can't hardly see a guy who's a good player leaving to go play a fifth year somewhere else."

When the proposal passed in April, many speculated about illicit recruitment of enrolled athletes or departures of star players at mid-major schools to more prominent programs.

Those fears have not been realized yet, but the NCAA will take a second look at the rule in the coming days.

More than 40 schools asked the NCAA to overturn the proposal in June, citing coaches' concerns. The Division I Board of Directors will vote again on the rule Aug. 3.

One coach who wouldn't mind the rule remaining in place is Vanderbilt's Bobby Johnson, who will have former Arizona quarterback Richard Kovalcheck available to play this season because of the rule.

"I don't see what the big uproar is," Johnson said. "It will be beneficial to both parties. The school gets another scholarship and the player can go where he's needed."

Even after losing a former starter in Kovalcheck, Arizona coach Mike Stoops is not concerned about an exodus of players.

"I don't get why people worry about it," Stoops said. "It happened to one of our guys. I don't worry about it. I'm happy for the kid. If a guy didn't fit in or got beat out and had a chance to play someplace else, so be it."

Family motives
As Arizona State's leading scorer, Kevin Kruger didn't need to use the new transfer rule to seek playing time.

He used it for a chance to play for his father, UNLV coach Lon Kruger.

The first basketball player to try the transfer rule, Kruger earned his bachelor's degree in justice studies in three years while averaging 10.5 points in 87 games for the Sun Devils.

After redshirting his first season at Arizona State in 2002-03, Kruger will have only one season to play with his father, but UNLV will welcome him with open arms.

Kruger's 15 points and 39 minutes per game with Arizona State in 2005-06 would have led the Rebels in both categories a year ago.

Kovalcheck made 11 consecutive starts from 2004-05 for Arizona before the Wildcats replaced him with true freshman Willie Tuitama after seven games. While he lost his starting job, Kovalcheck earned his bachelor's degree in three years.

Before transferring, Kovalcheck considered either petitioning the NCAA for immediate eligibility in Division I-A or transferring to Division I-AA Massachusetts.

Instead, he took his degree to Vanderbilt, where the Commodores are replacing four-year starter Jay Cutler. Kovalcheck instantly became Vanderbilt's most experienced quarterback. Sophomore Chris Nickson and redshirt freshman Mackenzi Adams have one completion between the two of them.

"It was crazy how it all worked out," said Kovalcheck, who has completed 192 of 356 passes for 2,231 yards, 16 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in two seasons. "I got a call that Vanderbilt was interested and one thing led to another."

Following Kovalcheck's lead, two other players took their degrees elsewhere.

Duke's football team lost a two-year starter at guard, Tyler Krieg, to California - where he is listed as a backup. In the fall, former Utah cornerback Ryan Smith - who started six games for the Utes last year - will suit up for Florida with hopes of landing a starting job.

"It gives you incentive to get schoolwork done just in case you're in a situation," Kovalcheck said. "I didn't plan it out. It just kind of happened."


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