Graduate transfers give athletes freedom, but are they good for college sports?

Guard Canyon Barry benefited both academically and athletically by transferring to Florida after graduating from College of Charleston last year. Graduate transfers give athletes freedom, but are they good for college sports?

When Canyon Barry was looking for somewhere to play his final college basketball season, style of play, the coaching staff and opportunity all played a factor in his decision.

Ultimately, though, it came down not to splitting hairs, but splitting atoms.

Florida offered a nuclear engineering master’s program, complete with a nuclear training reactor on campus. That sealed the deal for Barry to suit up for the Gators, where he averaged 11.4 points and earned SEC sixth man of the year honors this past season.

Barry’s decision is an example of how the NCAA’s graduate transfer rule can benefit the student-athlete, both academically and athletically. But not all Division I coaches view it that way. Some see it as a college sports waiver wire, where big-time schools poach promising players who mid-major programs have taken three to four years to develop.

The NCAA has looked into proposals to curtail the increasing number of graduate transfers, including making schools subject to APR sanctions if players don’t earn their second degrees and forcing grad transfers to sit out a year like undergraduate transfers. There are close to 70 college basketball graduate transfers on the market in 2017, up from 23 in 2011.

On the flip side is whether student athletes should have the freedom to pursue graduate degrees where they want without penalty. Barry earned an undergraduate degree in physics at College of Charleston, which didn’t offer a graduate program in nuclear science.

“I have no qualms about it,” Barry said. “If you have dedicated yourself to school for three or four years out of your life and you feel like it’s in your best interest to transfer for a fifth year after you’ve graduated, I think you should have the right do that. I don’t think it makes sense for the NCAA or colleges for punishing students for finishing their degree and exploring their options.”

Certainly, the graduate transfer rule has benefited Florida in recent seasons, allowing coaches to plug in experienced players to fill holes on the roster. After Barry sparked UF to an Elite Eight run in 2016-17, Florida pursued available grad transfers again this offseason and signed Rice swingman Egor Koulechov. The 6-foot-5 Koulechov, who shot 47.4 percent from 3-point range last season, should help mitigate the loss of junior forward Devin Robinson, who declared for the NBA draft.

In football, Florida coach Jim McElwain brought in offensive lineman Mason Halter from Fordham and linebacker Anthony Harrell from Georgia Tech in his first season to help shore up depth issues on both sides of the ball. Last season, McElwain signed Purdue quarterback Austin Appleby as a grad transfer. Appleby started six games for the Gators last season, including UF’s 30-3 Outback Bowl win over Iowa.

“It really helped us, how desperate we were on the offensive line when we first got here,” McElwain said […]