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Free agency profoundly changed professional sports long ago, but way later than it should have.
It now seems incredible pro athletes once lacked the option to leave a team for another once their contracts had expired. It was indentured servitude. Players could be traded or sold, as they can be now, but couldn’t change employers on their own.
Free agency of sorts has finally arrived in major-college athletics. Predictably, it’s disliked by a lot of people who aren’t the players.
Last week, the NCAA’s Division I Council approved undergraduate athletes in all sports being able to move freely one time without having to sit out a season. It requires ratification by the Division I Board of Directors on April 28, but that will happen.
We’ve already seen what it will look like in Division I men’s basketball in this year of transferring without penalties by the waiver given to 2020-21 athletes because of the COVID-19 pandemic. About 1,400 men’s basketball players — an average of four per team — have entered the NCAA’s transfer portal this spring.
“Allowing student-athletes a one-time opportunity to transfer and compete immediately provides a uniform, equitable and understandable approach that benefits all student-athletes,” said Council vice chair Jon Steinbrecher.
Yes, and it’s fine when you reel in a good ballplayer from another school. But when you lose a CJ Fredrick, as Iowa did this week, it stings.
It’s what happened, and it’s up to Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery and his peers to deal with it. Employees make sudden, unexpected departures in all walks of life, and employers adjust or perish. There are still good veteran guards on the open market.
What Fredrick’s farewell should do is rip off the last shred of the facade around here that major-college sports are about allegiance to a member of the sports/entertainment industry under the umbrella of the university system.
The college football and basketball teams you favor consist of independent contractors working within a framework of a team. They’re like the rest of us. They’ll always take the option that’s best for them in the present, as they should.
Fredrick wanted to come to Iowa, and did. Then, he wanted to leave. He’d have done McCaffery a favor if he’d come forward with that decision a couple weeks sooner and been more forthcoming about his future plans, but that’s a side issue.
While Fredrick immediately has become persona non grata to many Hawkeye fans, it was interesting to see the immediate reactions from former teammates of Fredrick’s at Iowa, Tyler Cook and Ryan Kriener.
“Go show what you can do,” Kriener tweeted to Fredrick.
“Best of luck my boy!” tweeted Cook, who has worked his way to a contract with the NBA’s Detroit Pistons and scored 12 points Monday night in his first career start.
Kriener, now playing professionally in Belgium and playing quite well, spent four years with the Hawkeyes, Cook three. They have spoken warmly of their Iowa experiences and are good ambassadors for the program.
They also know that players are on their own once their college days end, so they better do what they can for themselves during those careers.
If Fredrick is convinced his future prospects are brighter should he go elsewhere, so be it. Whaddya gonna do?
"The ’me over we’ thing isn’t new,“ former Hawkeye basketball player Jarryd Cole tweeted Monday night. ”The shoe is just on the other foot now.“
Many people are hating on the transfer portal. They liked things the way they were. It’s the same thing fans felt when players started hopping around on their own in pro sports. Where’s the loyalty, many moaned. But they didn’t stop going to games.
If you don’t like cheering for players representing your school who can now leave you on a moment’s notice without sitting out a season, you can walk away. Will you, though?
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