Thursday’s NCAA transfer news gives Gophers men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino only one option for two of his newcomers to play next season: waivers.
Like other coaches who were recruiting Liam Robbins and Drew Peterson in the transfer portal this spring, Pitino was willing to gamble about them avoiding a sit-out year.
But the one-time transfer rule for immediate eligibility is unlikely to pass for the 2020-21 season. The Division I board of directors recommended Thursday that no changes be made to the current transfer process.
NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers in football, men’s and women’s basketball, hockey and baseball sit out one season before being eligible to play at their new school.
“Coach Pitino told me he wants me ready to go,” Peterson, a 6-foot-8 Rice transfer, said after committing Monday. “If we can get me playing first year, we’re ready to go with that. If things don’t go well [with the waiver process] and I sit out a year, it’s good for development anyway. I talked to Coach Pitino about that.”
The one-time exception for transfers to play right away, something allowed in other college sports, was gaining ground. The Transfer Waiver Working Group recommended it be allowed, but the board of directors disagreed. The rule is expected to be voted on during the Division I Council’s meeting May 20.
The global coronavirus pandemic might cause the NCAA to be more lenient with waivers for next season, unlike how the organization has been in the past. Gophers guard Marcus Carr had his waiver denied twice after transferring from Pitt and had to sit out the 2018-19 season.
“Board members recommended the waiver process be sensitive to student-athlete well-being, especially those impacted by COVID-19 in the interim period,” the NCAA’s statement said Thursday.
Peterson was the third transfer to commit to the Gophers this spring. Robbins and Western Michigan graduate transfer Brandon Johnson already signed two weeks ago. It was critical for Pitino to land at least one grad transfer, as they are immediately eligible to play.
The Gophers already are in the process of filing a waiver for Robbins. The 7-foot sophomore from Drake is the program’s most high-profile newcomer, with blue-blood programs such as Duke, Kentucky and Louisville having shown initial interest.
Transferring to Minnesota means Robbins will be with family during an uncertain time with the virus crisis, so he feels optimistic about the NCAA granting his waiver to play right away. Gophers assistant Ed Conroy is his uncle, and walk-on guard Hunt Conroy is his cousin.
“One of the reasons I was doing this was to play for Pitino, but also to be surrounded by family,” Robbins said. “I hope it works in my favor.”
Robbins, Johnson and Peterson are likely starters for the Gophers in 2020-21 if they are all eligible. However, Robbins getting a waiver could make or break their season since he is expected to replace All-America center Daniel Oturu, who declared early for the NBA draft.
“Blue bloods wanted him nationally,” Pitino said of Robbins. “He is a guy who can score with his back to the basket. He is a physical presence. He is obviously big. He is 7 feet tall. He is just has that NBA back to the basket game. He can hit threes. He can block shots.
He blocked a bunch of shots, obviously, his sophomore year.
“We are very, very lucky to get him. He is a guy we are hopefully going to have eligible next year, because think we would have one of the best bigs in the league, if not the country.”