I’m sorry, BBN. I thought I had done the impossible — solved the riddle of the NCAA and how it handles transfer eligibility decisions, that is. I was wrong.
Let’s back up for a second.
A few weeks ago – on August 2, to be exact – I published an article on this very website titled “Kentucky fans shouldn’t worry about Olivier Sarr’s eligibility – Not yet.” In the article (linked here), I laid out the timeline for several college basketball eligibility decisions, including a handful of rulings that took the NCAA three months (minimum) to decide. At that point, Sarr’s waiver had only been sitting on the NCAA’s hypothetical desk for about two and a half months, therefore leading me to the argument that it wasn’t time to get antsy about how long this process is taking. “Not yet.”
Sarr committed to Kentucky on May 6, 2020. Therefore, there was no legitimate reason to get fired up about the NCAA’s lack of a decision until August 6, at the earliest. That seems only fair, right? But then August 6 came and went, without news.
Alright, it’s August 7… which means Kentucky has officially surpassed the NCAA’s typical 3-month threshold for eligibility decisions
Let’s get antsy, shall we? https://t.co/d6dUObhaPI
— Maggie Davis (@MaggieDavisKSR) August 7, 2020
Then, there was this:
UNLV will have Iowa State transfer Caleb Grill eligible this season. Received a waiver from the NCAA, per source.
— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanHoops) August 13, 2020
Caleb Grill announced his decision to transfer to UNLV on April 6. Goodman reported he’d received his waiver on Aug. 13, a little over four months after his commitment. That passes the three-month threshold I pointed out earlier, but it doesn’t bode well for receiving a Sarr decision in the immediate future.
Sarr announced his commitment to UK exactly one month after Gill announced his commitment to UNLV. Will a decision regarding Sarr’s ability to play this season therefore take exactly one more month? Should the Aug. 6 date be pushed to Sept. 13?
I did some more digging, starting with revisiting the decisions that were still pending at the time of my initial article (published on Aug. 2). Exactly two weeks later, there have been very few developments for any of these decisions. Iowa is still waiting on news regarding Ole Miss transfer Blake Hinson and Memphis transfer Tyler Harris. Speaking of Memphis, Penny Hardaway and the Tigers still don’t know whether or not Landers Nolley or DeAndre Williams (the Evansville transfer who was, at one point, eyeing Kentucky as a potential landing spot) will be able to suit up this season.
Texas Tech had two transfer decisions pending, one of which has received a little bit of clarity and one that has not. Jamarius Burton (a former guard at Wichita State) has now expressed his intention to redshirt as part of his NCAA transfer sit-out year (in similar fashion to Kentucky’s Jacob Toppin out of Rhode Island). It’s likely he either heard he’d be getting a “no” from the NCAA regarding his eligibility waiver, or he never actually submitted one to begin with. Maybe he would rather spend the year training and practicing without the pressure to actually compete in any games just yet.
Just another day spent waiting on NCAA transfer eligibility decisions… pic.twitter.com/LYPU0EarjC
— Maggie Davis (@MaggieDavisKSR) August 16, 2020
Meanwhile, the Red Raiders are still waiting on news for Mac McClung, who was widely considered one of the top transfers available this off-season, like Sarr. McClung, a former Georgetown standout, set himself up for success (at least, in the eyes of the NCAA) by crafting the perfect “I’m transferring – please respect my decision” announcement. CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish described it as the “blueprint” for how to convince the NCAA you should be immediately eligible – “vague enough to not box himself in to any one story but clear enough to get it on record that McClung didn’t want to transfer as much as he felt like he had no choice but to transfer.” McClung made that announcement on May 27. The Red Raiders made things official with a signing announcement the following day. He hasn’t heard anything from the NCAA at this time, which makes sense. In theory, the NCAA should handle his decision after they’ve dealt with Olivier Sarr.
Then there’s Minnesota, coached by Richard Pitino. The Gophers have two transfers still waiting on decisions (in addition to incoming freshman Jamal Mashburn Jr., by the way). Liam Robbins and Both Gach are both hoping to play this season. However, there seems to be a few issues.
Last Friday (Aug. 14), Pitino told the Star Tribune his program is still working on the process of getting the transfers approved.
“With the Liam [Robbins] situation, they [the NCAA] asked for a little bit more information. We’re waiting to get that back,” Pitino said. “And with Both [Gach] we haven’t even submitted that [waiver] yet.”
Robbins announced his commitment on social media on April 5, just one day after putting his name in the NCAA’s transfer portal. Gach committed on June 15.
I’m a Gopher???? pic.twitter.com/Sm1wTVU429
— Liam Robbins (@liamrobbins_) April 5, 2020
Robbins is an interesting example to watch. First of all, Robbins announced his commitment to Minnesota just one day before Sarr committed to Kentucky, meaning their timelines (in theory) should be relatively similar. He’s the big man the Gophers want in their starting lineup next season; he’s 7-feet tall and averaged 14 points, seven rebounds and just under three blocks per game last season with Drake University. He was No. 5 in the nation for blocked shots with 99 total swats. He chose Minnesota as his transfer destination to “be closer to family,” which is a bit of an understatement. His uncle, Ed Conroy, is Minnesota’s associate head coach, and his cousin, Hunt Conroy, is currently on the basketball team’s roster as a walk-on guard. That’s about as close as you can get to your family, which is the reasoning the NCAA has typically loved when making eligibility decisions. And yet, the NCAA is still asking Minnesota for “a little bit more information.”
Olivier Sarr doesn’t have that luxury. He’s not related to anyone on Kentucky’s staff; he’s not transferring to be closer to his family (unless the NCAA confuses Versailles, Kentucky with Versailles, France, of course). He also didn’t necessarily follow the “blueprint” script delivered by Mac McClung and praised by Gary Parrish – Sarr didn’t always keep things vague and non-basketball related.
“I felt that was the best fit and the best opportunity for me,” Sarr said in an early interview with ESPN. “Being able to play for that great program and showcase my winning drive on that stage. Coach Cal made me understand that I was needed over there.”
Of course, he does have the fact that his former coach, Danny Manning, was fired by Wake Forest right when he needed to be making a decision regarding whether or not to enter the NBA Draft. He does have Wake Forest’s current coach’s support (even though Steve Forbes “unknowingly” insulted Kentucky at first).
Seth Greenberg said on the radio this morning that Wake Forest Coach Steve Forbes told him he will support Olivier Sarr’s attempt to get a transfer waiver to Kentucky
— Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) May 8, 2020
Plus, Sarr is transferring to a program where his new head coach, John Calipari, has publicly and consistently supported his players’ decisions to transfer away from the Bluegrass and play for other programs (see: Kyle Wiltjer, Marcus Lee, Charles Matthews, Sacha Killeya-Jones, Quade Green, Jemarl Baker and Johnny Juzang, for example). The most recent of which (Juzang) was granted immediate eligibility in a little over a month’s time. He signed with UCLA on April 16 and received his waiver from the NCAA on May 27.
I never promised Olivier Sarr’s fate would be handed down exactly on August 6 – I know the NCAA isn’t that predictable. Still, I did say August 6 is the date I would circle on my calendar (and I did!). But now, as Kentucky fans and coaches continue to wait, it’s clear that was wishful thinking. There are players who committed to their new program before Olivier Sarr committed to the Cats who are still waiting on decisions; there are others getting approved right away (it helps if you play football and your last name is Tagovailoa, apparently). I’m sorry for getting the BBN’s hopes up on August 6 and the days that followed, only for you to be let down by the “non-profit, member-led organization dedicated to the well-being and lifelong success of college athletes.”
Maybe there isn’t always “rhyme or reason” behind the NCAA’s decisions (or lack thereof). Maybe they’re just busy trying to figure out how to even have college basketball this season. Maybe they’re regretting their decision to table the discussion (and subsequent vote) for a one-time transfer eligibility rule until the 2021-22 school year. Maybe they’re not. Maybe Dick Vitale is right. Maybe he’s not.
I mean analyzing a player ala OLIVIER SARR of @KentuckyMBB doesn’t require GENIUS STATUS : y would would it take so long ? Come on his Coach fired / Wake ‘s new coach supports his waiver claim . I have an idea could it be due to the following name C-A-L-I-P-A-R-I ? Just asking
— Dick Vitale (@DickieV) August 5, 2020
Maybe there’s a logical way to solve this riddle, but I’m done trying. The NCAA will provide answers when it wants to, and not a moment before.
P.S. – Is now a good time to bring up that Joey Gatewood announced his commitment to UK on December 5, 2019?