Memphis ‘blocking’ Austin Nichols’ transfer request is alarming

Head coach Josh Pastner of the Memphis Tigers instructs Austin Nichols against the UCF Knights on January 17, 2015.
Joe Murphy/Getty Images

By Joseph Nardone

Reports have come out that Austin Nichols would like to transfer from Memphis.

These reports are nothing new. College basketball players transfer from one school to another on the regular. So much so, in fact, that it is a somewhat accepted part of the college basketball offseason carousel. However, there are sometimes exceptions to what might first seem like nothing more than another random offseason transfer: Austin Nichols.

Nichols, a captain last season who averaged over 13 points per game, was denied his release by Memphis and head coach Josh Pastner for… reasons.

From Pastner’s standpoint, they probably seem like fair, just, and good reasons. In an interview with ESPN’s Andy Katz, Pastner said, “The school isn’t going to release him. We spoke with Austin in mid-June and everything was fine. We named him captain after the season. We don’t know what has changed.”

Does it matter what you did for him previously? Should it matter what has changed? Did anything actually have to change to allow a young (barely) man leave to apply his trade and education elsewhere? Of course there shouldn’t need to be some weird, hyperbolic disclaimer attached to every “student athlete’s” request to transfer if they want to be released from their current scholarship.

I get it. Not everyone likes players transferring from one program to another — regardless of the reason. It can sometimes seem a bit too much like NBA free agency or whatever. However, these kids aren’t professionals, right? That is what we are told on the time. So why hold them responsible to some LOI or legally binding “can only play the hoops here” deal if they are “students first” and “athletes second”… which is something the NCAA has long loved to tout?

Josh Pastner then went on to say how shocked the coaching staff was. He added: “He’s a potential player of the year in our league. He’s been nothing but great the first two years we have had him. He’s been terrific on the floor.”

Whoop-di-expletive-do!

Again, strictly from Pastner’s point of view, most other high-level transferring has settled, and so too has any chance at landing a potential high-impact freshman. He can’t afford to lose a talent like Austin Nichols because it could mean plenty of losses next season for the Tigers, a perception-based hit to the idea of how good of a coach Pastner is, and even his job. Moreover, Pastner likely feels betrayed that a player he recruited, made captain, and supposedly thinks highly of, would bolt on him.

That’s the somewhat dirty and glaringly obvious part here. Josh Pastner is a well-compensated, professional college basketball coach. The player being denied his transfer is simply not. He’s only “compensated” with some educational knowledge being gently offered to him. However, he isn’t gifted with a free education — he must play at Memphis for it.

The reality of college basketball coaches blocking transfers isn’t limited to Josh Pastner. He’s merely the latest in a long line of guys with large sums of money already in their pocket refusing to let free-labor go — you know, so they can continue to fatten up their own pocketbooks… and keep those without power from ever gaining any.

Pooh-pooh this if you will. In the grand scheme of things it certainly isn’t the end of the world, but it sure as hell should be something more people should get angry about. Yet, as always, we simply accept that this is the way it is because it has always been that way — and, honestly, shame on us for allowing it.

Depending on the possible push-back Memphis and/or Pastner receives from the blockage, a few days will pass and this story may have a totally different outcome. In all seriousness, a little negative press goes a long way in getting a coach who is known to be a great recruiter shifting to an opposite viewpoint if he thinks all the “Pastner won’t allow a player he recruited transfer” headlines will alter his ability to recruit down the road.

At the same time, because no one ever seems to care — and, as likely, few pay attention to college basketball in July — this will become a non-story, Austin Nichols will be forced to play at Memphis against his own will (or abandon D-I ball completely), and not a soul will bring this up if the Tigers are on a 12-game winning streak in December.

Talk about some offseason blues, man.

 

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