K-State’s Romero case should inspire NCAA reform of transfer rules

After a strong freshman season at Kansas State, Leticia Romero wants to transfer after her coach was fired.

MANHATTAN, Kan. — Maybe there’s shenanigans in the Leticia Romero case. Maybe there isn’t. Not the point.

This is:

You’re a freshman field hockey player. You gave your right pinkie finger to the cause, devoted hours of blood, sweat and tears for the sake of ol’ Woosamotta U. Your coach wooed you here, became like a second parent to you, a confidante, a rock, as you find yourself away from the nest for the first time.

For one reason, or five, the season went to Hades in a handbasket. Your coach was relieved of her duties, the way coaches often are.

Suddenly, she’s a free agent.

Why shouldn’t you be one, too?

"I don’t think change would be bad at all. Because I think kids do come to schools for the coaches just as much, if not more so, than they do for the school itself," says Curry Sexton, the senior Kansas State football wideout. "Because those are the people they want to be around.

"I mean, I spend 10 times more time with my position coach and teammates than I do with anybody on campus, than anybody in Manhattan. So I came there for a reason. I feel like, in all situations, if someone goes to a school for a reason and that reason has disappeared, I wouldn’t be against them being able to be released from their scholarship."

Curry Sexton sees both sides of the transfer issue but is particularly sensitive to the close bonds between a young player and his or her coach.

Romero is a freshman on the Wildcats’ women’s basketball team. She doesn’t want to be. That’s the rub.

A native of Las Palmas, Spain, the 5-foot-8 Romero came to the Flint Hills, a half a world away, for coach Deb Patterson. The guard led the Wildcats in scoring (14.2 points), rebounds (5.8) and assists (4.9) in one season for Patterson. On March 9, Patterson was let go after 18 seasons. Again, it happens. Circle of life.


Romero requested a transfer. K-State denied it. She appealed. Wildcat administrators said ‘no’ again.

It’s a two-strike deal, and Romero is out of swings. If she does elect to leave Manhattan, it’s on her tab — not only would she have to sit out a year, she’d have to pay her own way at her next stop.

As far as we know, none of this was Romero’s fault. As far as we know, none of this was Romero’s idea. Why should she be punished for it?

And — more important — if she doesn’t want to be here, why are you essentially forcing her to stay? What good is that for her? What good is that for you?

Athletic director John Currie implied on Twitter last week that Romero’s denial could have been tied to "concerns about outside tampering, undue influence by third parties or procedures not being followed in an honest and forthright manner."

He said, she said, and ’round and ’round we go. As the NCAA pledges self-examination, reform and the oft-quoted "student-athlete experience," it needs to examine this scenario, too.

Thanks to The Shabazz (Napier) Rule, the buffet table is open to everybody, at any hour.

It’s time for a Romero Rule, too.

You build relationships with these people. They become like a second father figure, a second mother figure to you.

-- Curry Sexton

Namely, a one-time hardship waiver: If your coach is fired or forced out and you’re a true or redshirt freshman who’s played a year or less at your current school, you can transfer out with no red tape, no institutional review and — AND — no sitting out a year at your next stop.

No muss. No fuss. A clean divorce. You get on with your life (and degree). Your old program gets on with theirs. Under current Academic Progress Rate guidelines, athletes who transfer out while eligible don’t cost the school they’re leaving a "retention point" in the overall APR score.

So what’s the hang-up?

"I know K-State has a lot of rules as far as how they handle these situations, and I’m not talking about how they handled (Romero’s case)," Sexton says. "I think there’s a lot more to it, to the K-State situation, than anybody knows.

"But at the same time, I think that the NCAA could maybe alter some of their decisions, some of their rules. Because, especially in (Romero’s) case, just using her as an example, a girl comes from Spain. She comes here, but she probably doesn’t know anything about Kansas State University. But she knows who Deb Patterson is and who those coaches are, and she knows about the program and her teammates. So I think it’s tough."

Sexton sees both sides of the fight. He gets it. He’s also a local, a native of nearby Abilene. He bleeds K-State purple. Always has.

But his teammates have come from California and Texas and Florida. He has friends from all over. One campus, different world views.

"I can’t really speak on (the idea of), ‘I came here for this reason or that reason,’ I came here for everything," Sexton continues. "But there are kids who, (Leticia) maybe being one, (and) kids on my team especially, who come across the country, and they come here and, realistically, they come here for one reason — they come here for football, for the sport they’re playing.

"They come here for the coaches, who they build relationships with. Yeah, you’re coming to get a college degree, but realistically — and I’m not speaking on my behalf, but on the general (student-athlete) behalf — you’re coming here to play football. And that’s your main objective. And I think guys — me, personally, if my coach who recruited me would have left, it would’ve left me a little (aback) ….

"And I can’t imagine if you come halfway across the country. You build relationships with these people. They become like a second father figure, a second mother figure to you. You kind of confide in them, because those are the people that are going to serve as your family for the next three or four years, especially when you’re thousands of miles from home. You can’t pack up and drive 45 minutes back to Abilene, Kansas. You can get on the phone and talk, but that doesn’t do it for you. You’re not in your natural setting."

You’re on an island. Romero was, too. Poaching another university’s roster should be discouraged at every turn, but let’s face it — if getting fired is an occupational hazard, then so is the possibility that your underclassmen are going to defect if the coach they’ve come to play for is ousted before they reach their sophomore season.

To put it another way: Is the opportunity to deny a transfer request in the "best interests" of the student-athlete, as the NCAA keeps insisting is its primary concern, or the best interests of the institution that holds his or her fate in its grasp?

"I grew up 45 minutes from here and I got homesick. And if I have an afternoon off, I can go home," Sexton says. "Most people can’t — they don’t have that luxury. And I can’t imagine how some of those people feel.

"And I’ve talked to a lot of teammates who have gone through those struggles. But I can’t imagine how people who get homesick and don’t have (someone) to turn to. Those coaches are the people they turn to, and their teammates are the people they turn to. So I think change wouldn’t be bad, in those situations."

It’s not just about doing what’s right. It’s about dealing with reality.

"National transfer issues are complex/need reform," Currie tweeted.

No kidding. And they can start with this.

You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter at @seankeeler or email him at seanmkeeler@gmail.com.