Air Force men's basketball coach Dave Pilipovich is no stranger to losing players who realize they are unable to cope with the academy's stringent academic and military requirements. That doesn't make it any easier for Pilipovich to come to grips with the growing number of players nationally who are switching schools for entirely different reasons.
The ballooning catalog of men's Division I college basketball transfers since the end of last season contains a record 600 players, according to ESPN.com's Jeff Goodman.
Whether the epidemic of transfers should be considered a problem, or simply an accepted part of the game, depends on who is asked.
Recruiting transfers has become as important for some coaches as finding high school talent. A rule that gives schools the ability to add veteran players from another program right away has changed the landscape of the game, leaving some to wonder whether changes need to be made.
"It's getting out of hand," Pilipovich said.
The number of players switching schools continues to rise at a staggering rate. In 2011, Goodman's list contained fewer than 300 names, so the transfer rate has more than doubled in the past three years.
Front Range programs haven't been immune. Colorado State has seen three players leave the school since the end of last season. One of those players, senior Dwight Smith, will play next season at Northern Colorado, where he will be one of three transfers on the Bears' roster. Air Force lost its leading scorer, Tre' Coggins, who has yet to choose his next school.
Those moves, each made for varying reasons, are a microcosm of a trend that is remaking the college game.
'The quick fix'
Coaches caution that every departure should be examined on a case-by-case basis, but many cite a culture of young players who expect results fast and look elsewhere if they don't find them."
The picture painted is that today's young players lack patience to wade through struggles. But Kent Shaw, the Regis Jesuit High School coach who has had a handful of players earn Division I scholarships, said coaches "shouldn't get a hall pass" on the subject. Coaches with high salaries and higher pressure to win often recruit "over" a player, leaving the player little choice but to transfer if he wants to play.
"Everybody is looking for the quick fix," Shaw said.
Bending the rule
The search for quick fixes has led to a trend many in the sport liken to free agency, with the ability to strengthen a roster during the offseason.
Two of the three players who left coach Larry Eustachy's program at CSU this offseason wouldn't have been able to do so without an NCAA rule that was introduced in 2006.
The rule allows players who have graduated and still have a year of eligibility left to transfer and play right away, provided they enroll in a graduate degree program their old school doesn't offer.
Players with a proven track record are potentially more valuable than a high-profile high school recruit who needs seasoning. The free-agency aspect of the graduate transfer rule, which some believe can be a breeding ground for tampering, is something many college basketball coaches want examined.
Some success stories
Smith, who has a close relationship with Eustachy, believes there can be too much hand-wringing at players who transfer. He argues that not every move is made in the wake of frustration or broken relationships.
"You would really have to sit down with every player to realize what they want in their situation," Smith said. "You have to understand that a lot of it isn't negative. A lot of it is positive."
Terran Petteway agrees. The 6-foot-6 guard spent a quiet freshman season at Texas Tech before transferring to a better fit at Nebraska, where last season he led the Big Ten in scoring with an average of 18.1 points and helped lead the Cornhuskers to their first NCAA Tournament berth since 1998.
Petteway said players shouldn't be judged harshly, in most instances, for trying to put themselves in a similar situation.
"Players get a bad rap," Petteway said. "People think players leave just because they're not the star, or whatever the case may be, but sometimes it's just a better situation to transfer."