Rule change helps transfers

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Online Poster

By Erik Hall

Mike Rohde started his college baseball career at the University of New Orleans, 1,000 miles away from his hometown in Brookfield, Wis. During his second season as a Privateer, Rohde suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. When the season ended, the coach that recruited Rohde to New Orleans announced his resignation.

Those, combined with other factors, made Rohde feel he needed a return to the Midwest. So, Rohde decided to transfer to Illinois.

“I’m moving closer to home to be closer with my family,” said Rohde, a redshirt sophomore. “And just getting a better opportunity to play with a great group of guys is the main reasons.”

Thanks to NCAA bylaw, Rohde transferred from the University of New Orleans and became immediately eligible to play for the Illini.

Rohde, shortstop Toby Gardenhire and outfielder Chase Kliment transferred from Division I baseball programs to Illinois this year. Illinois has had five players transfer in during the last three years.

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All five took advantage of the One-Time Transfer Exception.

The One-Time Transfer Exception was adopted in 1984. It allows athletes in most NCAA sports to transfer from a four-year college to another four-year college and play instantly. The exception is not available to athletes in basketball, men’s hockey and Division I-A football.

“In baseball you have such a small window of time to play, and so if I had to sit out a year, I would have to just gut it out in New Orleans and see how it goes,” Rohde said. “This is a pretty nice deal.”

Illinois looked like it would be hurt by the exception when shortstop Eric Eymann transferred from Illinois to Kansas State after the 2004 season.

To replace Eymann, Illinois picked up Gardenhire, who transferred from Southwest Missouri State. After things did not work out in his one year at SMS, Gardenhire looked to transfer where he could play.

The chance to play right away at Illinois and not being forced to sit out for a season were key for the 22-year-old senior.

“(Being able to play right away) makes it a lot easier,” Gardenhire said. “If you have to sit out a year, it takes a whole year of your life away. Especially with the draft, you want to be young if you’re going to get drafted.”

Illinois head baseball coach Itch Jones said that having five guys transfer onto his team in three years is unusual for him. He said there has been a definite increase in the number of athletes that transfer compared to when he became head coach at Southern Illinois in 1970.

“It seems like kids are transferring now all the time,” Jones said. “In baseball, if kids don’t get to play they transfer. In baseball you are immediately eligible, so a kid doesn’t have anything to lose if he wants to transfer.”

Dave Keilitz, executive director of the American Baseball Coaches Association (ACBA), said the ABCA’s member coaches are about half in favor of keeping the one-time transfer exception and half against the exception.

“A lot of kids transfer each year within Division I baseball,” Keilitz said. “It has been a problem with many coaches and many schools.”

Keilitz served as head baseball coach at Central Michigan University 1965-1984. He then served as Central Michigan’s athletic director 1984-1994. Since 1994, he has worked with the ABCA.

“This is something that has been relatively new in the last seven, eight or nine years where you’ve seen an influx of a lot of transfers,” Keilitz said.

He points to the growth of summer baseball as making it simpler for kids to change schools.

“I think a lot of this is that there are many more summer leagues than what there used to be and a lot is taking place in summer ball,” Keilitz said. “Kids are encouraging other kids to transfer to their schools. We didn’t have the number of summer leagues before that there are now. That part of it wasn’t a factor 15 or 20 years ago.”

Last summer, there were at least 14 summer baseball leagues for college players.

“I think there are teams that probably recruit the collegiate leagues in the summer time,” Jones said. “They go out and talk to their players and say, ‘Hey, if you see a good player, tell them we have got some (scholarship money) available.’ You look around and there are some kids that were All-Americans that transferred. We’ve been on record in the Big Ten at one time stating that we’d like to see them go back to where if they transfer they have to sit out a year.”

Though Jones does not like the transfer exception, Illinois will benefit more from the rule in 2005 than at least seven other Big Ten baseball teams.

The most transfers into any other Big Ten baseball team contacted was two players during the last three years. Michigan State, Minnesota, Penn State and Purdue each had only two Division I transfers into their programs. Indiana, Iowa and Ohio State each had one transfer into their programs.

Representatives from Michigan and Northwestern could not be reached. Wisconsin does not have a baseball team.

Ohio State athletic director Andy Geiger recently served as chair of a committee formed by the NCAA to study the one-time transfer rule. Geiger could not be reached for comment, but Indiana State women’s soccer coach Vernon Croft served on the committee that completed it’s study in October.

After a year of discussion, the group decided they would leave the rule at status quo for now.

“We discussed a number of different ways to make changes,” Croft said. “We were never able to come to something that was the best thing other than what was in place.”

For now, baseball players in a situation like Rohde’s, just wanting to move closer to home, will get to play immediately. And once the Illini start playing home games, Rohde can play the corner infield spots just 230 miles from home.

“Most guys transfer and they don’t have many that want them to play at their school or they don’t have any luck with a scholarship,” Rohde said. “I was very lucky here. They’ve been great to me so far. I can’t run out of good things to say about them.”