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Understanding the College Athletics Transfer Proposal and What It Means for Tennessee Basketball

How much will the NCAA transfer proposal impact the SEC, Tennessee, and Justin Powell?

After the events of the COVID-19 pandemic rocked the landscape of college athletics, a new proposal is on the brink of being passed that would allow all college athletes a one-time transfer during the 2021 offseason.

This new proposal, in terms of college basketball, would immediately impact Tennessee’s two players currently in the portal, Devonte Gaines and Drew Pember, as well as their latest transfer, Justin Powell.

In the current format of the rule, college athletes are deemed ineligible for their first year after transferring unless they are given a waiver. However, in the proposed change, athletes will be allowed to freely move schools one time with no period of ineligibility. Although, there are some limitations involved.

As we stand right now, there are more questions than answers regarding the topic. But as college basketball attempts to shake up its system for the first time since the 1960s, the SEC conference, as well as Tennessee, will have more confusion to sort through.

College Basketball Meets “The Wild, Wild West”

There are currently more than 1,200 players in the college basketball transfer portal. Make no mistake either, that record-setting number is growing by the day.

One anonymous head coach spoke on the matter with some strong words.

“It’s the wild, wild west,” the anonymous coach said in an interview with the New York Post. “It’s crazy town. I think it’s horrendous for the sport.”

Other named coaches, including Jay Wright from Villanova, took a more conservative approach with their words on the matter.

“I don’t think its good for college basketball,” Wright said. “But it’s good for the student-athletes, and that’s what we’re here for.”

Pember and Gaines both entered the transfer portal this offseason after falling behind on the depth chart during the previous season. Neither has officially announced their commitment, but there are beliefs that both could be headed to ETSU. They would be reuniting with former Tennessee assistant coach Desmond Oliver in the process.

Oliver was officially hired by ETSU on Monday.

There hasn’t been just a certain group of teams or conferences that have been upended by the portal either. Players all over the country in every conference, from North Carolina to North Texas, will be on the move this spring. 

Question Marks Surrounding Intra-Conference Transfers

The proposed legislation has picked up steam in the recent few days, as NCAA President Mark Emmert recently reaffirmed his support for the proposal at his annual press conference before the Final Four.

However, one area that has not been resolved or set in stone is how the SEC conference would handle transfers from one SEC team to another. 

The rule, as it stands now, requires intra-conference transfer players to sit out a year, even if the NCAA had previously granted a passed waiver.

In regards to the upcoming offseason, the conferences are left to make the decisions themselves, as seen by the work of two in particular. The ACC lifted their restrictions for transfer players within the conference earlier in 2021, and the Pac-12 did so in 2019.

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey has spoken out on the issue earlier last fall and last month. Although, he has never been seen as optimistic about the idea.

In September, the SEC granted a blanket waiver to their fall athletes. However, it did come after Sankey dismissed the idea of a blanket waiver prior.

Similarly, on Mar. 11, Sankey spoke to the Courier-Journal and gave his thoughts on the rule in the upcoming offseason.

“I don’t, in the offseason, anticipate entertaining waivers,” said commissioner Sankey in the interview. “In fact, we’ve communicated the intra-conference rule still stands. Our membership has voted on that rule. It’s been in place for decades. It was waved in the one time because of unique circumstances. And our member institutions, if they want to change the rule, need to submit their vision for the future and how we manage transfer issues within the conference.”

That being said, Sankey did continue on to say that ultimately there will have to be some kind of conversation depending on what happens on a national level, which could even cause the SEC to change their course.

According to the report in the Courier-Journal, “Sankey said the SEC schools could still vote to change the intraconference transfer rule as part of its normal legislative process later in the spring,” and that “move would be more likely if the NCAA has approved its free transfer rule.”

Will Justin Powell Be Able to Play Immediately?

One of the biggest names in question surrounding this topic will be Justin Powell, the Vols latest transfer from Auburn. Powell appeared in 10 games for the Tigers last year until his season was ended due to a concussion against Texas A&M.

Taking Sankey for his words, Tennessee could face an uphill battle in getting Powell cleared for the upcoming season. But ultimately nothing can really be decisively figured out until the proposals turn into signed documentation.

In an interview with 247Sports on Mar. 11, Powell gave a list of the teams that he had been in contact with since entering the transfer portal. Arkansas and Kentucky joined Tennessee as the only SEC teams to have talked with Powell at that time.

In the same interview, Powell told 247Sports what he was looking for in a program. In hindsight, we know that this eventual process did leave to the Vols within the conference.

“I’m looking for a program with a winning culture that is going to put me in the best position to maximize my potential,” Powell said in the interview. 

For the Vols, Powell being allowed to play in the upcoming season would be a huge sigh of relief. The still-relatively lesser-known prospect from Prospect, KY has only played in a handful of non-conference games in college and still has a lot to offer. With a full season, Powell could provide some excellent numbers for any team.

Powell Provides Mismatch Opportunities for Tennessee

Powell can create mismatches with his size all over the court. Standing at 6’6” and being able to handle the ball at the top of the key is one thing, but being able to be an effective outside shot adds an entire extra level.

During a three-game stretch in December of 2020 against South Alabama, Memphis, and Texas Southern, Powell averaged about 22 points per game.  The freshman shot the ball about 70 percent from the floor and just over 56 percent from the three-point range.

His ability to create space on the floor can provide offensive opportunities for the Vols. Undersized defenders will have to worry about a 6’6” guy driving and floating a shot to the basket. Meanwhile, taller guys will have to worry about not getting crossed up around the three-point line.

See the second video below, in Auburn’s game against Memphis, for the evidence.

In conclusion, the NCAA is close to finalizing what will be a revolutionary move in the college athletics world. The new rule would reverse the one of old. This effectively will eliminate the waiver requirement for immediate eligibility for a transfer player in the offseason.

Although it is not set in stone yet, NCAA President Mark Emmert has been optimistic on the matter. However, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey has not shared the same mindset. Sankey has spoken against the idea multiple times since last September. 

Justin Powell, a rising sophomore transfer from Auburn, committed to Tennessee over the weekend. For now, Powell will just have to wait to see how the government processes the NCAA rule change. And then how the SEC handles their conference strategies as well.

Stay tuned to Fox Sports Knoxville for all the latest news on the Tennessee basketball team.

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