- Associated Press - Thursday, January 26, 2012

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - There’s a free agent trend quietly developing around college basketball and coaches are trying to figure out how to get a handle on it.

Graduate transfers can market their skills as ball handlers, secondary scorers and bodies to bolster depleted front lines _ and coaches and players are taking advantage of the rule. These players have graduated but still have eligibility remaining, so they transfer and play immediately by enrolling in a graduate program unavailable at their former school.

Fifteen players have played right away as graduate transfers this year, according to STATS LLC. The schools they play at range from BCS members Illinois and North Carolina State to smaller programs like Houston Baptist and Texas Southern.

It has Michigan State coach Tom Izzo concerned.

“I’m worried it could become a national problem,” Izzo said. “If your team doesn’t make the NCAA tournament this year or next, why not graduate that summer and go to the best team you can?”

Izzo worries it could lead to attempts to recruit players already on campuses. But that didn’t prevent him from bringing in Brandon Wood, an all-conference guard who graduated from Valparaiso and is now starting for Michigan State.

Izzo _ who said he had the blessing of former Valparaiso coach Homer Drew _ knew Wood might’ve played for another Big Ten team against the Spartans if he didn’t take him on.

“I don’t think it’s a good precedent for us to set and I don’t think it’s good for what we’re looking to do,” Izzo said. “I think the negatives could far outweigh the positives. I really, really do believe that.”

Most of this year’s group redshirted a season due to injury and completed undergraduate degrees as they closed their junior athletic year. They represent a different type of tweener: not talented enough to be stars or bolt for the NBA, yet good or experienced enough that a coach wants them even for just a season.

Some _ including Wood, Chicago State’s Lee Fisher, Fairleigh Dickinson’s George Goode and Louisiana Tech’s Trevor Gaskins _ average around 10 to 12 points. Guys like Oregon’s Olu Ashaolu and San Diego State’s Garrett Green provide scoring and rebounding up front in about 20 minutes per game. Others offer little more than spot duty.

While transfers typically sit a year, the NCAA offers a one-time exception allowing graduate transfers to play right away if the former school doesn’t renew the scholarships. NCAA spokeswoman Emily Potter said requiring graduation and graduate-school enrollment provide “an appropriate threshold” for a rule that fits a limited number of players.

Nonetheless, players are shopping their services.

Players are on year-to-year contracts as schools renew their athletic scholarships on an annual basis. In professional sports, players are often waived before they can become free agents; in college, the first school must not renew the player’s scholarship for the player to be granted a waiver.

It hasn’t worked out for the player in every case.

Todd O’Brien, a 7-footer, graduated from St. Joseph’s and transferred to UAB to enroll in the public administration graduate program. He’s practicing with the Blazers but hasn’t played in his final year of eligibility because St. Joseph’s wouldn’t support his request, while his appeals to the NCAA have been denied.

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