One of the great mysteries about the NCAA is how they decide on waiver decisions when it comes to underclassmen transferring.
At times it can feel like their decisions are erratic, their method is ambiguous, and hey, sometimes even when they make the “right” (or popular?) decision it can take months on end and their efficiency is put into question.
For that reason it was fascinating when, only a couple of weeks after announcing he was transferring from Kentucky to UCLA, Johnny Juzang was granted immediate eligibility.
Juzang was a freshman for the Wildcats last year who came off the bench and wasn’t really in their core group of contributors. After a single year in Lexington his decision to transfer was understandable due to the fact he didn’t have a major role, and it was largely expected he’d have to sit out the 2020-21 season in typical fashion. However, that wasn’t the case.
In near record time, the NCAA granted him a waiver to play immediately for the Bruins.
How did this happen?
Gary Parrish from CBS Sports reported on his podcast that Juzang’s camp made the waiver appeal all about the current COVID-19 pandemic. Juzang is from the Los Angeles area and made his case all about the fact that in a world of uncertainty he would be safer and more comfortable being near his home as opposed to across the country at Kentucky.
That argument was good enough for the NCAA who agreed with the premise and gave him a waiver in a couple of weeks.
Why is this interesting?
Because if the Gators want a waiver for Michigan transfer and Daytona Beach native Colin Castleton to play immediately, they should be able to get it.
Truthfully, I should probably be careful with the use of “should” in the previous sentence because it assumes the NCAA operates with the concept of precedence, which certainly hasn’t been the case in the past. However, when it comes to a global pandemic, issuing a waiver for a player moving closer to home in one instance could mean it’s going to be the case for every player who wants to go to a program near his family.
If the Gators and Castleton wanted to make a case for him to be immediately eligible they could make a pretty good argument from a basketball standpoint without even involving the COVID-19 crisis. Castleton committed to a previous coach in John Beilein and stuck it out for a season with new head coach Juwan Howard, and things just didn’t work out. Castleton has played a grand total of 264 minutes in his two seasons at Michigan. As an example, just for fun, Juzang played 344 minutes in one season at Kentucky. Additionally, Castleton only got meaningful minutes in one conference game (against Rutgers) and had DNP-Coach’s Decision listed in six contests. Basketball-wise there is definitely a case in itself for Castleton to get a waiver, but if the Gators want him to be immediately eligible they may be best served not to mention basketball whatsoever.
Let’s look at how the NCAA has traditionally viewed transfer decisions. Most of the time, players have to sit out as per the regular transfer redshirt rules. Here are a few high-profile players who have transferred in the last few years:
Quentin Grimes (Kansas–>Houston)
Isaiah Washinton (Minnesota–>Iona)
Joey Hauser (Marquette–>Michigan State)
J’Raan Brooks (USC–>Washington)
Justice Sueing (Cal–>Ohio State)
What is the common trait between these five players? They did something that most do when they announce they are making a transfer decision, they talk about the basketball reasons why they want to leave. Role, opportunity, minutes, style of play, position… all of these players spoke about the on the court reasons things weren’t working out and why they wanted to leave. More recently this summer you saw the highest profile name, Landers Nolley of Virginia Tech, do the same thing when he said he was playing too much power forward and wanted a chance to play on the wing.
Openly talking about the basketball reasons for a transfer has not worked out when it comes to getting waivers. The NCAA put in it’s sit out transfer rules to deter people from making transfers based on basketball and made a waiver system to allow for off the court situations to be remedied.
Right now, if you’re a player looking to get immediate eligibility, you shouldn’t mention anything basketball related as to why you want to move from one program to another.
The most glorious use of a statement to circumvent the system and try to gain immediate eligibility was employed by Mac McClung. He hasn’t actually gotten his waiver yet to play at Texas Tech immediately, but boy did he ever lay the groundwork. You see, there was obvious tension between him and coach Patrick Ewing, and a bunch of other talent had left leaving the cupboard pretty devoid of talent. While we can’t say for sure, McClung not wanting to play for a team without many good players for a coach who hasn’t yet had great success played at least somewhat of a role in him wanting to leave, if not a huge one. But, what was his statement?
“It was a number of different events that made me feel I had no choice but to transfer from Georgetown. I really wanted to stay, but things throughout my career made me realize that I couldn’t.”
Absolutely no talk about anything related to basketball.
This is a man who has seen how the NCAA has handled transfer cases recently and knows his best option to play right away is to make the case that the transfer had nothing to do with anything on the court.
For that reason if the Gators want to get Castleton eligible immediately they are likely better off not pointing out the coaching change at Michigan that left him playing for a coach he didn’t commit to. They shouldn’t mention the fact that he hardly got on the floor, and they shouldn’t point out that he’s looking for a different style of play.
They should simply say that the world is in a crazy time right now due to a virus and Castleton wanted to get as close to home as possible. It worked for Johnny Juzang and it could absolutely work for Colin Castleton.
Whether or not both Castleton and the Gators want a waiver is unknown but if he was eligible they would definitely feel a lot better about their frontcourt depth. Omar Payne and Jason Jitoboh will only be sophomores and both of them struggled at times as they learned the ropes of SEC basketball. Castleton has one more year of experience on them, though he wasn’t able to get a lot of minutes to really hone his craft. Payne and Jitoboh also both struggled with foul trouble at times and it’s not hard to imagine them both being forced to the bench due to early whistles and if that’s the case having another capable center would be huge.
If they do want a waiver for Castleton the groundwork is laid out for how you go about petitioning for a waiver. Johnny Juzang showed everyone how it’s done and the Gators could very well follow suit.