The Grad Transfer Farce
Yesterday Stanford quarterback KJ Costello announced that he is transferring to Mississippi State to play his final year of college football.
Costello has been at Stanford four years and was named second team All Pac-12 in 2018, before suffering through an injury plagued 2019 season. He apparently has lost favor with Cardinal coaches, who believe that Davis Mills and newcomer Tanner McKee (a big-time recruit from two years ago who is now returning from his Mormon mission) have a higher upside.
Costello is one of at least 14 Stanford players to enter the “transfer portal” this year. While that number is alarming—and reportedly the largest of any school in college football—the good news is that most, if not all, of these players will earn their degree before leaving the Farm.
The bad news is that few, if any, of them will actually attend classes at their new school.
This, sadly, is what college football has become. It’s all business. It’s all about football, winning, and prepping for a professional career.
If players have a year of eligibility remaining and don’t have a guarantee that they will have a starting job at their current school, they look for greener pastures elsewhere.
Around the country, quarterback transfers have become epidemic. Consider the fact that three of the four starting quarterbacks in this year’s college football playoff were transfers. Some, particularly if they are freshmen or sophomores, are willing to sit out a year. Others petition the NCAA for a waiver—claiming hardship, medical issues, or coaching abuses—and can get the one-year penalty removed. Still others finish their four years and move on.
The original premise of the NCAA’s graduate transfer rule, instituted in 2006, was that an athlete who graduated but still had eligibility remaining could transfer to another school, compete in sports, and pursue a graduate degree that wasn’t offered by their undergraduate institution, without having to sit out a year.
But the graduate degree requirement was quickly, if silently, dropped, and now players are free to transfer to any school for their fifth year once they’ve graduated.
All of this reinforces the notion that the “student-athlete” is really just a football player, and the “student” part is of little or no importance.
At most schools other than Stanford, there is little pretense about this. Players live in football-only dorms, take football player-friendly classes, and spend most of their time in a players’ facility equipped with everything from pool tables, wiffle ball stadiums, and luxury lounges to 24-hour buffets.
But Stanford is not completely immune to these pressures and realities. While the players graduate and remain connected to the program, their transfers are based on opportunities and aspirations as athletes.
Costello’s case is similar to that of another former Stanford star, basketball player Reid Travis, who transferred to Kentucky for his fifth year in hopes of making it to the Final Four and improving his pro draft position.
Unfortunately, his disingenuous transfer announcement cited a desire to “align my academic and athletic interests.”
Travis didn’t make it to the Final Four, didn’t get drafted by an NBA team, and is now playing in Germany. Those who believe he pursued any academic interests during his few months at Kentucky, ranked #132 among US universities by US News & World Report, also believe in the Easter Bunny.
Costello has cast his lot with Mississippi State and head coach Mike Leach, whose interest in educational goals is non-existent, but whose “air raid” offense may offer an opportunity to throw 60 passes a game.
Mississippi State is one of the lowest rated schools in the country, No. 211 in the national rankings, tied with such stalwarts as Georgia State, Immaculata, Hartford and Wilkes, and just behind Edgewood, Florida Institute of Technology, Maryville and Widener.
One thing we know for sure: Costello isn't going to Starkville for the education.