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Alabama's obstruction of Daisha Simmons' transfer highlights troubling state of NCAA student-athletes' rights

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Josh Moon of the Montgomery Advertiser wrote that the story of Daisha Simmons, Brittany Jack and Alabama is the story of what happens "when employers hold all the cards". Unfortunately, it's not "unprecedented" and represents a larger problem for the NCAA.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Daisha Simmons' fight to transfer from Alabama is not the first time a coach has exhibited such "shameful" behavior when it comes to a good player wanting to transfer.

"Well, it's still the same thing we saw with the Kansas State issue: they are doing it because they can," ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas said in an interview with Swish Appeal last week.

As described previously by Jerry Carino of Gannett New Jersey, Simmons coincidentally made her decision to transfer in the same week that Kansas State finally relented and allowed Leticia Romero to transfer.

Romero, now a Florida State sophomore, was in a similarly ugly fight with Kansas State to get her full release. Kansas State's administration dragged their feet and played the same games that we've been seeing more recently from Alabama: deny transfer request, deny appeal, only to give permission to contact certain schools before finally relenting -- albeit after a firestorm of public castigation -- and allowing Romero her right to further her education at another institution of her choice. Despite the understandable comparisons, Kansas State wasn't quite as insensitive as Alabama has been with Simmons: she not only has a family matter to tend to, but also a bachelor's degree from Alabama.

Yet before that, there was the case of Sydney Moss and Florida.

Moss, who was arguably Florida's best player as a freshman in the 2012-13 season, wanted to transfer after her first season. She wanted to be closer to her home and mother, Libby Offutt. And instead of the Gators being understanding, they too did everything possible to block Moss from transferring even taking an extreme measure that gained national attention.

Florida informed Moss that not only would they not grant her a full release. They were going to give her a conditional release, and she would not be allowed to transfer to any of the 213 Division I institutions. After the story garnered national attention, they decided to be "nice" and only block her from transferring to any school in the Power 5 conferences -- have to love their altruistic heart, huh?

But after some groundswell of public outcry - which I wrote about here - Florida finally gave Moss the release she was looking for, a more standard release to every school on her list except fellow SEC member Kentucky. She eventually transferred to Division III Thomas More in Kentucky, which showed that all she cared about was being happy and close to her mother - it wasn't really about basketball at all, and it's the same thing with Simmons.

Throughout all of this, ESPN's Jay Bilas has been one of the most outspoken national media members on this matter and is now calling for more voices to join him -- within college basketball itself.

"You don't really want to listen to any NCAA administrator -- whether (it's an) Athletic Director, President, or otherwise --talk about student-athlete welfare with a straight face," Bilas told Swish Appeal. "It's one of those things where this just can't be Alabama: other people in the NCAA structure have to step forward and say, ‘This is wrong.' And their silence is deafening.

"The fact that they aren't stepping forward and saying, 'What Alabama is doing is wrong, what Kansas State did to Leticia Romero did was wrong.' They're all waiting, like silently sitting back and (saying), ‘Hey, they may need to do this at some point.' That's what a lot of them are thinking, ‘Maybe I'm going to have to do it -- I don't want anyone coming at me.'"

Among those who are speaking out is Seton Hall coach Tony Bozzella, who Simmons chose to play for. But, more than anything, these three stories reveal a troubling mentality among NCAA coaches and athletic departments regarding the rights of student-athletes.

"What they're doing is their essentially enforcing a non-compete provision on a non-employee," Bilas said. "So they're not being paid, but they still have a non-compete, how could you possibly justify that? What they're saying is, ‘This young lady is worth a helluva of a lot more than a scholarship and we know it. She's going to pay the price so we don't have to.' That's not right.

"Now if she's going to have a non-compete enforced on her, she should have the opportunity to realize her fair market value. And that's true of a women's basketball player, women's lacrosse player, swimmer, football player, men's basketball player, and tennis player. They should all be allowed, like every other student and like every other person to realize their fair market value."

When the Moss controversy occurred, the idea of a total denial of a transfer was almost unheard of. A year later, we're seeing a troubling pattern of "petulant" behavior from women's college basketball coaches. All of that creates a rather stark contrast between the freedom of movement of coaches and the heavily restricted movement of players with Kristy Curry's own career as a coach highlighting the point.

In 2007, not too long after Curry left Purdue for Texas Tech, her former team was punished by the NCAA for rules violations:

"Purdue's women's basketball team will lose two scholarships for this season and the school will spend two years on probation after the NCAA ruled Wednesday that a former assistant coach helped write a research paper for a player and made more than 100 improper recruiting calls.

Curry, who was the head coach of the Boilermakers at the time of the infractions, was cleared of any violations in the resulting NCAA report. However, according to Patrick Gonzales of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, "...the committee that conducted the investigation stated that it was "troubled" that Curry was made aware that former assistant coach Katrina Merriweather may have committed academic fraud but dismissed the allegations as not credible after conducting her own inquiry." And being that head coaches oversee everything in their program, there's no way that Merriweather -- who was a third assistant -- could have pulled that off without the knowledge of her head coach anyway.

In any case, despite being cleared of any wrongdoing, Leroy Bridges of The Exponent reported in 2008 that Curry, "...would have been reprimanded and 'limited for summer recruiting' by Burke if she would have stayed at Purdue." Regardless of whether that was known at the time she left Purdue, the circumstances truly made leaving the best option. And Purdue associate athletic director Jay Cooperider was totally supportive of her right to pursue other options, even as that controversy was unfolding according to an AP report from 2006:  "We love Kristy. Kristy has done great things for our program. But if somebody wants to talk to her, we're not going to deny her the right to talk to another institution."

Later, after failing to make the tournament at Texas Tech, it was in May of 2013 that Curry left Texas Tech for Alabama -- coincidentally one year before Simmons made her request to transfer, which was denied in part for because it was so late that it left the program in a bad position. Back in June of last year, Tommy Deas of The Tuscaloosa News reported that Curry told media, "...I've never been about the dollar. I've always taken a job because I felt like in my heart that was the right place to be at that time."

Given her espoused principles, one would think Curry would therefore be sympathetic toward Simmons' situation.

The point here is not that coaches shouldn't be allowed that freedom of movement in their professional careers for better opportunities -- something that anyone would want -- but that it stands in stark contrast to their ability to restrict the movement of their unpaid student-athletes when they seek out better opportunities.

The question we're left with in all of this: why shouldn't players be afforded the same rights of their coaches, who will inconvenience a program with their departure as soon as it's convenient for them?

For more of our reporting on this story, check out our Daisha Simmons storystream.