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Blanchette: Karr ruling didn’t cause polar shift in NCAA world

LAS VEGAS – Lots happening here at the West Coast Conference basketball tournament.

Kevin Pangos is trending. Rob Sacre is back insisting that Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s hate each other, despite no one else agreeing with him. The big logo sticker at center court of the Orleans Arena that caused players to go all Splashdown on Saturday night has been yanked up, a blow for safety over marketing.

Oh, and the NCAA wasn’t rendered rubble by giving a kid a break.

Actually, this is something we’ve been keeping tabs on all season. Before the start of practice back in October, the faceless monolith of college athletics ruled that Taelor Karr would not have to sit out this season at Gonzaga after transferring from Kansas State, as would normally be the case, but instead was eligible immediately.

The earth reversed its rotation. Dogs recited Shakespeare. The President got an attababy on Fox News.

And yet despite this unfathomable departure from all that we know to be true about how the NCAA deals with its student workforce, the culture did not crumble. The Zags – really good last season – were good again, but did not morph into UConn overnight. Competitive balance was not impacted. The organization was not flooded with similar appeals from players with happy feet and short attention spans.

“The NCAA got it right,” Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves said.

Yes, it did. And in the process it underscored how ethically dubious its transfer rules are in the first place.

If you missed the synopsis back in the fall, Karr is a guard from Kansas – her hometown, Paola, is about the size of Colville – who fulfilled something of a dream by accepting a basketball scholarship at K-State. By her sophomore year, she played 33 minutes a game, scored in double figures and made the Big 12 All-Academic team.

And after the season, coach Deb Patterson called her in to say her scholarship wasn’t being renewed and that it was better if she moved it on down the road. Karr was dumbstruck, even more so when Patterson issued a statement saying it was the player’s decision.

“It wasn’t,” Karr said.

So she cast about for a new school, was smitten with Gonzaga, enrolled and prepared to sit out the NCAA-mandated transfer year. In the meantime, with the help of GU’s compliance office, she appealed for a waiver of the rule. Clarification was sought from K-State; Karr stated her case.

And the NCAA gave her the all-clear.

“I’m very fortunate,” she said. “It’s unprecedented for it to happen. I think the NCAA saw it wasn’t my fault and I shouldn’t be punished and have to sit out a year. It was great they listened to my story and took it to heart and gave me a chance.”

At Gonzaga, she has stepped into the starting lineup as part of the committee replacing Courtney Vandersloot at point guard, which she hasn’t played since high school.

“She’s not a point guard – the Kansas State people told me that,” Graves aid. “I know that coach – we’re on the WBCA board of directors together. She said, ‘If you want a Courtney replacement, it’s not her.’ I heard it from other people in that league.

“But guess what? She’s third in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio, and we’re still a top 20 offense.”

And yet regardless of her contributions, it would be nice to think Karr’s case would start a dialogue on a rethinking of the transfer rule.

It won’t, of course.

“I’m not so sure – I think it will (loosen things up),” Graves reasoned. “Now there’s case precedent. There wasn’t in women’s basketball – there was a baseball case our compliance people cited.

“Now if it’s her decision or a discipline issue and she transfers, that’s something else. I’m OK with that. But if it’s not her decision, why penalize the kid?”

Certainly it’s tricky. There is already too much transfer traffic, and there are still enough scruples-challenged coaches and sheep-like players that open transferring could be chaotic. Still, that coaches are unfettered in their job hopping while players are restricted by the NCAA’s ridiculous insistence that athletes sign with schools and not coaches is absurd.

Besides, now we’re seeing abuses in the other direction – as when St. Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli refused to release end-of-bencher Todd O’Brien to transfer and play as a graduate student, and also refused to provide a reason.

Taelor Karr had a good argument, and good luck.

“It would have been frustrating not to play,” Karr said, “but I was just going to bite the bullet and take it.”

It’s hard to understand why any athlete should have to.