Northwestern, Wisconsin Both Benefactors of Graduate Transfer Rules

WNUR’s Michael Stern (michaeljstern23) takes a look at the graduate transfer rules that both the Northwestern Wildcats and Wisconsin Badgers have used to their advantage within the last few years.

Wisconsin's Russell Wilson used the graduate transfer rule to spend his final year with the Badgers after playing previously for N.C. State. Photo via Sports Illustrated

Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson used the graduate transfer rule to spend his final year with the Badgers after playing previously for N.C. State.
Photo via Sports Illustrated

When Northwestern plays Wisconsin Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium, the Wildcats will catch the Badgers in an opportune year. For the first time since 2010, Wisconsin enters the season without a “free agent” quarterback. Wisconsin has taken full advantage of the NCAA’s graduate transfer provision the past two years, a provision that Northwestern has seen first-hand and tried itself on both the gridiron and the hardwood.

According to the NCAA, the graduate transfer exception can be used by a student-athlete who has graduated from his/her first university with at least a bachelor’s degree and has at least one year of athletic eligibility left.

The first big-name graduate transfer switched both his school and his sport. Duke point guard Greg Paulus was injured early in his senior year for the Blue Devils, which left him with one year of athletic eligibility. Instead of returning to Duke in 2010, Paulus, who was Gatorade’s National High School Football Player of the Year in 2004, chose to use the graduate transfer exception. Paulus transferred to Syracuse, became the team’s starting quarterback, and had his best game as a collegiate quarterback against Northwestern. Paulus threw for 346 yards and two touchdowns as the Orange beat the Wildcats, 37-34.

Northwestern barely missed out on facing more big-time graduate transfer quarterbacks in 2011 and 2012 due to the Big Ten scheduling. Wisconsin took notice of Syracuse’s success with Paulus and cornered the market on graduate quarterbacks. The Badgers nabbed Russell Wilson from North Carolina State for the 2011 season and rode him to the Rose Bowl. The deal was not shabby from Wilson’s end either, as the quarterback threw for 3,175 yards and 33 touchdowns, quickly became the starting quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks, and earned a masters degree.

Wisconsin tried to win with a graduate transfer under center again in 2012, this time adding Danny O’Brien from Maryland. O’Brien was not nearly as successful as Wilson, as he threw for only 523 yards before being replaced as quarterback by Curt Phillips and Joel Stave.

Northwestern has already faced a graduate transfer quarterback this year in Syracuse’s Drew Allen. Allen, an Oklahoma graduate, threw for 279 yards but tossed four interceptions against the Wildcats and was removed as the starter after the game.

Not only has Northwestern football faced graduate transfers in the last few years, but the Wildcats also had a graduate transfer on their roster last year. Defensive back Quinn Evans joined the Wildcats after playing as an undergraduate at Stanford and contributed 38 tackles, 3 passes broken up, and 3 passes defended.

Cooper Neill/Getty Images North America

Cooper Neill/Getty Images North America

The Wildcats have also used the graduate transfer in basketball. Last year, the team used the transfer exception to bring in Jared Swopshire from Louisvile. Swopshire averaged 9.7 points and 6.7 rebounds per game and made several clutch shots for the Wildcats before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Other Big Ten basketball teams that have used the graduate transfer rule in the last few years include Michigan State (Brandon Wood, formerly of Valparaiso, averaged 8.8 points per game for the Spartans in 2011), Illinois (Jon Ekey, who averaged 6.4 points for Illinois State last year, will play for the Illini this year), and Purdue (Errick Peck, who averaged 9.7 points per game for Cornell last year, will play for the Boilermakers this year).

One Big Ten basketball team that may start using the graduate transfer rule soon is Ohio State. After all, their newest assistant coach is an expert on the rule: none other than Greg Paulus.

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