Better late than never.
For Penn Athletics, the timeless idiom has never been more true, as several transfer students have found their respective ways to 33rd Street and quickly made an impact on the Quakers’ athletic program.
'...the best decision I ever made...'
The Monmouth basketball program may have become nationally renowned for its men’s team’s propensity for knocking off Power Five conference foes and conjuring up ESPN-worthy bench celebrations, but the Hawks’ greatest contribution to the Red and Blue has come in the form of senior guard Kasey Chambers, who has immediately jumped into the Quakers’ starting lineup in her first year of eligibility and sparked the team to its undefeated start in Ivy League play.
Chambers, a 2012 high school graduate, played each of her first two collegiate seasons with the Hawks, starting nine games in her sophomore season after serving as a backup in her rookie year. But after she averaged 4.7 points and 2.1 assists per game in a 2013-14 season in which her squad staggered to an 8-25 overall record, the Belmar, NJ native decided to look elsewhere, informing Monmouth coach Jenny Palmateer of her decision and beginning the college selection process for a second time.
“I left Monmouth mainly for basketball reasons, I just didn’t fit in their system as well as I would’ve liked,” Chambers said. “So, when I decided that I was going to transfer, I really wanted to focus on academics as a major point.”
For any women’s basketball student-athlete looking for a new home, Penn — which won the Ivy League in 2013-14 before being named USA Today’s best overall college in September 2014 — would have been a highly sought-after choice at the time.
But for Chambers, who already had connections in the Philadelphia area due to her time playing AAU [Amateur Athletic Union] ball, the no-brainer was made even simpler.
“It was a little bit of both [the school seeking me out and vice versa]; I had known [Penn assistant] coach [Chris] Day for a while from back when he was at Saint Joe’s, and we spoke throughout the process, and through him I was able to get [head] coach [Mike] McLaughlin’s attention,” Chambers said. “The school honestly had a big draw to me both academically and basketball-wise, and it ended up being a great fit.”
The lone apparent downside to Chambers’ decision was that NCAA rules mandate that for intra-divisional transfers, “you need to spend one academic year at your new school as a full-time student before you are eligible to compete.” With Monmouth and Penn both being Division I teams, Chambers was forced to sit out the entire 2014-15 season, watching from the sidelines as Penn finished second in conference play before a heartbreaking 61-56 loss to Big 5 rival Temple in the second round of the National Invitational Tournament.
“It was hard not playing — of course it is, for any athlete, to tell them, ‘You can’t play,’ Chambers said. “Fortunately, my teammates and coaches were really supportive and helped me get through it.”
While a year away from live-action basketball might cause some to grow rusty, Chambers’ time off seems to have had an opposite effect, as the guard earned a role as a team captain for 2015-16 despite never having suited up for Penn and immediately stepped into the starting lineup.
Playing alongside superstar bigs Sydney Stipanovich and Michelle Nwokedi, Chambers has thrived in her new setting, filling the stat sheet with 6.9 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game while helping the Quakers to their phenomenal 14-3 start.
“Honestly, that year off improved me – it was a year for me to get a lot better, and I got to learn the system and all the plays, so that when I came back this year, I’d be ready to go,” Chambers said. “I understand the [sit-out] rule, but that year ended up benefiting me in more ways than I can even explain, because retrospectively, I know it really did a lot for me.
“[Transferring] was the best decision I’ve ever made for myself in my entire life.”
Academics over athletics
Indeed, it’s pretty tough to beat the career path of Chambers, but one Quaker who can make an argument is football’s Colton Moskal, a linebacker who made his Quaker debut this fall after redshirting his freshman year at Syracuse in 2014.
Rated as a three-star prospect and the 44th best overall player in the Illinois high school Class of 2014 by Rivals.com, Moskal had serious interest from several Football Bowl Subdivision schools, resulting in his commitment to the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Syracuse not being much of a surprise to the public.
“At Syracuse, I had a great relationship with some of the players and coaches there — I still talk to my former roommate, Zaire Franklin, who was a captain there this year — so I just had those good connections,” Moskal said. “I still love my former coaches there.”
But Syracuse struggled to a 3-9 record in the 2014 season and as Moskal didn’t see any game action, the 6-foot linebacker began to re-evaluate his life priorities, considering the idea of playing elsewhere.
“Obviously Penn was a much better school academically, and the academics were the driving force in me wanting to leave,” said Moskal, who is academically considered a sophomore in Wharton despite still having three years of athletic eligibility remaining. “I wasn’t really considering any other FBS schools — I knew that if I was going to transfer, it would be to the Ivy League, and obviously Penn was my first choice.”
Where Moskal may have Chambers beat is that he didn’t even have to take a sit-out period after transferring. Because NCAA Division I football is split into the FBS and the Football Championship Subdivision, which includes the Ivy League, Moskal wasn’t considered an intra-divisional transfer, meaning he would be eligible to play immediately.
It’s not every day that FBS players willingly drop down a level to play in the FCS with the intent of staying permanently — Penn hadn’t seen one since former Florida State quarterback Ryan Becker came over after the 2009 season — but based on Moskal’s results on and off the field in 2015, he should be here to stay.
Despite a relative lack of offseason work with the team, Moskal quickly gained a starting job and finished the 2015 season with 44 total tackles in nine games, helping anchor a defense that lowered its opponents’ averages from 31.9 points per game and 4.7 yards per carry in 2014 to 26.8 PPG and 4.0 YPC in 2015. With the help of Moskal’s efforts, Penn improved its overall record by five games and stunned the nation by jumping from sixth place to first place in conference play.
“Learning a new scheme was definitely tough, but [defensive coordinator Bob] Benson and [linebackers’ coach Jon] Dupont did a great job in helping me get there — same with some of the older guys, like Nolan Biegel and Donald Panciello, really helping out on the field,” Moskal said. “Really, the biggest acclimation was just learning a new place and meeting new people, having to do that all over again, but it worked out.”
It doesn't always work out
Unfortunately, for every transfer case that works out as positively as Chambers’ and Moskal’s, there’s one that ends in heartbreak, and this was the case for foreign exchange student Calum MacGregor, a junior who was denied eligibility to play sprint football for the Quakers in 2015.
MacGregor is enrolled at St. Andrew’s University in Scotland, where he spent the first two years of his undergraduate studies before deciding to come to the United States in a study abroad program for the 2015-16 year. Although he had never played a down of organized tackle football at St. Andrews, MacGregor, an avid sports fan, looked for the opportunity to get involved at Penn.
“When I knew I was coming here, I started looking into what sports I could do, and I figured that trying American football would be pretty fun given that I would be in the U.S.,” he said. “I wasn’t big enough or good enough to do regular football here, but sprint football looked interesting and I thought I’d take a look at it. I talked to one of the coaches during the athletics event at Penn Park [during New Student Orientation] and he encouraged me to try out, so I did.”
MacGregor jumped right into the mix with the 2015 team, immediately joining the Quakers’ practices as they prepared for their regular season to start in mid-September. Placed at wide receiver, the 6-foot-1 junior gradually adjusted to the sport, enjoying his practice time as the anticipation for Collegiate Sprint Football League play began.
“It was surprisingly professional, given that it’s not a very well-known sport,” MacGregor said. “It was really good fun — the squad was great, really supportive of me given that I had never played before.”
But the few weeks of practice merely ended being a cruel tease for the exchange student, as he was informed just before the start of the regular season that he was ineligible to compete.
“Obviously, I was disappointed; I had put a lot of time into it and had spent probably five or six days a week for three weeks getting ready,” MacGregor said. “I was looking forward to being able to actually play, so obviously it was quite disappointing that I didn’t get to go through with it.”
CSFL rules state that players must meet NCAA eligibility requirements, and the NCAA states that transfer exceptions may be used to compete immediately if “the sport is dropped or is not sponsored at the first school.” Consequently, with sprint football not being played outside of the United States, MacGregor assumed that he was in the clear.
However, after weeks of deliberation, the Penn Athletics Compliance Department ruled him ineligible to play.
“I had to talk to Penn’s assistant eligibility guy [D. Elton Cochran-Fikes] and I ended up talking to him about it, and he said the way transfer students work is that you have to done a certain number of units at Penn, and if you’re an exchange student, they have to be funded by your government. Because I wasn’t funded by our government, that was problematic,” MacGregor said. “They said they would appeal for me, but apparently the appeal process failed, so I was no longer eligible to play — could’ve kept training but I figured there was no real point."
Ultimately, although MacGregor found some consolation suiting up as an intramural flag football player, there will always be remnants of “what-if” from his season stripped away.
“I’m still glad I came here, and I’ve had an amazing time so far,” MacGregor concluded, “but it would’ve been awesome to get the chance to suit up.”
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