Norm Chow Blocks BYU Transfer, But More Than Religion Is In Play


Wisconsin basketball coach Bo Ryan’s appearance last week on ESPN Radio sparked national debate on coach-imposed transfer limitations on student-athletes. You can read the take



It has resurfaced less than a week later, and this time brings the always tenuous topic of religion into the discussion. Few matters are as contentious, so don’t be surprised if Hawai’i head coach Norm Chow isn’t as willing to go on national airwaves as Ryan.

Chow inherited a difficult situation at UH overall when he was hired in December. The Warriors were a month removed from point shaving allegations, finished 6-7 and out of the postseason with an experienced team, and before he ever arrived on Oahu, Chow had a player ready to leave the program: Michael Wadsworth.

The Orem, Utah native and Church of Latter Day Saints member was on his mission when Salt Lake Tribune reporter Jay Drew writes he informed then-UH head coach Greg McMackin of wanting to seek transfer closer to his home. Chow has complied with Wadsworth’s request, avoiding the laundry list of blocks Ryan gave Jarrod Uthoff. Thus far, there are no allegations of tampering like Maryland leveled against Vanderbilt in the Danny O’Brien transfer.

But there are a few interesting caveats to this affair that could (read: will) result in criticism for Chow. The first and most obvious is the religious hook. Wadsworth is a Mormon, yet is blocked from the only Mormon-owned university with football in the country.

Second, Chow was offensive coordinator at BYU rival Utah a season ago. UU head coach Kyle Whittingham gave Chow an opportunity in the Pac-12 after UCLA rather unceremoniously dispatched him.

Third, Wadsworth is blocked from a university that never offered him a scholarship. During his senior prep season at Silverado (Henderson, Nev.) High, Wadsworth had offers from UH and Arizona per, and Nevada had joined the mix. Drew’s report mentions Arizona State as another suitor.

Wadsworth’s father, John, is quoted extensively in the Drew piece. Chow is not. Thus, the most informative bit emanating from the Island comes secondhand.

"Hawaii feels strongly about not releasing him to BYU,” John Wadsworth said. “He can talk to any other school out there, even other schools on Hawaii’s schedule. But he can’t talk to BYU.”Wadsworth said he asked Chow why BYU was singled out.“The way coach Chow explained it, he believes BYU has an unfair recruiting advantage for missionaries,” John Wadsworth said. “I don’t know his motives. The thing he expressed to me is that he felt like [BYU] has an advantage with returning missionaries and he referenced the Riley Nelson Rule.”"

The Riley Nelson Rule refers to the current Cougar quarterback, originally a Utah State commit who switched programs while on his mission — a scenario similar to Wadsworth’s. Nelson had not been offered by BYU out of high school, but made the switch three years later.

In an interesting twist, Nelson seized starting quarterback duties from Jake Heaps against USU this past September, scoring a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns that cemented a Cougar rally and thrilling 27-24 victory. That had to throw salt in the wounds of Aggie supporters displeased with the transfer, and it prompted a new NCAA rule. Included in the linked Deseret News column is the highly ironic sentence: “The main point is that this sort of scenario — where a player announces a transfer, mid-mission — is unlikely to occur again.”

Not only is it potentially occuring again, but Chow deserves some benefit of the doubt based on the Nelson precedent. A transfer from UH to Provo is one virtually any coach would block. It has nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with a former player potentially throwing the same salt Nelson threw at USU; in other words, coaches almost never allow a player to transfer to a program on the schedule.

UH was one of the first teams to sign onto a contract with the Cougars when BYU went independent, and is on the slate every campaign for the foreseeable future akin to a conference member. In virtually all transfer, intraconference transfers are barred. Aside from cases of legitimate tampering, preventing a former player from showing up on the opposite side of the field is a rare case when transfer blocks are justifiable.