When former Patrick School guard Bryce Aiken joined coach Tommy Amaker’s top recruiting class at Harvard in time for the 2016-17 college basketball season, he envisioned a bright future at the Ivy League school.

Aiken, the 6-foot point guard from Randolph, figured he and the other recruits, including 6-7 forward Seth Towns, out of Columbus, Ohio, would help the Crimson contend for multiple NCAA Tournament appearances during their careers while boosting their own chances to potentially play in the NBA.

After he graduates in May, he will have his Harvard degree with him wherever he lands.

“Yes, that was the plan,” Chris Chavannes, Aiken’s coach at The Patrick School, told NJ Advance Media. “I think if the opportunity had presented itself and he had been in position to go into the NBA, which is a lifelong dream of his, he would’ve done it. But injuries and different things [happened].”

Four years later, Aiken and Towns never did play in the NCAA Tournament for the Crimson and, after suffering injuries at Harvard, both will suit up for new teams and new coaches immediately next season as graduate transfers. Towns is transferring back home to Ohio State where he will have two years of college eligibility after having not played at Harvard since 2018 due to a knee injury.

Aiken averaged 22.2 points as a junior and 16.7 as a senior this season before a foot injury limited him to seven games, below the NCAA threshold for the percentage of total games that would’ve cost him his eligibility for the whole season. He is expected to get a medical redshirt for next season and is still mulling his options, with Seton Hall, Marquette, Maryland, Michigan and Michigan State in hot pursuit.


Both players were among the top graduate transfers on the market this spring, and both are prime examples of an unintended consequence of Ivy League rules dating to 1954: if an athlete sustains an injury in the Ivy League, they sometimes never come back to their original team from it and seek greener pastures instead.

The Ivy League doesn’t grant medical redshirts and it doesn’t allow graduate students to play sports, so if a player suffers an injury that causes them to miss all or part of a season during their four years at the school, they effectively have to transfer out of the league to recoup their eligibility for the year or years they missed.

That has led to open speculation in coaching circles about whether some players are gaming the system by simply calling it quits on their original team once they sustain an injury.

“The league certainly loses a lot of talent from it,” Towns told ESPN.com. “It’s more of an ethical thing for the Ivy League; I’m not really sure how I feel about it. But the league objectively loses talent.”

It has also made the Ivy League a fertile recruiting ground for high-major schools hungry for older, experienced, talented players who become immediately eligible at their new locations.

ESPN.com reported that more than a dozen Ivy League basketball players have graduated and transferred to other schools since 2015, and they have headed to high-profile basketball powers like Arizona, USC, Louisville, UConn and Purdue.


A half-dozen more are on the graduate transfer list this season and are highly touted, including Towns and Aiken from Harvard; Columbia forward Patrick Tapé, a Durham, N.C. native who this week became Duke’s first-ever graduate transfer when he committed to the Blue Devils over USC, Syracuse and Ohio State; Columbia shooting guard Mike Smith, the sixth-leading scorer in Division I basketball this past season at 22.8 points per game, who told NJ Advance Media he has heard from Seton Hall, Arizona, Gonzaga and Michigan; and Dartmouth guard Brendan Barry, a Fair Haven native who was an NJ.com third-team All-State selection in 2016 and who averaged 13.2 points while shooting 46 percent from deep last season.

Jeff Goodman of Stadium.com has kept a national transfer list for many years. That list was up to about 450 as of Wednesday, and the highly prized graduate transfers comprised about 100 in total, Goodman said.

Because of the Ivy League rule, other schools are able to contact their transferring players without fear of tampering. The 6-10 Tapé visited Syracuse, USC and Virginia while at Columbia because he had informed coach Jim Engles last fall that he would be leaving the team after aggravating a toe injury. Aiken hasn’t taken visits yet because of the coronavirus pandemic, but could have meetings via Zoom with coaches from other schools.

Aiken, who turns 24 in December, will be running the point for some other team as a seasoned veteran next season. Seton Hall was among his top three choices before he chose Harvard (he visited Seton Hall with Myles Powell) and a source close to Seton Hall said it would be a “perfect fit” if he chose them. But wherever he lands, Aiken wants to make sure it’s a good fit and they have a strong medical staff.

“We’re in a pretty unique situation so as for me I don’t have a timetable,” Aiken told 247Sports. “It could be quick, it could be a long process. Whenever this situation feels right and I feel the situation is best for me and I feel that I’m ready to commit to a school then that’s when I will.”

“I’m just waiting to see how this corona situation plays out so I get on these schools’ campuses so I can see what these schools look like first hand,” he added. “That’s the biggest thing, I’m trying to navigate through this whole situation that is going on right now.”

Chavannes said: “He’s in a very good position right now because he’s got to be among the top players in the country where he can pick his school.”

“You’re getting a kid that when he’s healthy, he’s just improved so much over the years and can pretty much play anywhere, from Kentucky to any school in the country.”

He added: “The bigger thing for [Aiken] now is these bigger schools have much bigger training facilities and medical staffs, and that’s really, really super-important to him, that they can get him in great shape and take care of him.”


Former Yale guard Makai Mason hasn’t followed the current crop of Ivy League graduate transfers all that closely, but he has his own story.

Mason suffered a broken foot during a preseason scrimmage in November of 2016 entering his junior season. While he was still at Yale in May of 2017, he announced his plans to transfer to Baylor for the 2018-19 season — upon his graduation from Yale. Gonzaga, Duke, Notre Dame and USC also recruited him while he was still at Yale. Mason had scored a career-high 31 points in a first-round upset of Baylor in the 2016 NCAA Tournament, so Baylor coach Scott Drew was familiar with him.

“My junior year I got injured just before the start of the year and I sat the whole year and actually ended up deciding mid-to-late junior year that I was going to go to Baylor,” Mason said. “I wanted to get it over with, get it done with, know where I was going and kind of get familiar with the coaching staff and the players that were already there” at Baylor.

Even after committing to Baylor, Mason attempted to play the 2017-18 season for Yale but re-injured his foot at the start of his redshirt junior season. He played one more game for Yale that season against Harvard.

Finally healthy at Baylor, he led the team with 14.9 points and 3.2 assists per game in 2018-19.

Asked about the notion that some Ivy League players might be gaming the system by stopping playing after an injury, Mason said: “I’m sure that for the most part when guys get injured, they’re not milking it really. It’s hard to look at anybody else’s injury and say they shouldn’t be out for this amount of time because you don’t know what’s going on with their body. No one can tell really what they’re feeling so it would be hard for me to say that.

“If you get injured, no one’s looking to get injured. It’s not something that’s a good situation no matter how you look at it.”


Despite the controversy swirling around its rule, the Ivy League doesn’t appear in any hurry to change it. Its complicated bureaucracy would make it tough, as it would have to be initiated by a coach or administrator and pass through several levels of voting before University presidents finally voted on it.

Robin Harris, executive director of the Ivy League, is not overly concerned.

“What’s the problem with it?” she told ESPN.com. “We’re still continuing to thrive as a league. … I think we have to have an issue to fix.

“It’s a philosophical approach that we do what’s right for college athletics and what’s right for student-athletes, as well,” Harris added. “We have other rules that maybe put us at a disadvantage competitively, and yet we continue to have about 100 ranked teams a year, continue to do well in NCAA tournaments, win national championships. … We haven’t really talked about it, because it’s one of the philosophical underpinnings of the league.”

Mason doesn’t think the rule will be changed anytime soon.

“I personally don’t think that they’ll change that,” he said. “I think it’s something they should look at but I don’t see them changing it. I think they’ve been kind of reluctant to change a lot of things and kind of slow in adapting in that way so I wouldn’t put my money on that.”

Adam Zagoria is a freelance reporter who covers Seton Hall and NJ college basketball for NJ Advance Media.