Is NIL Money or Greg Gard to Blame for Wisconsin's Transfer Problem?

Recent debate has sparked on who's to blame for Wisconsin basketball players transferring: Greg Gard or NIL?
Mar 22, 2024; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Wisconsin Badgers head coach Greg Gard talks with guard Kamari
Mar 22, 2024; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Wisconsin Badgers head coach Greg Gard talks with guard Kamari / Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

After multiple Badger basketball players entered the transfer portal following their crushing first-round exit in the NCAA Tournament, the university decided to extend Gard as the head coach of the program until May 31, 2029.

This comes after losing seven players to the portal. AJ Storr, the Wisconsin sophomore and the best player on the team, transferred to Kansas for the 2024-25 season. Shortly after, Jeff Borzello (ESPN) reported that star point guard Chucky Hepburn had entered the transfer portal.

Hepburn and Storr combined for 26.0 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 4.8 assists during 2023-24. Aside from Storr and Hepburn, sophomore Connor Essegian entered the portal and eventually committed to Nebraska.

Essegian had an impressive freshman season, averaging 11.7 points on 35.9% 3PT shooting. However, his minutes dipped with the addition of Storr in the 2023-24 season. Other offseason departures included Gus Yalden, Isaac Lindsey, Ross Candelino, and Luke Haertle.

Greg Gard's coaching has come into question

Gard has repeatedly been criticized for poor preparation, lack of adjustments, and continuous choking down the stretch of the season. Watching Badger basketball fall from sixth in the AP Poll midseason to unranked just days before the start of the Big Ten Tournament cannot solely be blamed on the players.

Defense was a major issue, with the Badgers finishing 46th in defensive efficiency according to KenPom. Wisconsin also had a stretch of losing four games in a row to three unranked opponents.

The fact of the matter is that the team dug itself a hole by losing 8 of their last 11 games, nearly got themselves out of that hole by getting to the Big Ten Tournament Championship, and then plummeted back to the bottom after the first round of the NCAA Tournament. To put the cherry on top, players are now leaving and setting up the coming season for potential disappointment.

With seven players hitting the portal, Gard's seat was undoubtedly hotter than ever, and many were calling for his firing. However, this extension put those rumblings to bed.

Gard's contract with Wisconsin has him making about $3.55 million, making him the 22nd highest-paid coach in Division I men's basketball for public schools.

NIL is shifting the landscape of college sports

Despite the criticism, some look to NIL as the major problem rather than Gard himself. With players able to find their value by looking at other schools that can offer more, we've seen more players transfer in a single offseason than ever before.

It's becoming a business, and while the ability for players to deservedly make money off of themselves, the main takeaway from the portal is that loyalty to a school is now based on a dollar amount.

Wisconsin did host visits for UMass' Matt Cross and Central Arkansas' Camren Hunter on Thursday. Cross averaged 15.3 points and 8.3 rebounds for the Minutemen in 2023-24, and Hunter averaged 16.9 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 3.9 assists for the Bears. It remains to be seen if Gard can land either to stop some of the bleeding.

The main takeaway from the past few weeks is that you can blame Gard for the Badgers' lackluster second-half of the season. To blame him for players wanting more money elsewhere is illogical, and the program has to, and, eventually will adapt to, NIL.