NCAA rule brings graduate student-athletes to Duke

Writer: 
October 30, 2017

Erik Hanson has ten months at Duke, and by the second week of August, it’s clear he’s making the most of it.

“I don’t want the coaching staff to be mad at me for staying up late, but…,” he says, laughing, before rattling off his robust daily schedule—training, an ice bath, two classes (“Intro to Financial Accounting” and “Quantitative Business Analysis”), a film session, a nutrition meeting, practice, and more schoolwork—a lineup that, all told, runs about sixteen hours.

Hanson is the backup goalkeeper for the men’s soccer team, and he’s also the latest graduate transfer at the position for Duke. This year marks the third straight year—and fourth year in five—where the roster will include a graduate- student goalkeeper who’s new to campus. The trend mimics a national uptick in “graduate transfers” as a result of NCAA bylaw 14.6.1, the “One-Time Transfer Exception” stipulation that enables graduate students to use remaining athletic eligibility at a school other than their undergraduate alma mater. In Division I sports, such transfers more than tripled from 2011 to 2016. In Hanson’s case, the rule allowed him to graduate from Brown in May and start classes at Duke in July.

The situation also reflects a Duke-specific educational opportunity that, in athletics, becomes a recruiting advantage: the one-year Master of Management Studies program at Fuqua. The four most recent graduate transfer goalkeepers have all enrolled in the program, which was launched in 2009. Graduate student Bego Faz Davalos, a potential starter for the women’s basketball team this winter who transferred from Fresno State, and starting right tackle Evan Lisle, a two-year letterman for the Ohio State Buckeyes, are also M.M.S. students.

Before coming to Duke, head coach John Kerr ’87 coached at Harvard, where he gained some insight into Ivy League athletics. The league, Kerr says, has “restrictive rules where players can’t return back to the Ivy League, even if they redshirt. So obviously the coaches want to help their kids, and Duke is a very equivalent-type school to the Ivy League. Playing in the ACC is exciting for them, and it’s a great opportunity for us to add someone who’s been around and can bring something different to the table.”

Hanson, an Honorable Mention All-Ivy selection in 2016, isn’t the first goalkeeper to come to Duke from the academy’s de facto Elite Eight. Former Princeton Tiger Ben Hummel M.B.A. ’17 played briefly in net last year while mostly backing up Binghamton alumnus Robert Moewes M.B.A. ’17, and Mitch Kupstas M.B.A. ’16 was Hanson’s former teammate at Brown for a couple of seasons before earning nine starts for Duke in 2015. The pattern persists on the baseball diamond, where three pitchers have come to Duke from Ivy League schools in the past two years.

As Kerr explains, the arrangement benefits everyone, although in soccer, jumping from the Ivies to the ACC necessitates different on-field skills. The ACC game is more possession- focused and less reliant on long balls; the goalkeeper has to be comfortable with the ball at his insoles. “I found out very quickly, the first day, that my feet are one of the main things I’ll need to improve on here,” Hanson says. “There’s definitely no way out—you’re gonna get found out here if you have a weakness.”

Hanson won’t make many appearances this season—freshman keeper Will Pulisic, who has played for the U.S. Under- 19 Men’s National Team, is the starter—but his seniority and background provide him a different outlook. The second perspective that graduate transfers bring, Kerr says, has been “a massive asset” to the program.

“I’m a guy with experience. I’ve played in big games,” says Hanson. “So I was open with the freshmen that I can be a resource that’s different from the other guys because I have an experience outside of Duke, and I know what two totally different teams are like. Any kind of issue they can imagine, I’ve probably been through.”

While he has amicable ties with his Ivy League coaching peers, Kerr notes that witnessing a fired-up motivation in their former players—as they’re inspired by the chance to play in the ACC—can produce a bit of jealousy. When Hanson’s former college coach saw him this summer, Kerr recalls, “he’s like, ‘The kid’s working out all the time. He never worked out that hard when he played for me!’ ”

  • Lucas Hubbard '14 is the Clay Felker Fellow staff writer at Duke Magazine.