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SEC Could Relax Penalty for Graduate Transfers

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Chattanooga Times Free Press (Tennessee)

 

The Southeastern Conference continues to wrestle with the NCAA's graduate-transfer rule, with Tuesday's opening of the league's spring meetings in Destin, Fla., providing the latest evidence.

League policies currently penalize programs for multiple years after graduate transfers fail to meet academic benchmarks, but that could be relaxed later this week when SEC athletic directors gather with conference commissioner Greg Sankey. Football coaches took turns Tuesday discussing the issue.

"What is the intent of the rule to start with?" Alabama's Nick Saban said in a news conference. "I think the intent of the rule to start with was based on somebody changing schools for academic reasons. That was the intent of the rule to start with, and now that doesn't matter.

"I've never been in favor of free agency in our league. I wasn't for it last year, and I don't think I'll ever be for it."

The Crimson Tide won the 2015 national championship with Jake Coker at quarterback, and he was a graduate transfer from Florida State. They have used graduate transfers at receiver each of the past two seasons, with Richard Mullaney (Oregon State) totaling nearly 400 receiving yards for the 2015 champs and Gehrig Dieter (Bowling Green) compiling more than 200 yards last season.

Saban also lost a graduate transfer last August when defensive back Maurice Smith played his final season at Georgia, becoming one of four team captains for the Bulldogs. It was an uncomfortable predicament for Saban, who initially blocked Smith's transfer but had to relent once the SEC office gave Smith clearance to switch within the league.

"We would benefit as much as anybody in our league if you could transfer," Saban said. "If Kentucky's got a good player, let's see if we can get him to come to Alabama, but why would we do that? How does that help the integrity of what we're trying to do as a conference?"

The NCAA adopted graduate-transfer legislation in 2005, tabled it in 2006 and then reintroduced it in 2010 through a waiver process. Current Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson became the first prominent player to use the rule, playing the 2011 season at Wisconsin after graduating from North Carolina State, while the SEC experienced a more difficult situation out of the gate.

Ole Miss wanted Oregon graduate transfer quarterback Jeremiah Masoli for the 2010 season, but Masoli had pleaded guilty to second-degree burglary during his time with the Ducks. The NCAA denied Masoli's transfer, citing that the rule was put in place to further education and not to run from trouble, but Ole Miss appealed and won.

The SEC school now under the microscope is Florida, which is reportedly the desired destination for Notre Dame transfer quarterback Malik Zaire. Florida's last two graduate transfers, Georgia Tech linebacker Anthony Harrell and Fordham offensive lineman Mason Halter in 2015, failed to make the necessary academic progress in Gainesville.

Florida received a three-year ban in accepting graduate transfers that runs through 2018, so the only way Zaire could join the Gators is for the SEC to ease its restrictions.

"It's a hot topic," Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. "I'm looking forward to these discussions and seeing where we're going with this. I understand everything that goes into it, but I'm more or less going to sit back, and I want to form an opinion based on everyone else and their thoughts."

Sankey said Tuesday night that there is a proposal that would reduce the three-year ban to one year, which would clear a path for the Gators and Zaire.

"If it happens, it happens, and we'll all move forward," Florida coach Jim McElwain told reporters. "If it doesn't, it doesn't, and we'll all move forward."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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May 31, 2017
 
 
 

 

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