Last week, after the AJC’s Seth Emerson broke the story about an Alabama reserve defensive back having his attempted transfer to Georgia blocked by Nick Saban, I wrote that the coaches have too much power in college football.
The fact Saban would prevent a player, Maurice Smith, who graduated in three years, from transferring to another SEC school was even more ridiculous than Kirby Smart blocking a backup running back, A.J. Turman, from transferring to an SEC school, Georgia Tech or Miami.
This wasn’t about rules. This wasn’t even about competition. It was merely another example of college coaches and their yes-man administrators completely losing perspective on the college mission (or some semblance of it).
Well, score one for the good guys –or, the “amateur” athletes.
Saban relented Wednesday night. He released Smith from his scholarship. The only thing that could stop Smith from signing with Georgia now is if the SEC decides to not sign off on the waiver. But that would amount to one of the worst public relations missteps in SEC history (which is saying something) so my guess is the conference will rubber stamp this.
Assuming Smith makes it to Athens, my first question to him would be: Have you heard of Curt Flood?
Because for Smith to get Saban, the most powerful coach in the history of college athletics, to effectively surrender on an issue like this is like a junior version of Flood challenging baseball’s reserve clause in 1969 (which eventually paved the way for free agency).
The SEC released a statement, saying, that the conference “”does not provide waivers of SEC rules absent circumstances that demonstrate a clear reason for granting an exception to those rules.”
“Clear reason” — which is Latin for overwhelming public sentiment and humiliation.
Saban really didn’t want to entertain questions about this with the Alabama media again: “We have done everything that we can do institutionally to allow the conference to make the decision. … So that is past us now. We don’t really need to talk about that anymore…”
So get off my lawn!
Several factors weigh in Smith’s favor and against Saban and the SEC. Smith graduated last week and should have the right to transfer anywhere he wants to. This case has been a particular mess because of how Smith has been treated (see below). The wind direction on the general transfer issue appears to be shifting in the players’ favor. The NCAA has a recent history of looking foolish in attempts to reinforce rules that restrict the freedoms of student-athletes. All that likely will lead to a waiver.
What made the Smith situation even worse than the Turman saga is Saban blocked his transfer, keeping him in Tuscaloosa, yet simultaneously ostracized him from the program and prevented him from using the athletic facilities. Smith also wrote a letter to the Alabama appeals committee claiming that his “locker was cleaned out and all of my personal belongings in the trash. … These personal items included my family photos, written goals, inspirational and sentimental items memorializing my deceased former friend, roommate and teammate, Altee Tenpenny, and items of personal value from my former teammates.”
That’s when the story blew up. It was a bad look for Alabama. It was a really bad look for Saban. Whether Saban had anything to do with Smith’s belongings being trashed or not, he never publicly acknowledged it or denounced it. That’s shameful.