Transfer rules slightly more relaxed for walk-ons such as UGA’s Stetson Bennett

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Georgia walk-on quarterback Stetson Bennett plans to go the junior college route initially as a transfer, but he can be — and likely has been — contacted by any number of schools seeking his services.

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What are the rules for other teams to recruit your walk-on players? With Stetson Bennett potentially leaving UGA how does a walk-on player like him see what options he has available with other programs? Are other schools able to actively reach out to him to gauge his interest and offer him a scholarship? Can we put restrictions on where he potentially transfers (i.e. not within the SEC)? Can UGA recruit walk-on players from other schools to come to Georgia? Thanks!

David Lindquist Cumming, Ga. UGA Class of 2003

Thanks for your very thoughtful and timely question, David. I reached out to UGA to make sure I was answering it correctly.

According to Will Lawler, UGA’s director of compliance, “another institution would have to receive permission to contact a walk-on student-athlete who has enrolled at UGA before making contact.” Lawler said there is more flexibility to contact potential walk-ons without permission prior to enrollment.

Also, there was this interesting caveat, which may apply to Bennett: “Generally speaking, a football transfer student-athlete would have to serve a year in residence if he transfers to another FBS institution unless he meets an exception to permit immediate eligibility. Exceptions are fact-specific and depend on a number of factors that must be evaluated by and in the context of the future institution (e.g., recruited status, participation in practice, sponsorship of sport, and many more).”

I’m not sure whether Bennett enrolled at UGA last June or waited until the fall semester, but that may have factored in his decision to go the junior college route. But the bottom line is this: There are no rules that prevent other teams from recruiting your walk-on players, as long as they go through the proper channels. Walk-ons don’t sign any sort of binding paperwork. They’re coming to your school and joining your football program voluntarily. As a result, there are no restrictions on their “recruitability.” Now that Bennett has publicly declared his intention to transfer, one can be fairly certain he is being contacted by quite a few programs interested in his services.

There’s one scenario that would have been fascinating to see play out. If you recall, Middle Tennessee State was one of about half-dozen college teams to offer Bennett a full scholarship coming out of Pierce County High School in Blackshear, Ga. Imagine if Bennett had decided now that he wanted to take up the Blue Raiders on that offer? That means he actually would be in the position to come to Sanford Stadium on Sept. 15 and start for the visiting team against Georgia and Jake Fromm or Justin Fields.

Alas, that was not the route Bennett chose to take. As detailed by DawgNation’s Jeff Sentell in his exclusive story on Bennett’s decision to transfer, the redshirt freshman has decided instead to go the junior college route, which makes a lot of sense. Bennett can go to a JUCO, get immediate playing time this fall, graduate with his associate’s degree in December and then pick from a number of options to join as an early enrollee in January. Whether that’s a major Power 5 team, FBS team or one of the lower divisions will likely be determined by how well he plays in junior college. Regardless, Bennett will be able to choose the program that offers him the best chance to play as soon as possible, which he has made clear is what he wants. You can’t fault the kid for the that.

Meanwhile, down in Destin, Fla., at the SEC spring meetings this week, graduate transfers and intraconference transfers will be a major topic of discussion. Remember, Georgia was the school that sponsored legislation last year that would allow graduate transfers to be immediately eligible to play without applying for an exception, as the Bulldogs had to do with former Alabama player Maurice Smith in 2016. That proposal ultimately was tabled, but it certainly will be discussed further this week.

There’s another matter that could be even more pertinent to the Bulldogs and the SEC East this season. Florida is lobbying the league for immediate eligibility for wide receiver Van Jefferson, who transferred there from Ole Miss in the wake of the NCAA investigation of recruiting practices under former coach Hugh Freeze. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound redshirt sophomore — who was once a UGA commit —- caught 91 passes for 999 yards and 4 touchdowns for the Rebels the last two seasons. SEC and NCAA rules currently require Jefferson to sit out the 2018 season. If his appeal is successful, Georgia and everybody else the Gators play this season will have to face him this fall.

While Bulldogs fans wouldn’t like that, the general consensus in college athletics these days favors student-athletes being allowed more freedom of movement to find a college that meets their needs. This is especially true when football coaches can come and go at their leisure.

As long as an athlete remains a walk-on, he or she can come and go and are free to talk with as many schools as they like. Stetson Bennett is enjoying that process right now. According to Sentell, who talked with Bennett at length, his most likely destination is Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in Perkinston, Miss., or Jones County Junior College in Ellisville, Miss.

Best of luck to that young man as he pursues his dream of being a starting quarterback in college.

Thanks for sending in your question.

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