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Jeff Sentell / DawgNation
Former Georgia offensive lineman Cade Mays has Knoxville's top attorney battling to help him get immediate eligibility.

Cade Mays Tennessee transfer drama, Georgia football charged with ‘toxic environment’

ATHENS — One of the top attorneys in Tennessee is ready to battle the NCAA and, if needed, the SEC to get Cade Mays a waiver for immediate eligibility after the first request was denied.

Gregory Isaacs, one of Knoxville’s most high-profile and renowned lawyers, has taken on Mays as a client and will “re-package” the appeal, per radio station WNML. Isaacs also said Georgia did not support Mays’ transfer to Tennessee.

NCAA rules mandate that undergraduate players who transfer sit out a season unless they receiver a waiver.

RELATED: Georgia offense off to fast start, ‘everyone in right position’

The SEC has the same rule for intraconference transfers,  so Mays will need a waiver from the league office, as well.

“The mandate of the NCAA is to ensure the well-being and the future success of student-athletes,” Isaacs told the Knoxville News-Sentinel. “Cade Mays clearly meets these criteria.”

Cade Mays’ case is indeed drawing national attention, to the curious extent former Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin has come out in Mays’ support.

Kiffin, who in his one year as the Vols’ head coach triggered a three-year NCAA investigation that ended with recruiting sanctions, does not see Tennessee on his Ole Miss schedule this season.

Toxic Environment?

Isaacs, whose law firm advertises itself as “preeminent and dynamic,” has set his sights on a “toxic environment” that Mays has apparently said he dealt with while at Georgia.

The Bulldogs went 23-5 during Mays’ two seasons in Athens. Mays earned Freshman All-American honors in 2018 and started 11 games last season, lining up at every offensive line position.

“I like being that useful,” Mays said at the start of his sophomore season at Georgia, asked about his usage. “If anything happens, I’m the guy that can get plugged in.

“I think it’s elevated my game to a new level. I learned from last year. I’ve grown as a player a lot.”

RELATED: ‘Mean and nasty’ Cade Mays ready to take on Vols

It’s hard to imagine the grounds of the appeal having anything to do with a lack of opportunity, team success or player development.

Thomas Mars, who represented Mays at the onset of his transfer (Jan. 9), said Wednesday that he has nothing further to add to his comments on Mays’ appeal for immediate eligibility being denied.

 

Mays was likely to start this season after the Bulldogs had three offensive linemen selected in the 2020 NFL Draft. Two of the players were first-round offensive tackles — Mays’ primary position.

Look back

Mays was a 5-star prospect from Knoxville Catholic High School who once anchored a recruiting class that ranked atop the SEC at the start of the 2017 season.

A top former administrator at UT told SEC Country at the time that Mays’ de-commitment from the Vols expedited the departure of Butch Jones, who was struggling amidst a 4-6 season when fired  with two games left in the 2017 campaign.

Meanwhile, things couldn’t have been more different at Georgia.

The 2017 Bulldogs had torn through a checkerboarded Neyland Stadium with a 41-0 triumph en route to winning the SEC Championship. Georgia then won the Rose Bowl before losing to Alabama in overtime of the College Football Playoff Championship Game.

Mays found his way to the field quickly at Georgia, starting in seven games as a true freshman and earning FWAA Freshman All-American honors for a team that finished 11-3 and won the SEC East Division.

RELATED: Cade Mays ready to rally Bulldogs off ‘life support’

Last season, Mays started 11 of 14 games, playing all five line positions. Mays started at left tackle in his final game with the Bulldogs, a 26-14 Sugar Bowl win over Baylor that capped a 12-2 campaign that included another SEC East Division title.

Video of Cade Mays, Dec. 28, 2019, New Orleans

Mays showed no public signs of disharmony his final season with the Bulldogs, upbeat and jovial in the several  media interviews he conducted, including his final appearance before the Sugar Bowl.

Why transfer?

Many believe Mays’ transfer is related to the ongoing lawsuit his father, Kevin, has against UGA. Kevin Mays was a former Tennessee captain under College Football Hall of Famer and current Vols’ AD Phillip Fulmer.

The family is suing for $3 million in lost wages, medical bills and pain and suffering after Kevin Mays’ right pinky finger was partially amputated after it was wedged against a column in a folding chair on Dec. 15, 2017, prior to Cade’s commitment to the Bulldogs.

RELATED: Details emerge in Cade Mays’ family lawsuit against UGA

Mays said in an Aug. 20, 2019 interview that his family supported him coming to Georgia.

“I don’t think it was very difficult for my family, they supported me from Day One,” Mays said. “They told me if you want to go to California we’ll be at every single game. We’ll make it work no matter what.

“I made a decision that was best for me, and I’m thankful they supported it the way they did.”

Some suggested Mays’ transfer could be related to Georgia not providing his younger brother, Cooper, a committable scholarship offer. Cooper Mays is a bright young prospect on the Tennessee football team, but the Bulldogs’ offensive line room was already loaded in that class.

Another possibility for Mays’ departure is that his self-proclaimed best friend, Isaiah Wilson, opted to turn professional after last season. Wilson was the first-round pick of the Tennessee Titans.

Still others cite that Sam Pittman, formerly the Georgia offensive line coach, left UGA to take the Arkansas head coaching job after the 2019 SEC Championship Game.

“Highly Confident”

Tennessee staff and fans believed Mays would be granted a waiver for immediate eligibility like so many other players before him.

It’s a Vols’ culture that is fired up after an 8-5 season that ended with six straight wins under third-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt.

Mars said last January when Mays announced his transfer that he was “highly confident” the talented offensive lineman would be granted immediate eligibly.

RELATED: Rocky Top Hop, Cade Mays shocking decision to leave Georgia

In a statement to the “VolsWire” website, Mars indicated Mays had a very strong case, and he accused the university of leaking information about a separate, unrelated lawsuit the family had filed to select media.

“I can confirm I am representing Cade Mays in connection with his transfer from Georgia. Based on my investigation of the facts and circumstances, I’m highly confident that Cade will be granted a waiver allowing him to play next season. Of all the waiver cases I’ve been involved in, I’ve never seen anything quite like this one. And for the sake of everyone who loves college football, I hope I don’t ever see another one.

The student privacy requirements of federal law don’t allow the NCAA or its member institutions to publicly comment on the reasons behind a student-athlete’s transfer, and there’s no reason that they should. The fact that a college student is a high-profile student-athlete doesn’t entitle everyone who has a Twitter account or press credentials to know every little detail about that student’s college experience. That said, of the thousands of college football fans who’ve speculated on social media why Cade decided to leave UGA, I haven’t seen a single comment that even comes close to the truth.

Eligibility waivers are decided by the Legislative Relief section of the NCAA. NCAA Enforcement has nothing to do with eligibility decisions. I’m under contract with NCAA Enforcement as an “Independent Enforcement Advocate” (on a standby basis without compensation) to be part of a team of professionals who will handle any enforcement cases that might eventually be assigned to the Complex Case Unit. My contract with NCAA Enforcement prevents me from representing anyone in a matter that involves alleged infractions of the NCAA rules. However, I’m not prohibited from representing student-athletes or advising schools in matters regarding eligibility. If I’m asked to handle a matter assigned to the CCU at some point in the future, I’ll withdraw from doing any work on the eligibility side of the NCAA just to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. In the meantime, a large part of my sports law practice still involves student-athlete eligibility issues.

The Mays family has never said a word to anyone about Kevin Mays’ lawsuit. The timing of the news stories about Mr. Mays’ lawsuit makes clear that UGA leaked this story to sports writers today after Cade delivered a letter to Kirby Smart late yesterday explaining the reason he’s leaving Kirby’s program. In fact, one sports writer I spoke with earlier today confirmed that’s how he found out about the lawsuit. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that UGA is continuing to take the low road about the lawsuit, but directing sports writers to Mr. Mays’ lawsuit set a new record low for UGA Athletics.”

Georgia coach Kirby Smart is very selective about which players he sends out to talk with media.

Mays made far more appearances than most every other player on the team last season.

There did not appear to be any hints he was unhappy about the culture at the University of Georgia in any of his appearances.

Tennessee opens its season on Sept. 26 at South Carolina.

Cade Mays video interviews

Aug. 20, 2019

Sept. 7. 2019

Sept. 16, 2019

Oct. 19, 2019

Nov. 9, 2019

Nov. 11, 2019

Dec. 2, 2019

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