DESTIN, Fla. – Two years ago it was Jonathan Taylor. This week it’s Maurice Smith. When it comes to SEC meetings, Georgia has a history of introducing legislation after some sort of issue involving it and Alabama.
The Taylor situation was much uglier, and led to a quick consensus: After Taylor was dismissed by UGA after a domestic violence arrest, accepted by Alabama and then arrested again, Georgia introduced and the SEC passed a rule stating its schools could no longer accept transfers accused of sexual violence.
But the Smith situation is much different. Last summer Smith sought to transfer to Georgia after graduating from Alabama, but was initially blocked. Alabama could do that because the SEC has a rule preventing graduate transfers within the conference. It took public pressure to make Alabama relent, then the SEC waiving its rule to allow Smith to transfer.
Unlike the Taylor situation, this isn’t very clear cut. In fact, it’s not even clear that Georgia’s delegation here entirely agrees.
Kirby Smart, the football coach who saw Smith become a team captain, said he still believes what he said last August, amid the furor over Smith.
“If that kid has been in your program and has been in your university, then he should have the capability to go somewhere and play football,” Smart said. “He’s earned that right. He’s fulfilled that obligation to get a degree from that university. So I think it’s important to allow that.”
Mark Fox, the Georgia basketball coach who has yet to sign a graduate transfer, said he’s on the same page with Smart on that. But he also said that he and his fellow SEC basketball coaches had many misgivings about it.
“None of us are really wild about that on the basketball side of things,” Fox said. “Obviously it was successful for us in football. But that maybe is a rare situation.”
Normally, student-athletes must sit one year when they transfer to a new school. But the NCAA rule allows those who have graduated to transfer and play immediately.
Smith did it, as did left tackle Tyler Catalina last year, and Greyson Lambert two years ago when he was Georgia’s starting quarterback. The graduate transfer market has become almost another recruiting period lately, especially in basketball.
To many, it’s a just reward for somebody who has worked hard to earn their degree. But to many, including the SEC basketball coaches apparently, there are worries about it becoming another version of free agency. Fox joked about coaches trying to recruit players as they’re going through the postgame handshake line.
There are also questions about whether the rule is fulfilling its intended purpose. The goal is for a player to get his master’s degree, which is why the SEC originally had a rule stating that any graduate transfer must have two years of eligibility remaining. (Lambert did, and he earned his master’s degree at UGA.)
But Fox said there is research showing that many players don’t follow through on getting their master’s degree. They just put in their one year at the new school and leave.
“If we want to be serious about education, then one of the coaches suggested that we have to commit two years to those guys if they’re graduate transfers,” Fox said. “And if they don’t graduate, that we don’t get to replace the scholarship.”
The SEC presidents are due to meet on Friday and vote. It’s not clear which way they’re leaning, and Georgia’s proposal isn’t even the only one related to graduate transfers. SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said there are three. Another would liberalize another rule on the books, which says if a graduate transfer doesn’t make certain academic progress that the team can’t sign another one for the next three years. That rule, if it stays in place could prevent Florida from signing Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire.
“Everybody’s all over the map,” Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity said. “So it’s a mixed bag.”
Fox has been reluctant to jump in the graduate transfer market. He said he’s “talked to a couple,” but hasn’t signed any. He said that didn’t have to do with his concerns about the graduate transfer market.
“Not at all. You have to find someone to help you win who’s also admissible, and committed to being part of the team,” Fox said. “We’ve always chosen to go with younger guys and try to develop them and make them better. And that’s kind of the model that we’ve utilized.”