ATHENS — Jeremy Pruitt said he understands the NCAA and SEC transfer rules — players typically are required to sit out a season — and why the rules were voted into place.
But the Tennessee head coach said exceptions should be made this year on account of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is not just about Cade (Mays),” Pruitt said at his weekly press conference on Thursday in Knoxville. “I would say everybody that tried to transfer, to me, it would be foolish for anybody that’s capable of enabling this, it would be foolish of us not to do that just for what’s right.”
Pruitt and the Vols have been pushing for Mays, a junior offensive lineman who started two years at SEC rival Georgia, to be granted a waiver for immediate eligibility this season.
Quarterback Joey Gatewood (Auburn to Kentucky) and safety Otis Reese (Georgia to Ole Miss) are two other SEC in-conference transfers that have not had their waiver request for immediate eligibility approved.
Their respective schools have not been nearly as vocal or public as Tennessee has in its campaign to get Mays on the field and competing for the Vols this season.
That said, Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin — who coached one season at Tennessee in 2009, with current LSU coach Ed Orgeron on his staff and current Vols’ OC Jim Chaney serving in the same position — did make a public plea on the behalf of Mays and Reese.
“These guys that are sitting, they’re sitting and really losing that year,” Kiffin told the Jackson Clarion Ledger in August. “Take someone that’s sitting and has one year to play, next year. Well, they would’ve gotten a free year this year so they’d have two seasons to play. Now someone like that only has one season to play.
Or Otis, he would have three seasons to play now. Now he’s going to sit and only have two. It’s pretty neat for everyone else but it’s really screwing these guys.”
Tennessee fans have gotten involved through social media campaigns. More than 13,500 have signed a “Free Cade Mays” petition online at change.org.
Pruitt said he has discussed the issue with SEC league office.
Pruitt went so far as to identify representative William King, the SEC associate commissioner for legal affairs and compliance, as his point of contact for discussions of Mays’ eligibility.
“I know how this goes, there’s all kinds of policies and rules that have been voted on over the years,” Pruitt said. “I understand that the time that some of these rules were voted on, why they were.
“Here’s the but though — with what’s going on in our country right now over the last six months with a pandemic, there’s probably not one family in America that has not suffered in the last six months. It’s unusual times.”
Mays’ case requires a waiver from the SEC office in addition the NCAA, because it’s an in-conference transfer.
Knoxville attorney Greg Isaacs has said Mays’ transfer is related to Georgia having a toxic environment.
Pruitt pointed a finger at the lawsuit Mays’ father filed in December on 2019, seeking $3 million in damages, as creating a difficult environment for Mays.
The lawsuit involved a lawn chair incident that resulted in Kevin Mays’ having part his pinky amputated during his son’s recruiting visit in 2017, prior to Cade signing with the Bulldogs.
Pruitt’s concern, however, is with the mental health of student-athletes amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenging protocols and self-quarantines in place.
“I can’t imagine being a child from five or six to age 25 or 30,” Pruitt said, “that they feel like their youth is being taken away, the things that they’re used to doing.”
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