ATHENS — Kirby Smart said he’s in support of players transferring when they have better opportunities to play elsewhere, but he doesn’t have control over when they become eligible.
The NCAA and the SEC have rules in place that dictate football players who transfer sit out a season unless there are certain circumstances which would allow for a waiver for immediate eligibility, such as a postseason ban or graduate transfer status.
“You’ve got to look at it from 3,000 feet above and see the landscape of things and what’s going on with everyone in the country,” Smart said on the SEC Coaches teleconference on Wednesday.
“I’m certainly one that thinks if a kid could have a better opportunity to go play somewhere else, and that’s their choice, we want to support that young man,” Smart, who’s entering his fifth season as Georgia’s head coach, said. “In the SEC, there are rules that are in place about going from one school to another that i’m not really in control of, that’s not my decision, that’s not my rule.
“Those are rules that were voted on among the ADs and presidents, and the commissioner has to uphold those.”
Smart’s comments come in the wake of a long offseason for two former Georgia football players, who are still waiting to learn if the will have immediate eligibility after transferring to Tennessee (Cade Mays) and Ole Miss (Otis Reese).
Reese released a statement alleging that Smart misled him about supporting his transfer provided he finish out the 2019 season. Reese also cited racially insensitive incidents on the UGA campus and with local police during traffic stops.
“I don’t think he actually leveled comments about racism (within) the program,” Smart said. “But I can’t comment about what’s going on (with Reese’s case) because it’s still going on with the SEC and NCAA. I think the statement we released earlier is pretty explanatory.”
UGA released a statement on Wednesday citing federal privacy laws that prevent them from comment on the specifics of Reese’s waiver, and “disputes any suggestion that it maintains an unsafe, unsupportive, or racially insensitive environment.”
Smart marched with his players on the Georgia campus three weeks ago, the first of several initiatives the coaching staff and players have planned to bring racial awareness to light and improve community relations.
Jeremy Pruitt weighs in
Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt, who transferred from Middle Tennessee State to Alabama as a player, has said Mays’ transfer is related to the $3 million lawsuit his father has pending against UGA.
Kevin Mays is suing for lost wages, medical bills and pain and suffering on account of losing part of his right pinky finger in a folding chair incident that occurred on his son’s Dec. 15, 2017 visit, prior to him signing with the Bulldogs.
“If there’s a lawsuit going on with your employer,” Pruitt said last month, “it’s probably not the best environment in the world.”
Pruitt shared on the Wednesday teleconference that student-athletes rights’ need to be brought to light, and this season isn’t going to count against any of the players’ eligibility, anyway.
Pruitt also pointed out several things have changed since June of 2018, when the SEC’s transfer rules were last appended.
“In June of 2018, that’s a long time ago, and obviously circumstances change over the years,” Pruitt said. “We have rules and policies throughout the NCAA and in my belief, as a guy that was a one-time transfer, every circumstances is obviously a little bit different. They’re not all the same.”
As the SEC rules stand, the only times football players are granted immediate eligibility transferring in conference are when they are graduate transfers, or when the school they are transferring from has been dealt a postseason ban.
Pruitt pointed out there’s some hypocrisy in the rule.
“This transfer ruling is obviously a hot topic….,” Pruitt said. “I look at it as coaches, we have the opportunity at any point in time, to choose if we want to go take another job. There’s no penalty for coaches. Why sure there be one for student-athletes?”
Lane Kiffin’s thoughts
Kiffin, the first-year head coach at Ole Miss, has been vocal on social media in his support for Mays and Reese to be granted immediate eligibility.
But Kiffin said he does understand why the current SEC rules are in place that require players to sit out a season when they transfer in conference.
“I would assume they didn’t want floodgates opening, and people going into conference schools having to worry about tampering and things like that,” Kiffin said. “But I think times have changed, a lot of areas are different now.
“I would think maybe that’s to be reconsidered, nowadays.”
Smart said he’s on board with the one-time transfer rule resolution legislation, which has been shelved until January amid the COVID-19 pandemic but is expected to be adopted in January.
“There’s been many guys we’ve had that we’ve supported that have gone on to play at other places, that’s a decision each guy reaches from an individual basis,” Smart said. “ But within the conference, it’s not something that has been a decision for us to make.”
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey essentially said on Wednesday that rules are rules.
“It is interesting that we rely upon waiver requests rather than changing rules,” Sankey said. “Rule changes are always available to our membership, and we as a staff support that process.”
Current SEC Transfer Rules
14.5.5 Four-Year College Transfers. See NCAA Bylaw 14.5.5.
22.214.171.124 Transferring within the Southeastern Conference. A transfer student from a member institution shall not be eligible for intercollegiate competition at another member institution until the student has fulfilled a residence requirement of one full academic year (two full semesters) at the certifying institution. Further, a transfer student-athlete admitted after the 12th class day may not utilize that semester for the purpose of establishing residency. Student-athletes meeting the terms of NCAA Bylaws 126.96.36.199.1, 188.8.131.52.2, 184.108.40.206.3, 220.127.116.11.4, 18.104.22.168.5, 22.214.171.124.6, 126.96.36.199.7, 188.8.131.52.8 and 184.108.40.206.9 may seek a waiver of the provisions of this bylaw. [Revised: 6/2/00; effective 8/1/2001; Revised: 6/1/08]
220.127.116.11.1 Exception – Graduate Transfer. A transfer student who has been admitted to and is enrolled in a graduate or professional school at a member institution other than the member institution from which he or she previously received a baccalaureate degree, may be eligible for intercollegiate competition provided the student is immediately eligible for competition under all other Conference and NCAA rules and all applicable waivers are complete. [Adopted: 6/1/18]
18.104.22.168.2 Exception – Postseason Competition Prohibition. A transfer student from a member institution that is prohibited by the NCAA or the SEC from participating in postseason competition may be eligible for intercollegiate competition provided the student is immediately eligible for competition under all other Conference and NCAA rules and all applicable waivers are complete. [Adopted: 6/1/18]