ATHENS — The Maurice Smith transfer saga is over, and he will join the Georgia football team this weekend.
Smith was granted a “conditional” waiver by the SEC in his request to transfer from Alabama to Georgia, and thus will be eligible to play right away. But the conference did add stipulations.
The league announced the decision Friday afternoon. Smith and his family were awaiting the decision at home in Sugar Land, Tex., and Smith was expected to fly to Athens right away.
This fall semester, the SEC rules say, Smith must take nine credits towards his stated degree – Public Health – or he would not be eligible to play in the postseason. Long-term, Smith must receive his graduate degree within two years – the 2018-19 academic year – or Georgia cannot request similar waivers for three years, or until Smith graduates.
“Maurice has clearly and passionately stated his desire for a graduate degree in Public Health,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement, also saying: “I found, among other contributing factors, that a student-athlete who graduates in three years and exhibits a strong commitment to his or her academic future provides compelling motivation to help them achieve their goals on and off the field.”
But Sankey also defended Alabama’s right to “defend this SEC rule,” while at the same time saying the rule itself needed to be addressed.
“Our SEC institutions adopted the intra-conference transfer rule in 2000 due to concerns that the transfer of current student-athletes within the conference would be viewed as unhealthy for student-athletes, the institutions and the conference alike, so this waiver is not granted lightly,” Sankey said. “The University of Alabama vigorously defended this SEC rule for good reason and has assisted this process in every way.
“The current rule places our coaches and administrators in untenable situations so it is time for us to address graduate transfer rules. An individual university does not possess the authority to activate that change, so adherence to these rules and the process by which exceptions are sought remain critical for every institution in the SEC.”
Georgia officially made the waiver requests to the SEC, asking for two bylaws to be waived: That a transfer have at least two years of eligibility, and that he not be transferring within conference.
Smith’s situation led to a national debate over transfer rules. That will continue, but now the attention turns to the fact Georgia has added a possible starter with three weeks before the opener.
Those who watched Alabama last year describe Smith as a versatile player, capable of playing all five spots. He finished this past spring as the first teamer at the nickel back (star) position.
Georgia returns an experienced secondary, and finished first nationally in pass defense last year. But there’s still every indication that Smith would be given a chance to compete for playing time, even with a late arrival. Smith’s familiarity with Smart and Mel Tucker, and the defensive system, would make the adjustment easy.
Smith graduated from Alabama in three years, playing each year and not taking a redshirt. As a freshman, he appeared in 11 games, starting once (against Chattanooga), finishing with 13 tackles for the season. As a sophomore he played cornerback as well as nickel back, again making one start, and appearing in every game. He was also a regular on special teams.
Last year, as a junior, Smith didn’t make any starts but was a special teams standout, ranking second on the team with seven special-teams tackles. He also saw snaps in the secondary coming off the bench, such as replacing safety Eddie Jackson against Tennessee when Jackson suffered a knee injury.
When Alabama visited Sanford Stadium last year, Smith played on special teams, but didn’t register any stats.