ATHENS — It happened, in the context of the whole thing, rather quickly. After two months of fighting, Maurice Smith was finally cleared to transfer to Georgia over a 48-hour span, and by Saturday afternoon was in a Bulldog uniform, participating in practice.
For the player and his family, it was a vindication of a decision not to accept Alabama blocking his transfer to the SEC rival.
“We feel relieved,” Samyra Smith, the player’s mother, said Saturday night.
Speaking Saturday night, Samyra Smith also said she was “grateful” to SEC commissioner Greg Sankey not only for his decision but his approach to it, which she said put academics first. That includes the stipulations Sankey put on the waiver:
Smith must take at least nine hours this semester towards his stated goal of a graduate degree in Public Health. If he doesn’t pass those nine hours, he can’t participate in the postseason. He must also graduate in Public Health within two years, or UGA cannot ask for a similar waiver for another three years.
Those stipulations are “acceptable,” the player’s mother said.
“They demonstrate their (the SEC’s) commitment to ensuring that the intent of the permissions granted focused upon achieving academic success,” she said. “We are in accord with the SEC and the outlined goals as Maurice and the University of Georgia aspire for him to reach the highest level of academic success possible for him to achieve.”
Samyra Smith also praised UGA for being “supportive and objective” throughout the process. Head coach Kirby Smart was essentially working against his former boss and mentor, Alabama head coach Nick Saban, who declined to release Smith to Georgia or any other SEC rival. Maurice Smith formally expressed his desire to go to Georgia in an appeal letter to Alabama on July 1, but it was only last Wednesday, after the battle became public, that Saban and Alabama relented.
“(UGA) knew we were in a dog fight, and in many ways they were too, but as we worked toward a successful resolution individually there was a seamless effort of support from every member of the UGA famliy,” Samyra Smith said. “In our recent pursuit of a positive SEC ruling, we appreciate the trust that the institution placed in Maurice and our family to continue our ‘commitment to excellent’ to achieve it and to complete his graduate degree at the University of Georgia.”
Finally, the player’s mother hopes the situation leads to changes that prevent further controversies. Normally, graduate transfers are allowed to go anywhere and play right away, but the SEC bylaws treat in-conference transfers the same way as undergraduates. Hence the need for Sankey to sign off on a waiver.
But Sankey, in his statement on Friday, hinted at an examination of the rules. And with the attention Smith’s case received nationally, there are indications other conferences may look at it as well.
“It’s important that Maurice and others who were successful in completing their undergraduuate studies, with remaining eligibility, are not penalized and instead are rewarded by empowering them with the opportunity to continue their education wherever they choose,” Samyra Smith said. “Graduate transfer rules must be revised and transformed to provide empowerment to the student-athletes that achieve this level of success. And the rules should no longer allow entitlement to institutions to instead imprison or hold hostage the student-athletes who achieve or in Maurice’s case over-achieve the desired goal for every student-athlete, a degree. …
“The SEC should be the beacon for all conferences in this effort.”