SEC correct to give Maurice Smith waiver, now it’s time to junk rule

Maurice Smith got the graduation present he wanted most: A hall pass from Tuscaloosa. Ala., to Athens, Ga. (Photo courtesy of Samya Smith)

It took a while but the SEC made the right decision Friday and has granted Maurice Smith a waiver of its graduate transfer rule, which will allow him to enroll at Georgia and not sit out a football season.

Now it’s time to junk the silly rule that made Nick Saban’s relative “forced blessing” and the conference’s release necessary to begin with.

The SEC will allow Smith to use his final year of football eligibility either this season or in 2017, assuming he achieves the minimum academic requirements. The SEC’s announcement states Smith may play in 2016 “contingent on completing at least nine credits of graduate level coursework in his degree program during the fall 2016 semester, and ultimately achieving his stated goal of earning a graduate degree in public health.”

Yeah. Not a problem. Today is Friday. Georgia began classes Thursday. But I think it’s safe to assume Georgia coach Kirby Smart can call in a favor if necessary that would allow Smith to enroll late. It’s widely believed Smart is eager for Smith to play this season, and possibly even challenge for a starting job.

It really never should have taken this long.

Some people, and certainly many coaches, are going to complain that this waiver will open Pandora’s box and allow a flood of other student-athletes to start transferring. My response: So what? We can certainly debate the potential pitfalls of lifting all transfer restrictions for players, but not an athlete who has graduated.

By graduating, which Smith did from Alabama last week after only three years, a student-athlete should be held up as a perfect example of the college mission, not shackled to a specific university or athletic program.

What’s the concern? That suddenly a bunch of football players are going to rush to graduate in three years so that they can transfer too? And this would be a problem? Because I’m certainly not seeing a rush for a lot of players to graduate now.

Regardless of what happens next, Smith had such a compelling case to transfer that even Saban, arguably the most powerful figure in college sports history, surrendered.

Saban hates distractions. But it was his power-hungry, ego-driven, ill-advised decision to block Smith from transferring to another SEC school — and subsequent reporting from the AJC’s Seth Emerson that showed Smith’s locker had been emptied and his belongings trashed  — that created the mess.

Kudos to SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, who’s relatively new on the job, for understanding that rejecting the waiver appeal would’ve been a bad look for the conference, especially given the backdrop of college athletes gaining more support in the court of public opinion. The next step for the SEC’s member presidents, athletic directors and coaches to re-examine all rules pertaining to transfers and find more realistic solutions to the issue.

“The standard for granting waivers has been clear and compelling evidence that there is reason for allowing an exception to SEC rules,” Sankey said in the release. “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.”

Sankey also said the intra-conference transfer rule was adopted in 2000 because it viewed potential transfers as “unhealthy.” But he added, “The current rule places our coaches and administrators in untenable situations so it is time for us to address graduate transfer rules.”

Alas, a ray of bright and shiny logic is breaking through the clouds. It’s a start.

UGA News

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