SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
8/30/2006 01:00:00 PM
Gators' 'Ringer' Could Have Instant Impact
Ryan Smith will start at CB for Florida after losing his starting job at Utah.
You may recall hearing over the summer about an obscure new NCAA bylaw that allows a player who's completed his undergraduate degree to transfer to another school and play right away, bypassing the usual one-year waiting period. The rule caused some grumbling around the sport -- predictably, most coaches, despite the fact they themselves don't have to sit out a year if they take another job, don't like it -- but it does make sense academically. Regular students are free to go wherever they want for graduate school; why should athletes be penalized for doing the same thing?
The first high-profile player to take advantage of this new loophole was Arizona quarterback Richard Kovalcheck, who, having lost his starting job last season to hot-shot freshman Willie Tuitama, transferred to Vanderbilt in hopes of succeeding departed star Jay Cutler. As of Wednesday, however, Commodores coach Bobby Johnson had yet to name him the starter for Saturday's opener at Michigan. It appears the bigger beneficiary of the new rule plays elsewhere in the SEC.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, former Utah cornerback Ryan Smith, who completed his degree over the summer and showed up on the Florida campus just as the Gators were opening fall camp, will start Saturday against Southern Miss. Smith, a former Utes starter who coach Kyle Whittingham said "fell out of favor" last season, has been reunited with both his former head coach (Urban Meyer) and position coach (Chuck Heater), and his emergence couldn't have come at a better time for the Gators. Both of last year's starting corners, Vernell Brown and Dee Webb, are gone, and their top projected returnee, Avery Atkins, left the program in July following an alleged domestic battery incident. With Smith starting at corner, standout Reggie Nelson can remain at his natural safety position.
"We're real glad he's here," Heater told the Sentinel "It's a free-agent signing. A heck of a deal."
And that's exactly what Smith is -- a free-agent pick-up. A ringer, if you will. It's kind of like your company softball team suddenly picking up a former Double-A baseball prospect from the mail room right before the playoffs. Which is why, if Smith does indeed have a big impact for the Gators, it's almost inevitable you'll hear certain opposing SEC coaches (most likely candidate: the guy in orange; second most-likely: the guy in the visor) questioning the "fairness" of the rule.
In my mind, however, the truly unfair thing is players having to sit out a year in the first place. True, if you were to get rid of the rule, it would make the sport extremely chaotic (think of just how many more disgruntled quarterbacks would transfer as soon as the realize they won't be starting). But coaches don't have to sit out a year when they change jobs. College baseball players don't have to sit out a year. Why do football and basketball players?
Well, 1A college ball is undeniably transforming into the minor leagues for the pros, at least for some players. Who will be the first to play at different schools for each year of eligibility?
Prior to the rules change, a player could transfer to a lower division school and not sit out a year. The pros do pick up players from the lower divisions. Four active pros played at Fort Valley State (div. II).
The truth is that most college players don't go on to pro careers. What will become of those that hop from school to school, never make it to the pro game, and lack the connections we make when spending 4+ years at one university? What is fair for athletes between the ages of 18 and 23?
Imagine a college football world where the coaches keep recruiting players after they choose a school. The coaches keep recruiting players even as they are Freshmen, Sophomores, and Juniors. "Hey, we're one great pass rusher from being national champs." "Aren't you tired of playing in a nonBCS conference?" "You'll never play in a big bowl game at _____." etc etc etc. Eventually, someone becomes the first player to win a Heisman at two different schools.
Although it is no fun for the transer students, the sit out rule is important for the game as we know it. Maybe somebody should warn kids that they might not start at Florida, Notre Dame, etc.
You guys don't appear to understand this rule. It applies only to a player who has completed his degree (graduated) and still has eligibity remaining. The rationale was that the player should have the opportunity to attend graduate school where he chooses and still be able to participate in his sport.
There are a very limited number of players to whom this will apply.
There are two instances where the effect of the rule could be minimal. (1), without being too general, we know that many athletes would not have gotten into the schools they attend just on their HS grades. How many would get into graduate school, particularly with Sports Communication and General Studies degrees? (2) You wonder if some coaches will use a player as a Freshman, not because he is ready to play but to take away the 5th year, when a player could graduate--kind of making sure a player does not come back to haunt them in the fifth year.
Players transferring after graduation has been a problem that has plagued Duke for years. 1st Team All-ACC DE Shawn Johnson transferred following the 2002 season, and last year's starter at QB Mike Schneider, NFL TE prospect Ben Patrick, and two starting O-Linemen Lav Bauta and Tyler Krieg transferred this year. Only Krieg took advantage of the new rule by going to Cal, while the others went to 1-AA. I beleieve this to be one of the main reasons Duke struggles so much in the ACC. These are just the high-profile players to leave the program. Countless others take off every year, which is the reason Duke always has so few seniors on the team.
I think the point about playing freshman to deny them the chance to play elsewhere in a fifth year is a potential side-effect of the current plan. But the reality is that if a kid graduates they should be able to do what they want, even if they enroll elsewhere for additional undergraduate credits rather than grad school. Why can't they start on a second degree? I do think a head coach that leaves their school mid-contract should have to suffer some penalty (maybe reduced scholarships or take away a home game) for moving. This rule would also make hiring assistants more beneficial and might actually get more African-Americans into head coaching gigs.
This is a step in the right direction. A student athalete should be able to change schools, and not be penalized, the same way a regular student can change schools. It may not be what is best for a particular team but if Fratboy Joe, can spend a two year at State and then transfer to Tech with out affecting his academics then BMOC should be able to change schools and play right away as long as his academics are in order.
i think both rules right now are great. to say that undergrad players shouldnt have to sit out is rediculous. Imagine if Jevan Sneed, when learning that he wasnt the starter, decided to transfer to Oklahoma. It would be almost comical. i think rewarding students that graduate is always a good idea.
So we complain when the guys don't graduate. We complain when they do graduate and still want to play. What is it? If this causes more student athletes to graduate, GREAT! My better judgement says that it won't and that this rule will be used very sparingly.
I am not a big fan of athletes hopping colleges in general. However this rule seems sensible. This rewards players who graduate early, when not enough student athletes are graduating in the first place. It encourages enrolling in graduate school, which is also a really good thing. Lastly, the player will only transfer it it helps them academically which should be the priority, or if they are suddenly not starting as a senior. If you've been loyal to a school and put in all that hard work for years and you're still not going to start as a senior, why rob that player of the full student athlete experience? Let them start their senior year, even if it is with someone else. It will be up to coaches to decide to offer starting roles to graduated seniors to keep them, or shake their hands and watch them walk away. All in all, I think College football can benefit from encouraging younger players to redshirt and focus on school while seniors start.
You've also got to consider are these impact players that going to a different grad school? If they are impact players, why aren't they going to the NFL? So not only is this rule going to affect a handful of players, but it also will likely not include high-quality, NFL-type players. Sure there will be a few exceptions, but not many.
Do the players who transfer with eligibility left after graduating actually have to be accepted and enrolled in a graduate program, or can they just pretend to be working on a second degree in say underwater basket-weaving and load up on phony non-academic courses since technically they have already graduated? That should be the key issue, if someone is really intent on furthering one's education in a graduate program after graduation then the loophole would be justified, but if some disgruntled former-starter graduates but has no intent of even starting a graduate program, and is just there to furhter the playing career, and takes non-academic courses post-graduation, is that a justifiable enough reason to allow a no strings attached transfer? The intent and the actuality may actually be different on this new ruling, only time will tell, and the amount of abuse will be the key!