The SEC has decided to give itself an exemption from the exemption.
Today, Greg Sankey and the league office permitted Maurice Smith to transfer to Georgia, but only conditionally. Smith apparently stated in his transfer waiver request process that he wanted to attend UGA's public health graduate program (and this, of course, runs counter to everything he and Samyra have said publicly for the past month, where everything was couched in terms of Smith's playing time and where he wanted to play.)
The league called Smith's bluff, handcuffing Georgia's use of the grad transfer request waiver, and placing a bevy of academic restrictions on Smith himself -- all of which have repercussions should Smith not meet them. In other words, the SEC made this public headache go away with Georgia and Smith bearing the risk of loss.
From Michael Casagrande:
Georgia can't use the graduate-student exemption in football again until after the 2019-20 academic year.
In addition, Smith won't be eligible for postseason competition if he doesn't complete nine hours of coursework. Smith also has to graduate by the 2018-19 academic year. If he doesn't, Georgia can't request a waiver for either of the two bylaws waived in this situation until the beginning of the 2021-22 academic year or until Smith's graduation from the graduate program. Whichever comes first.
But, by far, the larger story is something that we have speculated about for the past week: the complete and inevitable overhauling of the SEC's graduate transfer procedures.
Sankey's statement from Al.com's report.
"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."
This story is developing quickly, but to roughly sketch a thumbnail, the SEC has two options here.
One is to eliminate the discretionary waiver for undergraduate transfers entirely. This is an inflexible approach, to be sure, but one which has the benefit of certainty for players and coaches: The default is not allowing transfers at all without forfeiting eligibility. So, if you sign at an SEC school, you may not transfer to another institution, conference or otherwise. Period.
Completely banning undergraduate transfers at all is very unlikely, so the modified Draconian approach is one which removes league and program discretion entirely. If a player seeks a transfer to another member institution, then the residency requirement is never waived, and the player loses a year of eligibility. (This is very similar in practical effect, if not intent, to what happened when Ole Miss released Andy Pappanastos from his scholarship.) And, if in the process of doing so a player exhausts his eligibility, then so be it. We will call this the "what should have happened to Maurice Smith" approach. No discretion, no waivers. Want to play this year in the SEC? You can't. Want a grad transfer within the SEC even though you are an undergraduate? You can't. Removing the discretionary ability to grant waivers would also provide certainty and clarity.
The other approach is to permit a free-for-for all, one that Kirby Smart seems to be advocating: all releases, all the time, to any SEC school, with presumably a waiver of residency requirements for immediate eligibility.
However, this creates in essence a free agency period within the league, where players can be backchanneled and then are not only free to go to another SEC member institution, but then are eligible to play immediately. This naturally mars any sort of certainty in roster and scholarship management, completely derails ongoing recruiting, and itself creates another recruiting season: a much dirtier, darker period of sub rosa recruiting that begs to get a school the death penalty. Hyperbole aside, the laissez faire approach is all-but guaranteed to introduce more handlers, street agents, and shady booster types into the process. We joke about the looming bagman, but they are real. And, Smart's myopic proposal just frees them from the cages. Not even Hugh Freeze wants to go this route...one would hope.
Still, I firmly believed that we would have a new rule and greater clarity in place by the time the 2017 Spring Meetings wrap up, and it looks like Sankey is moving to make that happen -- and perhaps to do so even sooner.
Good luck to Maurice, and I do mean that. But I'm just glad that this is now over. Let's focus on not only the future rules, but more immediately the 82 players who want to wear Crimson; those without helicopter mothers micromanaging their grown sons.