It took a non-descript backup defensive back to usher in the latest tidal wave of student-athlete welfare.
On this silly graduate transfer issue, Alabama didn’t go to war over an NFL-bound left tackle or wide receiver with Olympic speed. Well, mostly because a Cam Robinson or Calvin Ridley probably aren’t looking to transfer. They’re part of the athletic industrial complex at Alabama. Assembly Line Studs.
Maurice Smith’s “sin” was that he graduated in three years. The Alabama senior’s “mistake” was wanting to transfer to Georgia shortly thereafter. That 99 percent of the population knows Smith today because of those two facts is as ludicrous as his predicament.
Smith was essentially being blocked from transferring immediately to Georgia because what can only be categorized as “competitive fear.” Deep down in his championship-winning heart, Alabama coach Nick Saban was worried Smith would somehow come back to beat him.
The SEC on Friday stepped in and did the right thing. Smith was granted a conditional waiver allowing him to transfer immediately. Intra-conference transfers usually are required to sit out a year.
That part is stupid, juvenile and short-sighted. That’s also competitive fear.
Smith’s conditions include having to enroll as a full-time student, which is more than we ask of any normal grad student. That’s another discussion for another time.
For now, the liberation has begun. The transfer quandary is one of the thorniest issues Power Five commissioners face in the future.
Coaches are concerned about roster management, but roster management should never trump a person’s life ambition. The NCAA asks one thing first and foremost of its indentured athletes: graduate. Everything else should be details.
Saban and Alabama chose to go to the wall on this one because maybe, possibly, someday Smith might play against the Tide.
So freakin’ what?! The teams aren’t in the same division. The only way they would meet this season is in the SEC Championship Game. That’s assuming Georgia wins the East, Alabama wins the West and Smith plays well enough to make a difference.
Bama’s stance was more about a message being sent to any other player with such life ambitions: Don’t even think about it.
Alabama and the SEC aren’t the only ones operating this way. Most conferences have these sort of rules. The Big 12 gave Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield a wacky transfer run-around in June. Basically, these institutions do it because they can, because they’re motivated by that competitive fear.
But like we said, the liberation has begun. No college graduate with athletic eligibility remaining should be controlled … because he has athletic eligibility remaining.
That’s basic student-athlete welfare. Some call it common sense. Soon, it will no longer be possible for a student to spend 80 hours a week to be an athlete.
Next, it will be possible for graduates to exercise their God-given right to transfer without impunity. It’s been more than 18 months since those Power Five commissioners demanded autonomous power in NCAA legislation. So far, they haven’t done enough with it.
Not when a nickel back’s logical pursuit for playing time — and graduate school — can cause national upheaval.
“The five conferences wanted autonomy to make these [type of] decisions,” SEC commissioner Sankey told me. “We’ve just been stuck in the morass of Division I governance process and don’t have an output. Part of what I’m observing is we’ve got to do something.”
It starts with getting rid of the silly year-in-residence rule for graduating players who, like Smith, desire to transfer within the conference. I spoke to two FBS commissioners Friday who told me their conferences would at least have to consider getting rid of similar grad transfer rules.
Sankey was not of them, but the architect of Friday’s ruling suggested he is already tiring of ruling case-by-case. In other words, Smith’s case was not the first one he has dealt with, just the some prominent.
“No, I don’t [look forward] to doing this on an ad hoc basis,” Sankey said.
Think about it: This whole thing blew up over an academically-motivated kid from Sugar Land, Texas, who was second in special teams tackles last season for Alabama.
Everybody proud of themselves? Yes, Sankey and the SEC did the right thing by granting Smith that waiver.
Bravo, now let’s finish the job. Blocking any kid who has already graduated from pursuing athletic interests at the graduate level — degree in hand — is beyond restrictive.
It smacks of the tail wagging the dog, which in this case is a 150-pound Doberman called “SEC.” Competitive fear is a huge thing in the Deep South. We know that because Smith had the audacity to take an interest in Georgia’s Master of Public Health graduate program.
Well, that and playing for Kirby Smart, Saban’s just-departed defensive coordinator.
“There remains a clear fear we’ll see wholesale transfers on our campuses,” Sankey said. “You know what? I think young people on our campuses have really, really powerful experiences.
“When you have good experiences you’re reluctant to just pack up and move for a new frontier.”
Which explains why Robinson and Ridley continue to have one heck of a time at Alabama.
It seems that college experience is basically good.
Well, unless there is the tiniest of possibilities you might someday, maybe, play against Alabama.