SEC alters two transfer rules as spring meetings conclude

Georgia defensive back Maurice Smith received a waiver from the SEC during the summer of 2016 that enabled him to transfer from Alabama as a graduate student and play immediately for the Bulldogs.
Georgia defensive back Maurice Smith received a waiver from the SEC during the summer of 2016 that enabled him to transfer from Alabama as a graduate student and play immediately for the Bulldogs.

The Southeastern Conference's executive committee voted Friday to no longer require its graduate transfer athletes to sit out a year when moving to another league school.

Thus creating what Alabama football coach Nick Saban referred to as "free agency" earlier in the week.

The SEC's four-day meetings came to a close Friday in Destin, Florida, with a pair of changes in transfer policy being the biggest news. The SEC also voted to allow players to transfer from one league school to another and become immediately eligible if the former program is facing an NCAA-mandated postseason ban.

That scenario is currently in play, as Ole Miss will be banned from a bowl game for a second consecutive season.

"If a kid goes to a school and gets caught up in doing something that is not of his doing, he should not be punished for something that the school did wrong," first-year Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher told reporters in Destin. "He ought to have the ability to go out. I know that's controversial, but those kids only have a four-year window.

"Why would they be punished if they weren't involved in the scandal or the situation?"

Texas A&M and Florida led the charge on that proposal, which SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said was "supported overwhelmingly." The change in policy likely will clear a quick path at Florida for former Rebels receiver Van Jefferson, a redshirt junior who still must receive a waiver from the NCAA before becoming eligible for the Gators.

Saban has been in the middle of the graduate transfer debate twice since 2016. Two years ago, Saban tried to block former Crimson Tide safety Maurice Smith from becoming immediately eligible at Georgia, but Smith received a waiver from the conference office and competed for the 2016 Bulldogs.

Early last month, offensive lineman Brandon Kennedy announced his departure from Alabama and had his transfer sights set on Auburn or Tennessee, but he was blocked from pursuing those locales. Under Friday's ruling, the 6-foot-3, 305-pound former ESPN top-100 prospect in the 2015 signing class can play immediately at whichever second SEC school he selects.

Kennedy played in seven games for the 2016 Crimson Tide and three last season before suffering an injury that resulted in a medical redshirt.

"If we agree in the SEC at these meetings that we're going to have free agency in our league and everybody can go wherever they want to go when they graduate and that's what's best for the game, then that's what we should do," Saban said Tuesday in a news conference. "Then Brandon Kennedy can go wherever he wants to go, but if we don't do that, then why is it on me? We have a conference rule that says he can't do it.

"He can do it, but he's supposed to sit out a year."

The proposal to change the graduate transfer policy was introduced by Georgia last year and passed Friday with a "super majority," according to Sankey, which means it had the support of more than eight schools.

Friday's changes may not mark the end of the transfer discussion.

The Associated Press reported this week that the NCAA's transfer working group, which is headed by South Dakota State athletic director Justin Sell, will meet June 11 in Indianapolis, where it plans to present a proposal to the Division I Council that will end the practice of schools and coaches blocking student-athletes from transferring or dictating where they can go.

"We've got nothing but really positive feedback across the board," Sell told AP. "I'm assuming that's going to go through very easily and smoothly."

The new model, according to AP, would free the athletes to be contacted after they notify their current coaches. The athletes' names would go into an NCAA-managed database that would serve to alert schools of who can be recruited.

ESPN reported Friday that the SEC voted to expand its serious misconduct policy to include banning high school signees with a history of domestic, sexual and interpersonal violence, which includes stalking. The original rule passed in 2016 applied only to transfer students.

Contact David Paschall at or 423-757-6524.

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