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Tennessee Athletics photo / Former Tennessee inside linebacker Henry To'o To'o has the opportunity for immediate eligibility at Alabama after the Southeastern Conference changed its policy Thursday on intraconference transfers.

The Southeastern Conference announced Thursday night that it will allow immediate eligibility for intraconference transfers after a vote by the league's presidents and chancellors.

League commissioner Greg Sankey said the change in policy, which follows similar moves earlier this year by the Atlantic Coast and Pac-12 conferences, will take effect immediately and will better align the SEC with NCAA legislation adopted in April that established a universal one-time transfer opportunity applicable to student-athletes across all sports.

Until Thursday, SEC student-athletes who transferred directly within the conference were required to sit out a year at their new school before being eligible for competition, though three special waivers were granted last football season to Kentucky quarterback Joey Gatewood (who transferred from Auburn), Tennessee offensive lineman Cade Mays (who transferred from Georgia) and Ole Miss safety Otis Reese (who transferred from Georgia).

"This is an important measure to further support student-athletes throughout the Southeastern Conference," Sankey said in a release. "While maintaining the expectation that coaches and others avoid improper recruiting, this change will ensure that student-athletes who enroll at an SEC member institution will enjoy the flexibility afforded to other student-athletes across the nation."

Thursday's policy change opens the door for former Tennessee inside linebacker Henry To'o To'o to be immediately eligible at Alabama and former LSU tight end Arik Gilbert to be immediately eligible at Georgia.

There also have been several prominent men's basketball players who have transferred from one SEC school to another in recent weeks, including Sahvir Wheeler (Georgia to Kentucky), KD Johnson (Georgia to Auburn) and Justin Powell (Auburn to Tennessee).

In order to gain immediate eligibility moving forward, a student-athlete will need to declare his or her intent to transfer by Feb. 1 for fall sports, May 1 for winter sports and July 1 for spring sports. The NCAA has similar deadlines, though the governing body's deadline for fall sports is May 1.

"The SEC has established a deadline for declaring an intention to transfer in fall sports as Feb. 1 in order to create time windows that are more consistent across fall, winter and spring sports," Sankey said.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

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