The Southeastern Conference football coaches have found a common enemy to rally against here at the league’s annual spring meetings. They’re calling it “free agency.” Others might call it freedom for college football players.
The conference presidents will vote this week at the annual spring meetings here on an issue that was tabled last year – eliminating the current conference rule that states players who move within the league must sit out a year before they are eligible to compete. Georgia raised the issue last year after an attempt to get Alabama transfer Maurice Smith immediately eligible. The issue didn’t make a vote, though Smith was cleared through a waiver.
“There was a lot of silence in the room last year when it was proposed and now all of a sudden it's maybe got a little more steam,” Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart said.
South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp agrees with his former teammate Smart that graduate transfers should be able to transfer within the conference with no penalty or delay, however Muschamp and other coaches are concerned that the next step will be allowing undergraduates to transfer with no penalty or delay. Currently, undergraduate transfers must sit out a year before they are able to play unless they transfer to a lower division of football.
“As far as undergraduate transfers, that’s something that we need to be really careful with,” Muschamp said. “You’re talking in terms of free agency. If you want to do that, there will be coaches recruiting off your campus. I’ll be honest. That’s what’s going to happen. I would not be for a situation where a young man could go and play immediately at another school.”
The SEC will not discuss that issue this week, but there has been discussion at the NCAA level about eliminating the one-year waiting period for undergraduates, Gamecocks athletics director Ray Tanner said.
“It’s not as simple as it sounds, but things have changed in college athletics and they continue to evolve,” Tanner said. “I’m not sure where we’ll land, but the conversations are occurring.”
Smart understands the argument for eliminating the waiting period, but he doesn’t agree with it.
“I certainly see it from the student-athlete's perspective, but, just my personal opinion, when I watch high school programs and I see the deterioration of high school football, a lot of it has come from transferring from high school to high school,” Smart said. “I also understand the part that people would argue, well, coach could go any time he wants, so should the player. So I get both sides of the argument but I do think that I've seen a lot of kids leave after year one or two and on numerous occasions, those kids come back and regretted that decision.”
“We’re really opening up a bad deal if we do that,” Muschamp said.