October 1, 2018 | View PDF
Since Auburn first played Georgia in 1892, there have been many changes in the way the game of football is played. Many rule changes have been instituted since that time. Technics of playing the game have been altered as well. For example, blocking technics today would have brought down wrath from my coaches in the 50’s. Use of the helmet has been taken out of the game except for serving as protection for the offensive player mostly. The NCAA has morphed into a cumbersome monolithic rule make body controlled by the university presidents of member institutions. Many presidents are incapable of understanding the game of college football, the game which they ultimately control. The officers of the NCAA are subject to approval or removal based on the whims of these uninformed presidents. Now, that I’ve got that off my chest, let us look at the latest boondoggle created by the NCAA.
For years under normal circumstances, a player has five years to play football four years at his school. These five years should by consecutive. For example, a player can not play two years, drop out of school for three years, then come back and play two more years. He would be trying to fit four years into six years since his original enrollment. Therefore, he has no more eligibility left. There are provisions in the NCAA regulations that will allow a player a sixth year. Each case is handled on individual basis. An appeal must be made by the school to the NCAA to consider the player as having a particular hardship, or a situation beyond his control that did not allow him to compete his fourth year. An example of this would be a player who played in the first game of the season who was injured in the first game and could not reasonably come back from the injury and play the same year. A hardship year could be granted to give the player his sixth year to play four years. The rule for years was that once a player takes the field and participates in one play of the game, then, he would lose that entire year of eligibility. Thus, the practice of “redshirting” became the norm for most freshmen. A player could be held out of playing so that he would have four more years of eligibility. This was beneficial for the teams and the player. Some freshmen are just not quite ready to compete at the college level. Therefore, they have an entire year to mature, gain/lose weight, get stronger, etc. This does not apply only to freshmen.
In its infinite wisdom, the NCAA voted to change this system that had be been working successfully for at least six decades or longer. Through the urging of athletic directors and coaches, the NCAA adopted new ground rules for eligibility. Beginning with the 2018 football season, a player can play in only four games and still retain his eligibility for four more years. This change was not wrong considering its purpose, but, it is being used by any player regardless of their eligibility status to ”back pocket” a year of eligibility. It negates the transfer rule which forces a player to “sit out” a year if he decides to transfer to another NCAA team in their division. This has nothing to do with the “graduate transfer” rule that was adopted a few years ago. Under this rule, if a player has earned his undergraduate degree, he can transfer anywhere and be immediately eligible for however many years he would have at his original school.
One of the scenarios that plagued the “Bama Nation” this year was that QB Jalen Hurts could play in four games this year. Then he could decide to transfer in December after graduation to another school, maybe Auburn or Florida Atlantic, where he would be reunited with is former mentor Coach Layne Kiffin. He would have been immediately eligible for the 2019 season. Because he has lead Alabama to a 26-2 record, including two trips to the national championship game during his freshman and sophomore seasons, and because of the kind of person that he is, Jalen decided not to transfer after four games. However, if he had done so this year, he would have had two more years of eligibility at another school. He will no doubt transfer after this season and have one more year of eligibility at his new school.
The absurdity of this new transfer rule is that a player who is unhappy, or is not pleased with the coaching, or decides that he would rather play in a colder climate, or for any reason whatsoever, can play in four games this year and transfer to any college in America and become eligible immediately in 2019 without sitting out a year. This has caused chaos for some teams. A freshman can play in four games, transfer and have four more years of eligibility, sophomore three more years, a junior two more years, a senior one more year.
It is totally unfair to the original school who has spent thousands of dollars and thousand of hours recruiting the athlete, paying for his tuition, room and board, providing spending money for three years, and benefiting from all the coaching, teaching, counseling, tutoring and efforts of the academic and athletic support staff, then decide to go somewhere else and benefit another program.
A prime example of this anomaly is Kelly Bryant at Clemson. He won the starting quarterback job at Clemson in 2017 and carried the Tigers to the national championship play-off. He was replacing an All-American QB in Deshaun Watson who should have won the Heisman Trophy for his play during the 2016 season and before. Watson is now the quarterback of the Houston Texans in the National Football League. That’s how good he was. Bryant benefited from all the training and above mentioned services at Clemson. However, Coach Dabo Swinney decided after the fourth game of the season this year that his true freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence had won the quarterback job for the rest of this year barring injury. Kelly would have played this year in the same way that Jalen Hurst is playing at Alabama. He could have even gotten his job back. But, rather than provide Clemson with two good quarterbacks, he “bailed out.” His quitting the team could keep Clemson from having a chance to play for the national championship. Where he will be in 2019 at the time of this publication is unknown.
This scenario is happening at different positions all over the country and is giving what amounts to the “free agency” process of the NFL. I don’t like it! I hope you don’t like it! I hope Gus Malzahn doesn’t like it. I hope Nick Saban doesn’t like it, even though he was originally for it. I hope academia doesn’t like. I hope the college presidents will come out of their “Ivory Tower” and ask athletic directors what they want to do to fix this problem. Next year will be one year too late. Come on presidents! Don’t make it easy for players to quit on their teams and their teammates!
Editor’s note: Jarred Stidham legitimately transferred from Baylor to Auburn after sitting out a year. QB Shea Patterson legitimately transferred from Ole Miss to Michigan because of the chaos in Oxford. He was granted a waiver by the NCAA, thereby becoming immediately eligible at Michigan. Both are starting and are making considerable contributions to their new teams.