The Southeastern Conference, riding the tide of national opinion rather than the wishes of the Crimson Tide, or at least Alabama head football coach Nick Saban, voted Friday to allow immediate eligibility to graduate transfers from one SEC institution to another. No longer will a Maurice Smith or a Brandon Kennedy have to sit out a year in residence if they choose another SEC school as a transfer destination.
There is, however, more than one wave in an ocean. So it will be intriguing to see what happens as the next wave of ramifications roll in.
The most immediate short-term ramifications will have to do with Kennedy, a backup offensive lineman from Wetumpka who graduated from UA in May. Despite the SEC ruling, Alabama still has the institutional right to deny him a release to specific schools.
UA has had no immediate comment on any change regarding Kennedy’s release and may not have one before June 11, when the NCAA Transfer working group meets and makes its recommendations. Even then, there are several possibilities which might include granting a release to one of Kennedy’s desired destinations (Tennessee or Auburn) but not the other. That makes for an interesting hypothetical, at least.
Also of tremendous interest will be the working group recommendations on transfers by student-athletes who have not graduated. Speculation is that the group will recommend free passage for all from one school to another — the so-called “notification” option. The SEC passed no proposal related to that possibility but many of the football coaches in Destin last week were adamant about drawing a line in the sand against what they regard as “free agency” (Saban’s words, and Will Muschamp’s) and “chaos” (per Jimbo Fisher.)
What other ramifications might roll ashore for Alabama? Saban himself has said Alabama might be a school that would “benefit” from the grad transfer change and there has been some speculation that those comments portend an exodus of SEC players longing to take a spot on the Alabama roster.
That isn’t likely to happen.
Think about this way. For the past few years, since the graduate transfer exception was approved by the NCAA, Alabama, like all schools, has had free access to such players from well over 100 Division I programs but has been judicious in the transfers it has taken. There have been success stories. Jake Coker came from Florida State and was the starting quarterback for the 2015 team that won the national championship. Both Richard Mullaney (Oregon State) and Gehrig Dieter (Bowling Green) came in and contributed to Alabama at a position of need.
The “position of need” at Alabama can be a small window, though. Given the current level of roster strength, there are some positions at UA where it can be hard to see the field unless you are an NFL-prospect talent. Now, most players with that much talent don’t take a graduate transfer after three years — they just go to the NFL.
Yes, having unfettered access across the SEC does give Alabama access to 13 more schools, many with talented players that were recruited by the Crimson Tide as high school prospects. There could be times — there probably will be times — when a player is a good fit. Saban will be prepared for that, as he has been for the national graduate transfer rule, but that doesn’t mean he will plunder SEC rosters like Attila the Hun.
Now, if the NCAA rule change goes beyond graduate transfers, and the SEC concurs, that’s when things would get interesting. No one expects such a radical rule shift — but if it comes, Saban will have already prepared for that, too.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.