Greg Sankey on intraconference transfers: If SEC members don't like the rule, vote to change it
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey offered a clear message to the conference's member institutions on Wednesday: If you don’t like the SEC's intraconference transfer rule, then vote to change it rather than plead for a waiver.
Because they transferred from one SEC school to another – Gatewood transferred from Auburn, and Mays and Reese transferred from Georgia – they must gain waivers from both the NCAA and the conference to play immediately.
“It is interesting that we rely on waiver requests rather than changing rules,” Sankey said on Wednesday’s SEC teleconference.
Sankey noted SEC bylaw 188.8.131.52, which states that intraconference transfers must spend two semesters at their new school before playing unless:
• They are a graduate transfer.
• The SEC school they departed is serving a postseason ban.
• The transferring athlete receives a waiver from the SEC, if that athlete's circumstances fall within a specific set of parameters.
Mays received his NCAA waiver last week. He is waiting on a ruling from the SEC. Kentucky coach Mark Stoops indicated that it also is waiting to hear from the SEC on Gatewood.
Reese has not received a waiver from the NCAA, putting him further back in the process. Reese wrote on Twitter on Tuesday that he transferred from Georgia after experiencing racist conduct on campus, and he alleged harassment by police during two traffic stops. Georgia, in a statement, said it "disputes any suggestion that it maintains an unsafe, unsupportive, or racially insensitive environment."
SEC presidents and chancellors voted in 2018 to create immediate eligibility exemptions for intraconference graduate transfers or in cases where a postseason ban comes into play. Mays, Gatewood and Reese do not fall under those exemptions.
“Rule changes are always available to our membership,” Sankey said. “We, as a staff, support that process.”
As for the timeline for athletes waiting on his office for a ruling, Sankey said he would not comment on individual cases but added that the conference aims to “work to move through matters efficiently, but there’s always been variance.”
The NCAA has ruled that this season will not count against an athlete’s eligibility. A senior will be allowed to return, under NCAA rules, for another season in 2021. A junior will remain a junior, and so on.
Given that the NCAA’s ruling makes this essentially a free season for eligibility, Vols coach Jeremy Pruitt has said that no athlete who wants to play should be forced to sit out because of pre-existing transfer rules.
But, Sankey noted, “what’s happened with COVID and eligibility didn’t result yet to a change in that particular (SEC) bylaw” regarding intraconference transfers.
“People send in waivers, but one of the questions that should be asked is not what is the commissioner going to do; it’s why haven’t our members voted to change that rule?” Sankey said on Wednesday morning during an interview with WJOX, a radio station in Birmingham, Alabama.
“So, we’re inviting people to campus knowing there’s a clear rule, and now everyone points and says, ‘Well, you need to let people out of that rule.’ And one of the questions that’s real is, why has our membership not acted to change? And the answer is because we have to work together. We have to be respectful. Could it change? Should it change? Might we manage it differently? Those are questions still to be answered.
“The real direct answer is, decades ago, and repeatedly since, the now 14 member universities of the SEC have said we that think that rule is appropriate within our own conference.”
Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin said he thinks the climate surrounding transfers has changed since the bylaw’s establishment.
“As we’ve seen in a lot of things, times have changed,” Kiffin said. “People’s views around the country in a lot of areas are different now. So, I would think maybe that’s to be reconsidered nowadays.”
The transfer waiver process is frequently criticized for its inconsistency, and, after this season, the NCAA is expected to consider allowing for a one-time transfer exception. Such a rule change would allow first-time transfers to have immediate eligibility, without needing a waiver.
Many sports already have a one-time transfer exception rule. Football, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball and hockey do not.
“As coaches, we have the opportunity at any point in time to choose if we want to go take another job,” said Pruitt, who transferred during his playing career from Middle Tennessee State to Alabama. “Everybody has that opportunity. There’s no penalty for coaches. Why should there be one for student-athletes?”
The Clarion-Ledger's Nick Suss and Louisville Courier-Journal's Jon Hale contributed to this story.
Blake Toppmeyer covers University of Tennessee football. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it. Current subscribers can click here to join Blake's subscriber-only text group offering updates and analysis on Vols football.