Stuart McNair

Former Alabama assistant runs into trouble as head coach at Georgia

There’s something to be said for some restrictions on athlete transfers

Just for argument sake, let’s suppose that Sir Isaac Newton knew more about physics than, say, Cam Newton, even though Cam had at least one more laptop computer than the 17th century English scientist. Nevertheless, Newton’s Third Law of Motion – “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction” – didn’t take into account the response of those who follow college football.


What brings this up is the reaction – perhaps overreaction – to new Georgia Football Coach Kirby Smart’s hardline decision on the transfer request of running back A.J. Turman.


To be sure, Smart and Georgia have badly handled a transfer request from the junior running back, who would seem likely to be far down the depth chart where the Bulldogs have great tailback talent. It is a situation made worse by Georgia’s former position (after Georgia Tech denied one of its basketball players to pursue a transfer to Georgia) as stated by Georgia Athletics Director Greg McGarity:


“The University of Georgia doesn’t restrict a student-athlete from any school that is seeking a transfer. The student-athlete’s best interest is at the forefront of our program. If they’re not happy here, we’re not going to dictate where they can and can’t go.”


McGarity may not have shared that philosophy with Smart, who is new at this job of head coach after having been an assistant at Alabama the last nine years. But McGarity, in the spirit of an election year, put a spin on the situation. The previous philosophy was not Policy. It was Stance. And each transfer request at Georgia will be judged “on its own merit to determine if any restrictions should be placed on the release due to any extenuating circumstances.”


If necessary, the student-athlete – presumably in his or her “best interest” – would have “the opportunity to appeal the decision through the institution.”


Turman was denied the opportunity to transfer to Florida or Miami by Kirby, who, according to the athletics director “brought me up to date on this when we were discussing our Stance, and so that Stance has been adjusted.”


The clumsiness of Smart was in denying Turman (an Orlando native) the right to transfer to Miami or to an SEC school, and he put Miami on the list because that’s where Mark Richt is the head coach. Richt was the head coach at Georgia when Turman was recruited, but was fired at the end of last season – a move that enabled Kirby to become head coach at his alma mater.


Kirby said he was setting a precedent so that he didn’t lose players to the coach who had recruited them.


Actually, a school cannot actually prevent a player from transferring to any school he chooses. By NCAA rule, a player transferring must sit out a year. But if that player is denied a release – and the school from which the player is leaving can include any number of schools on its “not there” list – the player cannot be on scholarship at his new school during that sit-out season.


The reaction has been as ugly as the UGA decision.


One criticism is based on the ability of coaches to pick up and leave for any school they may wish, and we’ll go out on a limb and say that most college coaches wanting to move to new schools have more money than most college players wanting to transfer. This is the “millionaire bullies poor student” complaint. That, of course, is just the high, hanging curveball.


The bigger issue is the transfer rule. There are those who can reduce it to its simplest form, that any player who wants to change schools should have that right with no restrictions. That sounds good, but it would make coaches open to blackmail, force those coaches to recruit not only new players, but recruit the ones already on the team.


And who is to say that some schools wouldn’t be above recruiting players from other colleges?


The problem isn’t the transfer rule, but rather those who are applying it. If Georgia, or any other school, wants to take a hardline Stance, the coach and the school need to be prepared for the criticism that comes with not allowing a player to leave “if they are not happy here,” to revisit the former Georgia Stance.


Last year Alabama played against (and defeated) Tennessee with former Tide running back Alvin Kamara. Such was the case the year before against Auburn with former Bama running back Terry Grant. Florida this year looks likely to start former Alabama quarterback Luke Del Rio, although Del Rio has been at two other schools between Alabama and Florida, and former Tide wide receiver Chris Black will be at Missouri.


It has happened before and will likely happen again; but, usually with no negative consequences.

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