Matt Cashore /

Grad transfer rule a competitive disadvantage for Gators and SEC

Florida head coach Jim McElwain spoke in Destin, Florida at the SEC Spring meetings on Tuesday and was asked several questions on the Southeastern Conference’s grad transfer rules limiting conference schools if previous transfers fail to live up to standards. McElwain, on the verge of landing a prominent transfer with a rule change, talked on the subject.

The Southeastern Conference, for better or worse, has always patterned itself as the model for which other should follow. With that in mind, the conference and the people that run it often times adopt rules that fit within the guidelines of the NCAA, but will set them apart from other conferences.

The rules usually have a responsible and positive thought process behind them, but at times they prove to be detrimental to the growth and sustainability of the conference.

One recent example of an SEC rule that had good intentions, but were quickly taken advantage of by outside conferences was for conference schools not to be able to hold high school camps away from their own campus. The rule had been around for a while with not much commotion, but then major power schools from other parts of the country moved in on the SEC’s region and began holding camps.

That quickly hit home to the power teams in the conference and at the spring meetings a couple of years ago the group decided that if the rules didn’t change for college football in general on the subject, the SEC would drop its own restrictions.

With no change nationally, the power teams in the conference did just what they said they would do. Florida would hold camps in the state of Michigan. Alabama was holding camps in other regions. Georgia was heading north and south to do their thing in hopes of getting a recruiting bump too.

This big turn of events then prompted the NCAA to make the change that is likely better for all. Now these camps aren’t happening.

Now we have another rule.  This one could very well affect the Florida Gators immediately, but it also is a rule that could affect any of the SEC institutions in any given year.

The rule as it stands disqualifies a program from taking a graduate transfer for three years if a previous grad transfer didn’t live up to certain academic standards while on that institutions campus and during that academic year.

Florida is facing the issue because of a couple of grad transfers that played in 2015, offensive lineman Mason Halter and linebacker Anthony Harrell.

There are at least a handful of SEC coaches that don’t like the idea of the SEC limiting itself compared to the leagues they are competing against.

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Jim McElwain doesn’t like the rule for that reason, but also has a vested interest this summer with the possibility of landing grad transfer Malik Zaire from Notre Dame. It is no secret that the gators are favored to get Zaire, but he can’t be on scholarship without the rule change.

McElwain will answer questions and offer up his opinion about the issue, but says he isn’t really one to press it.

“That’s one of those deals that doesn’t matter,” he told the media gathered for the SEC spring meetings. “If it happens it happens and we’ll all move forward. If it doesn’t it doesn’t and we’ll all move forward. Look, I’m not a great lobbyist anyway for anything. We’ll just do whatever the league says.”

McElwain’s main train of thought is that the league sets itself up to not compete with other conferences that don’t have rules like this.

“If we have rules in the Southeastern Conference that are different than the other conferences that we’re playing against and competing against... I don’t know what we’re trying to prove there. We got a ton of guys calling us every year that are graduates. But at the same time we have a pretty good team there already.”

McElwain said he knew of the rule when he took on transfers Halter and Harrell, but that doesn’t mean he believed they wouldn’t complete their coursework as they should have.

He does believe some might be short sighted on this idea if they aren’t faced with the situation right now.

“I know what I think, what’s good for our conference and what’s good for college football is what I’m all about,” he said. “They may say, look, I don’t want them to go there, so I’m going to vote against it. Then we’ve got issues, if that’s it. You know what? Those people better check their hole card on that, because that isn’t what it’s about. It’s what’s good for these kids. I think it goes back to the personal agendas that people have. If you’re worried about that, then go to another conference. You can’t worry about that. They deservedly should get the best players. They’re doing the best. What the heck? That’s the way it goes.”

“Here’s what I do know going through life. Everybody has agendas that help them. That’s the beautiful thing with where we live. Whatever those agendas are, those people are going to push for whatever benefits them ultimately. They’re really not concerned about anybody else. They’re concerned about themselves. I just struggle, growing up and who I am, you’ve got to worry about just yourself. It’s a lot bigger than that. It’s about all the people around you. It’s about what’s better, or what’s good, for everybody involved. And yet at the same time, no matter what, it won’t ever change. Everybody will push their personal agenda if they see the ability to gain an advantage. As long as we’re all playing under the same rules, OK. Those are the rules. Let’s go play them.”

Florida has utilized the practice in both of his first two years on campus. In year one, Halter and Harrell came aboard. Halter started the entire regular season at offensive tackle. In year two, quarterback Austin Appleby transferred in from Purdue. Appleby started several games because of various injuries to starter Luke Del Rio including finishing the season as the starter and on a high note with a solid game in the Outback Bowl against Iowa. He is now on a free agent contract with the Dallas Cowboys.

There are some that believe that taking Zaire at this stage could mess up the unit in terms of chemistry, but McElwain says he is always in favor of sprucing up the depth chart at every position when he can.

"We did it a year ago with Austin, and he came in and ended up helping our program,” he said. “It was really good. I think it doesn't matter as much that (quarterback room) dynamic as it is constantly knowing that what you're constantly trying to do is enhance each position group, whatever that might be. If it's that position, if it's defensive back, which might happen, you know, whatever, there (are) other spots. Competition is what breeds quality. So, whether it's that one or whatever one, I'm kind of all for it. I was the guy they always tried to replace every year at Eastern Washington, so I get it."

Now McElwain and the Gators (and Makil Zaire) must wait. Whatever the Coaches and Athletic Directors come up with in the next couple of days will be voted on by the SEC Presidents on Friday. There has been a growing thought that the rule will change, but until that vote is handed down, we won’t know.




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