Gators Could Benefit From New NCAA Ruling

In three weeks the Florida Gators could be the first high-profile beneficiaries of a controversial new NCAA rule that allows a football player with remaining eligibility to transfer without having to sit a year if he has earned his undergraduate degree. Cornerback Ryan Smith could be the first to test this new rule. He's taking his final courses this summer at the University of Utah.

(Ryan Smith profile)

This recently passed NCAA rule allows a player to transfer to the school of his choice if he's (1) earned his bachelor's degree; (2) has eligibility remaining and (3) is admitted to graduate school. Players that wish to transfer without completion of their undergrad degrees still have to sit a year before they can play again. If Smith passes his final two courses, he can graduate with a bachelor's degree in three weeks. He has already informed the Utah coaching staff that he intends to transfer. He is not listed in the 2006 Utah Media Guide.

Smith, a 5-10, 170-pounder, was a second team freshman All-America at Utah in 2004 when the Utes went 12-0 and finished ranked fourth in the nation. The head coach for Utah that magical undefeated season was Urban Meyer and Smith's position coach was Gator cornerbacks coach Chuck Heater.

In 2004, Smith started all 12 games for the Utes, leading the team with seven pass breakups. He had 44 tackles including three for loss and a pair of sacks. He forced two fumbles, recovered one and intercepted one pass. He was the Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Week that year after he made seven solo tackles and three assists against Air Force. In Utah's Fiesta Bowl win over Pitt, he had four tackles and two pass breakups.

His stats fell off in 2005. Meyer and Heater were gone to Florida and there was a new defensive coordinator at Utah with a brand new scheme. Smith played in nine games, started six, and finished with 27 tackles and one interception.

Smith was the second fastest player on the Utah team (electronically timed 4.42 in the 40) and the fastest over 10 yards (1.58 seconds).

"He's leaving on good terms with Coach (Kyle) Whittingham and the entire Utah staff," said Lance Smith, Ryan's dad and a 23-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department. "He won't be playing football at Utah in the fall and it will be three weeks before he makes a decision about what to do next."

The reason the decision there won't be a decision for three weeks is that until he earns his bachelor's degree in sociology in three weeks, his father won't allow him to make a decision.

"He's taking his final courses at the University of Utah in summer school right now," said Lance Smith. "Once he has graduated, it will be decision time. Right now, though, I don't want him thinking about anything except finishing school and graduating."

There is a very good possibility that once Smith graduates, he could choose to be reunited with Meyer and Heater at the University of Florida. His father would only say that "if he chooses to play football, he would certainly consider the possibility of playing for Coach Meyer and Coach Heater again."

While Florida would have to be considered a target destination, Ryan Smith is having conversations with several Pac-10 Conference schools which would put him closer to his parents in Los Angeles, and a couple of east coast schools. His dad said that if Ryan plays football, he will probably pursue a master's degree while completing his final two years of football eligibility and then enter law school.

"Whether or not he plays even one more down of football isn't as important as the education," said Lance Smith, who made Ryan take summer school courses from the time he entered Utah to take advantage of the educational opportunities. "Football is his love but his education is what matters. If you have an education, you have the ability to control your own destiny for the rest of your life. With an education you have the ability to make decisions that contribute to the health and welfare of your entire community."

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