College Free Agency?

DESTIN, FL – Are college football and basketball ready for free agency? Southeastern Conference coaches, who for the most part are just learning about a new NCAA rule that could create exactly that, don't think so

In April, the NCAA passed legislation that will allow players who have graduated with eligibility remaining to transfer to any school at any level and play immediately as long as they enroll in graduate school.

"It doesn't make a lot of sense to me," said Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer, who only learned of the rule Tuesday. "That's going to be an interesting scenario."

It could be a nightmare scenario for some schools. Georgia fans wouldn't want to think about what would have happened last season had quarterback D.J. Shockley graduated in May rather than December. He then could have decided he wanted to be the quarterback at say, Florida, for his final season.

Tennessee cornerback Jason Allen and Auburn running back Ronnie Brown both could have transferred in their final year under the new rule.

"That's a pretty scary thought," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said.

Coaches don't expect the rule to last more than a year, and the SEC will support its reversal, Commissioner Mike Slive said. For at least as a season, though, it's a reality.

What major college coaches fear is that they will have to re-recruit their graduated players to avoid losing them. For instance, if a senior who already has graduated would rather be playing cornerback than safety or offensive tackle rather than offensive guard, they can threaten to leave if they aren't swapped.

"That's what you worry about," Arkansas' Houston Nutt said. "Now word gets out, now more young people are trying to say, ‘Maybe I'll start looking around a little bit.'" The reality is even worse for mid-major coaches, said Florida coach Urban Meyer, who coached at Bowling Green for two seasons.

"I can see when I was at Bowling Green a young guy says, ‘I'm having a hell of a career here, I'm going to graduate and go try at (a bigger) university,'" he said.

Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson is going against the grain and throwing his full-fledged support behind the rule. That's because quarterback Richard Kovalcheck, who started seven games last year at Arizona, is in the process of transferring to Vanderbilt with two years of eligibility remaining.

"I think it's great," Johnson said.

In response to the rule, the SEC is expected to vote today to change a conference rule that says athletes must have two years of eligibility remaining to transfer into a member school. The conference probably will cut that to one year to be able to take advantage of the new NCAA legislation.

"You've got to change it because they need to be able to go both ways," Fulmer said.

The NCAA rule won't affect college basketball as much as football because fewer players redshirt, making it very hard to graduate with eligibility remaining.

"I'm not too worried about it," Bulldog coach Dennis Felton said.

However, Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl, who could potentially lose starter Dane Bradshaw under the rule next year, sees a significant potential problem.

"Now am I going to be recruiting Middle Tennessee's program, encouraging those kids to graduate early," he said. "That's wrong."

South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier, who says he tends to fret less than some of his colleagues, is in Felton's camp and doesn't believe the rule will cause much problem in reality.

"If a player is not getting to play and has already graduated and wants to play somewhere else, that's fine," he said. "I think it's a good rule. Usually a missed field goal costs you more games than that kind of stuff."


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