Inside College Football: Grad transfer rules may tighten -- for players, of course

DESTIN, Fla. -- Much time was wasted -- and plenty of columns were crafted -- last week dissecting the fate of Malik Zaire 's fate.

The former Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback who couldn't keep his starting job last season chose Florida Gators last week after the SEC altered its graduare transfer rules.

But Zaire's matriculation to Gainesville, Florida, has larger implications.

Whether Zaire will be an upgrade at quarterback for Jim McElwain is a discussion point only at Florida, the SEC and perhaps at Notre Dame. How those grad transfers are treated in the future is a broader issue.

The NCAA's new Division I Transfer Working Group will help decide just what it means to be a grad transfer. Since 2006, players who had earned their bachelor's degree could transfer without penalty if they had eligibility remaining.

While some coaches gripe about roster management when they lose a player, the rule isn't about to be rolled back. More likely, it will be tightened academically to make sure players are taking classes toward a legitimate graduate degree.

But is even that fair?

All that is asked of players is that they get their bachelor's degree. Grad transfers aren't required to get their masters, nor should they be. The rules were tightened recently requiring grad transfers to take at least six hours per semester relating directly toward their masters.

"We want the ultimate goal to be graduation," SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said. "If you graduate [as an undergrad] and then desire to play, my view is your pursuit should be that next graduation opportunity."

One problem: That's not close to being realistic. Requiring graduates to jump through another academic hoop is changing the rules mid-stream.

"School's done for me," former Heisman winner Matt Leinart said in 2005. "I'm here to concentrate on football."

That was the Southern California Trojans quarterback's stance as he began his fifth year with only two credits to go for his degree. One of his electives was ballroom dancing.

There is other anecdotal evidence of players who earned their undergrad in less than four years taking the minimum amount of classes to be eligible to play at one school. No one screams about that.

"Some of the contemplation at the working group level needs to be about fostering that goal of obtaining the master's degree, not just playing the sport for another year," Sankey said. 

Why not? What about fifth-year seniors who graduate in 3 ½ years?

The point being that those players have done all that is asked of them. Each year about half of all graduate students drop out of doctoral programs. According to NCAA research, only 28 percent of football grad transfers will complete their degree work.

To that I say, so what? Undergrads get six years to complete their degree to count in the NCAA's graduation success rates.

The threshold for penalties in the annual Academic Progress Rate is 930, roughly a 50 percent graduate rate. And we're going to hold college graduates accountable for not getting masters?

It's all a bit hypocritical. The grad transfer rule has made for a fascinating round of free agency each offseason. If not for former NC State Wolfpack coach Tom O'Brien being dumb enough to run off Russell Wilson , where would Wisconsin Badgers and the Seattle Seahawks be?

We know what NC State and O'Brien are because Wilson left -- irrelevant and retired. In that order.

Early signing "disconnect"

I'm having problems with the SEC's stance on the new early signing period.

First, the league voted for the December date in April when it was adopted by the NCAA. SEC coaches supposedly were part of the American Football Coaches Association "unanimous" referendum vote in January.

You have to understand that everything in the SEC is about recruiting. So when Sankey takes in the scenario above and says, "there is a disconnect," it's understandable.

In general, the SEC doesn't want an early signing day because it infringes on its ability to woo prospects with those stunning game-day spectacles in the South. Moving up the contact date (April-June) is for "the benefit of teams in the North because they want guys to visit in the summertime," according to Alabama Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban.

But it's about to get "worse" for the SEC. NCAA Football Oversight Committee chairman Bob Bowlsby has been openly saying he believes an earlier signing day -- perhaps a 60-day period in the fall -- is right around the corner.

"I think there's a lot of people who would like to move it up sooner," said Mississippi State Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen, who recently rotated off the committee.

We still haven't fully digested what a Dec. 20 signing day will do for the entire recruiting culture. What's to keep the absolute top players from waiting until February hawking their wares to the highest "bidder?"

(If you don't believe some players are paid under the table, wake up.)

"My hypothesis is that the best of the best, top 100, 5-stars etc. will wait until [February] regardless," said Barton Simmons, director of scouting for 247Sports. "Those guys, even if they are committed, have no incentive to sign early unless they're early enrollees.

"Their spot in the class is always going to be secure."

My hall of fame ballot

Seven-five coaches and six coaches from FBS schools appear on this year's College Football Hall of Fame ballot sent out last week.  These 10 players and two coaches deserve to be in the 2018 class that will be announced Jan. 8 in Atlanta.

(Players are considered 10 years following their last year of eligibility.)

Terrell Buckley, DB, Florida State Seminoles : Led nation in both interceptions (12) and return yards (501) in 1991, the year he won the Thorpe Award.

Eric Dickerson , RB, SMU: Played prior to the Death Penalty Ponies, but the two-time Southwest Conference player of the year had a distinguished NFL career.

Robert Gallery, OT, Iowa Hawkeyes : One of the best college linemen in the last 30 years. 2003 Outland Trophy winner.

Jason Hanson, PK, Washington State Cougars : Two-time All-American still holds the record for longest field goal without a tee (62 yards) and career field goals of 40-plus yards (39).

Rocket Ismail, WR/KR, Notre Dame: Transformational all-purpose player who was the Walter Camp player of the year in 1990. Led Notre Dame to a national championship in 1988.

Calvin Johnson , WR, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets : The recently retired "Megatron" was a two-time All-American, three-time All-ACC pick. He won the 2006 Biletnikoff Award winner.

Leslie O'Neal, DT, Oklahoma State Cowboys : Three-time All-Big Eight including 1984 conference defensive player of the year. Two-time All-American. Six times in 13-year NFL career selected to the Pro Bowl.

Ed Reed, DB, Miami: Consummate leader on the 2001 national champions. Two-time All-American who still holds career school records for interceptions (21) and interception return yards (389).

Warren Sapp, DT, Miami: Finished sixth in Heisman voting as a defender the year (1994). He won both the Lombardi and Nagurski awards. Five times All-Pro in 13-year NFL career.

Charles Woodson , DB, Michigan Wolverines : Last defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy (1997). He was a key part of that year's national championship team. The two-time Big Ten defensive player of the year also won the Walter Camp (player of the year), Nagurski, Bednarik (best defender) and Thorpe (best defensive back). A staggering 65 picks in 18 year-year pro career.

Coaches

Frank Beamer -- Murray State, Virginia Tech Hokies : Beamer was the winningest active FBS coach at the time of his retirement in 2015. He put Tech on the map to the point it's hard to imagine the Hokies in the ACC without his expertise.

Mack Brown -- Appalachian State Mountaineers , Tulane Green Wave , North Carolina Tar Heels , Texas Longhorns : Perhaps Mack's greatest accomplishment – besides winning the 2005 national championship – was guiding the Longhorns to 12 consecutive years of at least nine wins. Brown embraced the Texas tradition established by Darrell Royal and raised it to a new level.

Quick hits

  • With Mullen rotating off the Oversight Committee, there are no SEC coaches on one of the sport's most powerful committee. Arkansas Razorbacks athletic director Jeff Long took the SEC slot on the committee.
  • Lane Kiffin is up to his old tricks. This week, Florida Atlantic Owls 's coach offered the sixth-grade son of quarterback guru Steve Clarkson (Pierce Clarkson). That's after Kiffin offered the seventh-grade son of USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin. That would be 13-year-old Kaden Martin.
  • With all the talk last week of Auburn and Missouri swapping divisions in the SEC, one key element was forgotten. That would create the possibility of Auburn and Alabama playing twice (in back-to-back weeks) in any given season. Wonder what Saban and Gus Malzahn would think about that
CBS Sports Senior Writer

Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. He is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games and has chronicled conference realignment... Full Bio

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