Each Monday, Wednesday and Friday (and on randomly selected occasions, sometimes Thursday) the Eye on College Football examines what current hot topic the fans of one BCS team are obsessing over -- rationally or not -- in Breaking Down the Buzz. Today's team: the Ole Miss Rebels .
What they're talking about is ... Austin Golson's potential transfer. As smashing a success as the 2013 recruiting class was for Hugh Freeze and Co., the Rebel roster still leans firmly towards "thin" over "deep" in places, and the offensive line is one of those places. So it was always going to be a major headline when one of those 2013 blue-chips -- four-star, top-100 overall prospect Austin Golson -- told reporters he was considering transferring out of the program, despite heavy playing time as a freshman and a likely starting right tackle job.
"My family comes before football," the Prattville, Ala. product told the Clarion-Ledger, citing reported health issues for his grandfathers. Auburn is approximately an hour away from Prattville and immediately became the first school mentioned in speculation regarding Golson's potential transfer destination. The Clarion-Ledger reported that Freeze -- who texted confirmation to the paper that he would allow Golson to explore his options -- "is not expected to block" Golson's transfer to the Tigers, despite the teams' status as SEC West rivals.
So not only are we talking about a potential starter transferring or not transferring out at a position of need, but possibly transferring to another SEC school and annual on-field-and-recruiting-trail opponent if Freeze does or does not restrict said transfer. There's a lot of angles to Golson's current situation, and so it's no surprise at all it's become the hottest topic this week at boards like that at 247Sports' Rebels247 and other Ole Miss sites.
What they're saying is ... not so nice. The clearcut majority of Rebel fans posting on the above message boards wish Golson luck. The clearcut majority acknowledges that if Golson is no longer interested in playing for the Rebels, for whatever reason, it's best for everyone if he moves on.
But the clearcut majority -- as would be the case, to be fair, in any college fanbase that takes its football as seriously as Ole Miss's does -- is also deadset against Golson playing for Auburn, and distastefully skeptical of Golson's family-related motivations. There's any number of examples in threads like this one or this one, but here's two back-to-back posts that are somewhat representative of the prevailing attitude ... but probably also lean on the kinder end of the spectrum:
• I personally don't really know what is going on. But it looks to me like he doesn't want to be at Ole Miss. I'm sure most of college athletes have someone in their immediate family that has a serious health problem. Seems like he is using that as an excuse to me. I wouldn't release him to go to Auburn or any SEC school.
• I don't presume to know his situation, but if it is as he says, and his family needs him there 24/7__then so be it.
As always, family comes first. That being said, if the situation is so serious that Football at Ole Miss impedes his family interactions, then likewise Football at Auburn would as well.
Coach Freeze is under no obligation to release him. I most definitely would not! If he wishes to enroll at Auburn, I have no problem with that. I'm sure there is plenty of money available to him in the General Scholarship Fund.
"I have no idea how serious Golson's family situation actually is ... but I'm going to go ahead and assume anyway that it's not so serious that he should be allowed to receive a football scholarship at the school that offers him the best chance to be both near his family and further his career. Oh, and I'm going to ignore the fact that my team is hoping to have a four-star offensive line transfer play this year for the exact same reasons." It's not particularly classy, but again: this is college football on the Internet, and if you think your school's fans would respond any differently in the same situation, you're almost certainly wrong.
What we think is ... be nicer, everyone. Worth noting: as is alluded to above, Freeze can't actually stop Golson from attending Auburn, release or no release; the Rebels' approval is only necessary for Golson to receive a scholarship from the Tigers for the 2014-2015 season. In either case, Golson wouldn't be eligible to play for Auburn this fall without an NCAA waiver. (Because of the lack of clarity involved in situations exactly like Golson's, the NCAA has announced it will replace those waivers with an extra year of eligiblity -- but apparently that decision won't go into effect until 2015-2016.)
It's worth noting that the assumption that Golson is interested in Auburn isn't total speculation, either. The thread quoted above is in response to Golson adding several new follows to his Twitter account, ones you can see here:
See, despite her impending nuptials to an Alabama quarterback, Katherine Webb is also an Auburn graduate, so you can connect the dots from there. And also, Golson is now following Auburn's head coach, offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, for whatever that's worth.
So between that tidbit, the proximity of Auburn to Prattville, and the rampant fire-where-there's-smoke whispers regarding Auburn the moment the Golson news broke, Rebel fans can be forgiven for worrying that Golson will actually land on the Plains. And given that their team is in such direct competition with Auburn, they can also be forgiven for being less than thrilled about the prospect.
But accusing a college-age kid of distorting the truth on the basis of nothing more than gut feeling is lousy, and that goes double when it concerns something as sensitive as his family's health. Troy is essentially the same distance away from Pratville as Auburn is, and Freeze would be within his rights to release Golson there rather than to an SEC opponent -- but the taking the higher road means taking Golson at his word and simply letting him accept a scholarship at the school that he decides is best for his family and himself*, where that's Auburn or anywhere else.
Sidenote to Mark Emmert re: "student-athlete": You'll notice that nowhere in this discussion, here or on the message boards or comment threads, are Golson's academic needs cited as a factor in his decision. Just thought you might find that interesting.
*A possible compromise: a gentleman's agreement in which Golson is released to Auburn, but he and Malzahn agree that he doesn't play against the Rebels.