Alabama coach Nick Saban's take on transfer rules is exactly why reform is necessary
Some transfer reform is nearly guaranteed by the NCAA, but will the SEC adjust its own rule?
DESTIN, Fla. -- Nick Saban crystallized Tuesday why there absolutely has to be transfer reform when he defended his ability to block graduate student Brandon Kennedy from transferring within the conference during a press conference at the SEC spring meetings.
Kennedy, a backup center, reportedly wants to transfer from Alabama to Auburn or Tennessee. There is no question he has academically achieved. Kennedy graduated in December as a redshirt sophomore and would have two years of eligibility left as a graduate transfer.
SEC rules require all transfers to sit out a year if they move within the conference, but that's hardly the issue.
In a letter earlier this month, Alabama denied Kennedy the ability to contact any SEC school and seven future nonconference opponents, including The Citadel.
"When we make a rule that guys can transfer whenever they want to transfer, how are we supposed to get people to do what they should do?" Saban asked.
That sounds rather, um, imperial. That sort of player control by coaches is why an NCAA working group is attempting to reform college sports' archaic transfer culture. Increased player freedom was the point of a mandate earlier this year from the NCAA Board of Governors to the working group.
Sometime next month, that working group is expected to recommend an important change: Rather than players needing to obtain "permission" from schools, the institutions will receive "notification" from the players.
While that wouldn't impact the SEC's intraconference transfer rules, such a simple change would help wipe out the silly transfer-blocking culture. A year ago, Kansas State's Bill Snyder initially -- more than a quarter of FBS. to former backup quarterback Evan Shirreffs.
It is now allowing Alabama to block a player who has fulfilled his obligation to the school (by graduating) from transferring to The Citadel.
"A guy's fulfilled his time and he's graduated from school and he's supposedly a man, he ought to be able to make those decisions," Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said as a general statement, not specifically about Kennedy's situation. "I know some people don't agree with that, but I do. They graduated. They ought to be able to [transfer]."
"I'm not talking about [controlling them] as football players," Saban said. "I'm talking about as people. I'm talking about doing the right thing academically. So if a guy is missing class and I say, 'You're not playing in this game,' which I've done on occasion, and he says, 'I'm transferring.' Is that good?"
Maybe not "good," but it would be just. In blocking Kennedy, Saban is as much sending a message to any other player who entertains such transfer thoughts: You better think twice.
You listening, Jalen Hurts? The Alabama quarterback dueling with Tua Tagovailoa for the starting job is expected to graduate this December. If passed, the working group's "notification" change would be effective Oct. 15. Hurts could go anywhere he wanted, including -- gulp – Auburn, without having to clear it with anybody at Alabama.
"Communication, destination and financial aid [for transfers] shouldn't just rest on coaches and athletics departments," SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said. "I think this notification model is healthy. It puts people in difficult situations. You then get into, 'What next?' What's the healthiest educational approach?"
One resolution: In the future, coaches are going to have to reevaluate how they treat players. The old ways are dying. Coaches can leave for another job,? That was part of a sweeping Big 12 transfer proposal earlier this year.
Georgia has sponsored an SEC rule change that would allow graduate transfers within the conference to be eligible right away.
Players should be able to leave "just as we do as coaches, right?" Georgia's Kirby Smart asked rhetorically. "I left Alabama, and all the secrets Alabama had I took with me."
Smart was being sarcastic. He went to on note the world hasn't ended now that some of Saban's former assistants are now competing head-to-head with him in the same conference and even division. "I just don't see [the suspicion] that way," he said.
If Saban is suggesting coaches have to consider transfer implications every time they deal with a player, well, maybe it should be that way. For too long, the balance of power has tilted in the other direction. The accepted practice of transfer blocking is at least 50 years old, and there is no good reason for it in most cases.
Look, I get why Alabama wants to keep Kennedy away from the SEC. On the macro, they don't want the company secrets leaking in the most competitive conference in the country. On the micro level, a lot of this has to be about Kennedy going to Auburn with the entire playbook (at least in his head) and an inside knowledge of Alabama's on-field signals, culture and philosophy.
"I don't think it should be on me," Saban said of the criticism. "If we agree in the SEC at these meetings that we're going to have free agency in our league and everybody can go wherever they want to go when they graduate, that's what we should do.
"Then Brandon Kennedy can go wherever he wants to go. But if we don't do that, why is it on me? We have a conference rule that says … he can do it, but he has to sit out for a year. So, why is it on me? It's not even my decision. It's a conference rule."
It's not entirely about you, Nick. This is not even about the SEC's transfer rules inside the league. It's about the entire sport's transfer culture. It's about the pettiness of keeping a player nearing his Master's at Alabama from transferring to The Citadel.
It's about time that changed. By next month, it's a virtual certainty that it will.
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