The SEC announced Wednesday night that it has approved transfer waiver requests for "a number" of programs seeking exceptions to the rule that in-conference transfers must sit out a year before being eligible to compete. Though the full list of players approved for the waiver was not announced, the decision does mean immediate eligibility for a pair of potential impact players in the SEC East: quarterback Joey Gatewood at Kentucky and offensive lineman Cade Mays at Tennessee.
"It must be stated unequivocally that these approvals are solely a reflection of the unique circumstances present and should not be interpreted as endorsement of the rationale set forth by individuals seeking these waivers," commissioner Greg Sankey said. "These are unprecedented times in which decisions about eligibility and competitive opportunities demand consideration of the current challenges facing our student-athletes and schools as a result of COVID-19. In a non-COVID environment there may have been a different outcome for some of the waiver requests determined today."
Gatewood, the former Auburn quarterback who lost the competition last season to current Tigers starter Bo Nix, now joins a room that's currently helmed by Terry Wilson. How he factors into the battle for the starting job is yet to be known, but with immediate eligibility comes the opportunity for Kentucky's offensive staff to use specialized packages like the ones that saw him on the field in limited action with Auburn. Gateway was a top-50 prospect in the 2018 class coming out of high school, and he had five touchdowns in 2019 as a backup with Auburn (two passing, three rushing) before leaving the team in October.
"We're excited that @joey1gatewood has received waivers from the @NCAA and @SEC and will be eligible to play this season," Kentucky coach Mark Stoops tweeted on Wednesday. "We're thankful that the SEC Presidents and Commissioner @GregSankey took into account the unique circumstances around this season."
At Tennessee, Jeremy Pruitt has been very public about the school's efforts to get Mays eligible, working with both the NCAA and the SEC to get the waiver approval. Mays started 18 games in two seasons for Georgia, earning SEC All-Freshman Team and Freshman All-American honors in 2018 while playing at all five positions along the offensive line during his time with the Bulldogs. Tennessee's players jumped aboard to support the effort with a #FreeCadeMays social media movement and teammates, including quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, were quick to join in on the celebration once the ruling from the SEC was announced.
Mays was a five-star prospect in the 2018 recruiting class, ranked as the No. 3 offensive tackle and No. 1 player in the state of Tennessee according to the 247Sports Composite. With this announcement, we should expect to see him on the field soon, providing an immediate boost to an already impressive offensive line in Knoxville.