Miami blocking Evan Shirreffs grad transfer request the latest issue in a flawed system

If it's really about education in that often-repeated NCAA manifesto that props up major-college athletics, Evan Shirreffs is having a hard time believing it.

Miami's backup quarterback has fulfilled his obligation -- the obligation the NCAA tells us -- by getting his Business Finance degree in three years. Not only that, Shirreffs killed it in the classroom with a 3.9 GPA. Not surprising given that he had a 32 ACT score out of Jefferson High in Georgia, where Shirreffs was class valedictorian.

But as a graduate transfer, Shirreffs is leaving Miami with more than a degree. He is carrying a significant burden because he cannot go to the grad school of his choice. To make himself the best person he can be for next 50 or so years of his life, Shirreffs really wants to enroll in an elite MBA program.

But Miami has the leverage in his transfer, even after Shirreffs has fulfilled the obligation.

Miami has granted Shirreffs permission to contact other schools. But it has not granted an exemption to the one-year residency requirement (sitting out) at any ACC school or five nonconference opponents on the 2018 and 2019 schedules.

That list includes Duke, Virginia, North Carolina, Wake Forest and Boston College, all in the ACC, all with some of the finest MBA programs in the country.

Anywhere else he is eligible to play right away. 

"I legitimately will be able to finish the MBA program wherever I go. That's what I'm interested in," Shirreffs added.

He's also interested in playing, which is why the grad transfer rule was put in place in the first place. Established in 2011, it was a sort of reward for those who earned an undergraduate degree with eligibility left to pursue grad school interests. The NCAA even tightened the academic restrictions for playing while being in grad school.

The number of Division I grad transfers shot from 17 in 2011 to 117 in 2016. A well-intentioned rule became a hindrance -- at least to coaches concerned with all-important roster management. High-profile "blocks" became annual sidebars.

But the toothpaste can't be put back in the tube. Sure, it has caused some roster upheaval, but that's all it did. Armed with that degree, players had more than a right to transfer.

That's the unspoken deal athletes make with any school: I graduate and make myself and you look good in pursuit of whatever this amateurism model means.

And that's it.

"I had no prior knowledge I would be blocked," Shirreffs said.

"I knew they could block regular transfers, but not graduate transfers. I'd say that, 'Yeah, in legal terms it's a non-compete [clause]. I never signed a non-compete."

That's what they don't tell you about the National Letter of Intent. A 2015 report from Inside Higher Ed says that 37.2 percent all students in the general population transfer at least once within six years. But once you sign that scholarship agreement, the school has the leverage. They control the list of schools you can transfer to, unless you win an appeal.

Shirreff's is Monday at Miami. He isn't optimistic. Like all such cases, the panel is made up of non-athletic types from Miami, which is supposed to project some sort of neutrality. In fact, that is an inherent conflict of interest on its face. Those non-athletic types are still paid by the university that benefits financially by winning football games.

AD Blake James told CBS Sports of his desire for "consistency" in denying Shirreffs. He has never released a student in a similar situation, why should he now? Student-athlete beware: The transfer policy is right there in the student-athlete handbook

"You have 114 other guys on that team who have put in the work and made a commitment," James said, "and you have someone that's going to leave with the entire playbook and go to a team you're going to play. To me, I struggle with that as well."

Shirreffs responded, "What about swimming? They don't have a playbook, which is one of my arguments I'm going to use when I walk into the appeal. If I don't win it, at least people see how screwed up it is."

Here's how really screwed up it is: None of this will even matter in a few months. It'll be too late for Shirreffs, but no matter what happens in the current transfer reform movement, most everyone agrees blocking needs to be gone.

The NCAA Board of Directors want new legislation this year aimed at athletes' rights and welfare in these situations. Blocking a grad transfer from immediate eligibility who has his Business Finance degree in three years and is pursuing his MBA is certainly one of those situations.

You know, if it's about education first.

What's worse: I've asked dozens of people who would know. None of them can recall the history of why coaches can block players from transferring to their desired school.

It's not an NCAA bylaw. It just is.

Blocking is Harry High School. It's short-sighted. It is absolutely hypocritical. That sort of athletic leverage simply isn't fair if -- as we're all told -- it's about education first.

Coaches' freedom is turning out to be the basis for any transfer reform. The model has to change from the permission-based process Shirreffs is enduring to notification.

As in: Yo, coach, I'm out of here. Or something like that.  

Programs won't collapse. Rosters won't turn over overnight. What if they do? The NLI reminds prospects they are signing with a school. It doesn't tell them coaches are signing on whatever contract promises the most money.

The current set up is wrong and -- high-powered college administrators are realizing -- possibly illegal. The O'Bannon suit nipped around the edges of the amateurism model. It may yet collapse.

For now, let's cut to Shirreffs' Monday appeal hearing:

  • Education? Miami could counter that it has a top 100 business school itself.
  • Shirreffs will counter that he also wants playing time, something he can't get at Miami right now.
  • James has countered, "Evan was right in the running for the quarterback job this year."
  • That's news to starter Malik Rosier, who started 13 games breaking Vinny Testaverde's school record for touchdowns responsible for (31).

Add to that, Shirreffs is now playing for a coaching staff that didn't recruit him. Mark Richt replaced Al Golden in 2016, Shirreff's redshirt freshman year.

"I don't believe it is fair," Shirreffs said of the transfer process. "I enjoyed my time at the University of Miami and I loved it. But I've completed all my academic requirements. I should be able to play wherever I choose to better myself athletically and academically."

If it is indeed about education first.

Corrections: In a previous version of this story, it was stated Shirreffs would not get financial aid if he transfers during his year in residence, which is not accurate. Also, a quote was incorrectly attributed to Colonial Athletic Association Joe D'Antonio.

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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