UGA Football

Coaches hesitant toward proposed intraconference transfer rule

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart and others celebrate with Maurice Smith after an interception against Tennessee. Smith was a graduate transfer who came to UGA from Alabama.
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart and others celebrate with Maurice Smith after an interception against Tennessee. Smith was a graduate transfer who came to UGA from Alabama. AP

There appears to be a scenario that SEC football and basketball coaches are hoping to avoid.

One of the three pieces of graduate transfer legislation proposed at this year’s SEC spring meetings would allow those who have completed their undergraduate degree to transfer within the conference.

Among the football and men’s basketball coaches, this has not been a popular position to take.

Georgia basketball head coach Mark Fox stated that the majority in his meeting room Wednesday were not in favor of this particular proposal.

“What guys are leery of is that we don’t want to create free agency, where guys are in the handshake line being recruited by the other team,” Fox said. “That’s what you don’t want. You’re shaking hands after the game and you don’t want guys trying to poach your roster. That’s probably the No. 1 concern.”

Georgia is actually the program that proposed allowing graduate transfers to go from one SEC program to another upon completing his or her degree. In a rare instance, the SEC granted a waiver to allow former Alabama defensive back Maurice Smith to transfer to Georgia prior to the 2016 season. Georgia head coach Kirby Smart has previously stated that if a player completes his undergraduate degree, regardless of whether he is at another SEC institution or not, he should be able to transfer anywhere without restriction.

While Smart has publicly shared that viewpoint in the past, that wasn’t the vibe Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn got in the football meeting room.

“I think it was unanimous within our coaches that we weren’t for intraconference transferring,” Malzahn said. “I think we got a good room. I think that could complicate things.”

But while Smart, who was unavailable for comment after Wednesday’s meeting, may be in favor of Georgia’s proposed legislation, most coaches were not.

Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops prefers any new graduate transfer rules to not include allowing players moving within the conference.

“Quite a few of us would like it to be restrictive within our league,” Stoops said. “We don’t like the idea of just having free agency within our league.”

Fox said that he isn’t against the proposed rule and shares a similar viewpoint to Smart.

“I’m with him on that. I’m not against it,” Fox said. “Our room was against it. The prevailing opinion in our room was against it. But I’m not for restricting guys.”

Smith went from being a reserve defensive back at Alabama to a starter at Georgia who totaled 50 tackles and two interceptions in 2016. But as Alabama head coach Nick Saban, who was vehemently against Smith’s transfer at the time, sarcastically pointed out, that move didn’t translate to additional wins or losses for either team.

While someone could argue in favor of the rule based on it having a limited impact, Saban would prefer not to change the system.

“I don’t know what advantage was created by all that,” Saban said. “I don’t know who won anymore games or lost anymore games because of that. I don’t know who benefited from it. If somebody wants to do some research on that, let me know, and I’d be glad to change my opinion about it.”

Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity said the reason his program proposed the legislation was to allow student-athletes a chance to do what they pleased once their undergraduate academic requirements resulted in a degree.

Coaches are certainly fearful that a form of free agency could break out within the conference. While Smith came to Georgia from Alabama, McGarity said that isn’t a typical occurrence in most years.

“That doesn’t happen that often,” McGarity said. “I think you really have to look at this because if they are not going to the SEC, they’re going to another conference. They’re going to be playing against you, perhaps in the ACC. We just felt like for student-athlete wellness and fairness, that was the right thing to do.”