Well would you look at that, adults acting like adults when it comes to what’s best for a graduated student-athlete.
The saga of Maurice Smith had grown more heated and contentious in recent days, with the Alabama defensive back wanting to transfer to Georgia but head coach Nick Saban steadfastly refusing to grant a release to another SEC program. Wednesday, UA blinked and granted Smith a full release, including permission to move on to another team in the SEC.
However, the SEC still had to sign off on the move. Friday, the conference did just that, announcing in a press release that Smith (take a deep breath) “has received a conditional waiver to Southeastern Conference rules that will permit Smith to transfer to the University of Georgia to pursue a graduate degree while having the option to complete his final year of athletic eligibility in either 2016 or 2017, with provisions dependent on the achievement of Smith’s stated academic objectives should he play in 2016.”
The conditional waiver comes with a couple of catches.
First, if Smith plays in 2016 and does not complete nine hours of coursework, he would be ineligible to play in the postseason, which would include the SEC championship game, a bowl game or the College Football Playoffs. Secondly, if Smith does not earn his Master’s degree before the start of the 2018-19 academic year, UGA would be barred from seeking any other similar waiver until Smith either graduates or the beginning of the 2021-22 academic year, whichever comes first.
The SEC actually waived two of its bylaws in granting the waiver, one that requires a transfer to have two years of eligibility remaining — Smith has one, plus a redshirt available if necessary — and one that states intra-conference transfers must sit out a season of competition.
In a statement, commissioner Greg Sankey indicated Smith’s academic prowess at UA played a role in his decision to grant the waiver. Here’s to guessing that the heat Saban and the Tide had taken played a role as well.
“The standard for granting waivers has been clear and compelling evidence that there is reason for allowing an exception to SEC rules,” Sankey said. “I found, among other contributing factors, that a student-athlete who graduates in three years and exhibits a strong commitment to his or her academic future provides compelling motivation to help them achieve their goals on and off the field.
“An institution has an obligation to provide opportunities for graduate student-athletes to earn a graduate degree. Similarly, student-athletes have accountability to the universities that are providing the educational opportunities they enjoy. Maurice has clearly and passionately stated his desire for a graduate degree in Public Health. The conditions of the waiver allow him to achieve that goal and provide the institution with greater incentive to make his educational interests a priority.”
Unless they win their respective divisions, Smith’s old and new teams will not meet on the field in 2016.
In the release, Sankey also indicated that, because the way the rule is currently constructed places “our coaches and administrators in untenable situations,” it is time to for the conference to address the graduate transfer rule.