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SEC wants to do something about transfers … but what?

Undergraduate and grad transfers are a serious topic of conversation during the SEC's spring meetings in Destin.
Transfer policies are a big topic of conversation at the SEC's spring meetings in Destin. [ MATT BAKER | TIMES ]
Transfer policies are a big topic of conversation at the SEC's spring meetings in Destin. [ MATT BAKER | TIMES ]
Published May 29, 2018
Updated May 29, 2018

DESTIN — As ideas circulate to address the NCAA's antiquated transfer rules, the national conversation is pushing toward eliminating some or all restrictions.

Don't expect anything that extreme to come out of this week's SEC spring meetings.

Here at the Hilton Sandestin, coaches from the top conference in the country are either uncertain or against the idea of allowing players to transfer without penalty, especially within their league.

"It will be a zoo, as far as people going back and forth," Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said. "And you can't let it become that."

The arguments against open transfers boil down to the fear of free agency.

If players can bolt for any school at any time for any reason without sitting out a year, recruiting will expand. Poachers will roam.

"If you want to do that, there will be coaches recruiting off your campus," South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said. "I'll be honest. That's what's going to happen."

Coaches also fear players will threaten to leave over small grievances, like being benched for not going to class.

"You want them to learn to make a commitment and stick to it," Gators coach Dan Mullen said. "But also, they deserve rights and freedoms that other students and other people have."

RELATED: Dan Mullen: Florida Gators' offense will look simpler this season

The national push toward fewer restrictions comes after growing backlash against coaches for blocking them. If coaches can swap schools — say, leaving Florida State for A&M or Mississippi State for Florida — why can't players do the same without punishment?

Fisher disagreed with that assessment.

"There's buyouts (for coaches)," Fisher said. "There's millions of dollars that go into that. So there are penalties that go with it, you know what I'm saying?"

Sort of, except schools often pay some, or all, of that buyout. The Gators paid Mississippi State $500,000 to hire Mullen.

Regardless, the SEC has made it clear it's not ready for wholesale changes to its transfer policies this week. Instead, the league is discussing two incremental changes.

The most important for Florida is a proposal that would make intraconference transfers eligible immediately if they're leaving a school under a postseason ban. Commissioner Greg Sankey said it's not about any particular matter, but we'll still call it the Van Jefferson rule.

Jefferson, a 6-foot-2 receiver, left Ole Miss for UF after the Rebels were given a bowl ban by the NCAA. If the rule (co-sponsored by UF and A&M) passes, Jefferson would be eligible this fall at UF, where he would immediately become one of the Gators' top targets.

Mullen said the proposal is about punishing programs who don't follow the rules. Fisher said it's about protecting innocent players.

"Those kids only have a four-year window," Fisher said. "Why would they be punished if they weren't involved in the scandal or the situation?"

The other possible change, for the second year in a row, centers on graduate transfers.

Current rules require a waiver for intraconference grad transfers to be eligible immediately, but a Georgia proposal would make that waiver unnecessary. Some schools already grant those. Alabama isn't in the case of offensive lineman Brandon Kennedy, who reportedly wants to transfer to Auburn or Tennessee.

"I don't think it should be on me," Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said. "I think we should change the rule. If we agree at the SEC at these meetings that we're going to have free agency in our league and everyone can go wherever they want to go when they graduate, that's what's best for the game, then that's what we should do."

It's not yet clear if that's where the conference wants to go, but there's more serious conversation about it this year than when Georgia first proposed it last year. Eventually, Sankey said, the league needs to start making some decisions.

"I'm one who has said to our membership and will say again: I think you need to decide where you want to be on this issue," Sankey said.

We'll find out where they want to be when proposals are voted on Friday.