ATLANTA — For all their talk about wanting what is best for players, SEC coaches draw the line at new rules pushing college football closer to free agency.
For those coaches, free agency for players ended on high school signing day.
The Southeastern Conference recently passed new rules making it easier for players to transfer within the league and be immediately eligible without a waiver, either as graduates or when leaving a team hit with NCAA sanctions. Before the new rule, graduate transfers had to sit out a year when moving to a new SEC school.
Such coaches as Georgia’s Kirby Smart and Florida’s Dan Mullen worry the new rules could move the league closer to free agency if more freedoms to players are granted. They cringe at the idea players could be eventually empowered to seek transfers as soon as they drop on the depth chart or are asked to run extra laps.
“I’ve expressed my belief in a guy who graduates from college being able to go where he wants to go,” Smart said Tuesday at SEC Media Days. “I feel very strongly about that, but when you start talking about every year … I’ve got to be honest with you, it’s hard.”
Smart said it would be especially tempting for freshmen, struggling to adjust to college life, to look elsewhere if it were easier for them to transfer.
“It’s not easy your first year in college,” Smart said. “It’s one of the biggest adjustments you go through in life. So to be able to make it easy to leave, I think that’s tough. I think it’s a fine line. I want the players to be able to have the freedom and rights, but it’s tough. Put yourself in that situation when you come in there and you’ve been told how good you are your whole life and it’s difficult to make that transition.”
Smart’s support for graduate transfers having immediate eligibility became well known when he successfully lobbied for defensive back Maurice Smith’s move from Alabama to the Bulldogs in 2016. The league’s decision on Smith helped pave the way for this year’s rules change on graduate transfers.
Mullen says he’s waiting to see if the new rules make a positive impact on the league.
“As it’s implemented and we get to see how it works, it’s hard to say whether it’s going to be good or bad,” Mullen said Tuesday.
“I don’t think anybody wants to get into having free agency in college football. But I think we also want to make sure we’re doing the best we can for student-athletes and the best we can for universities.”
Mullen said he wouldn’t want his two children to have an opportunity to quit instead of working through adversity.
“One of the things I don’t want is to ever have them put in a situation where as soon as something gets hard, I want to transfer, quit or do something else,” he said. “I don’t think that’s good parenting. I don’t think that’s educating young people.”
Some see greater freedoms for players leading to a second recruiting season where coaches look to attract transfers from other schools.
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said he won’t recruit from other schools “at this point.”
“Obviously there’s players who may reach out to us and look at the opportunities, but … we don’t dive into that recruiting as a full process at this point, no,” he said. “Obviously it’s illegal, but you don’t want to turn it into another form of free agency. None of us want that. We are college coaches. We like developing these players and building your teams, and that’s the way I like to do it.”