Georgia head coach Kirby Smart is quickly asserting his impact on his new program. One of the more noticeable changes between how things were run under former head coach Mark Richt (now at Miami) and Smart is how the transfer process for players wishing to leave the Bulldogs will be handled. Richt was open to allowing players to transfer to whatever school they wished. Smart, on the other hand, is standing firm on his decision to place restrictions on where a player can and cannot go once they make the decision to transfer out of Georgia.
Smart is not the first coach to take such authority to his advantage, nor will he be the last unless the NCAA strips coaches and programs of such ridiculous power over a student’s decisions. This is an issue that continues to bother me, because I do not believe coaches should have the power to tell a kid where they cannot transfer. This is pretty much the only place something like this will ever happen.
A non student-athlete is free to transfer to any other college if they feel it is in their best interests, even if they are on some sort of scholarship. If you want to leave your job, you are free to move to any other job you are qualified and offered. Professional sports is slightly different in that players are under contract to play for a certain team unless they are traded to another team. By giving college football coaches the authority to determine where a kid may not transfer once they decide to move on, college football flirts with allowing coaches to be dictators. Is that something we really want to allow?
The transfer restricting is NOT a Kirby Smart problem. He's just the latest coach to remind us how awful the transfer process can be.
— Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB) March 23, 2016
A debate has developed over the news Smart was preventing running back A.J. Thurman from transferring to either Florida or Miami. Blocking Florida makes sense as the Gators are a division rival. Miami is more out of spite because Richt, the coach that recruited Thurman in the first place, is now coaching the Hurricanes. Some have directed the fire at Smart, when the angst should instead be directed toward the system in place that allows coaches like Smart to take such control over a kid’s college path.
Some, like Barrett Sallee of Bleacher Report, have defended Smart for doing what many other coaches would do. Sallee also suggests the problem is the policy itself, which I agree. But we do not have to choose sides in this conversation. This issue is not a debate over who is to blame, Smart of the policy. The answer, in my mind, is both. Just because a policy may be flawed, does not make it right that coaches take advantage of it. I get these coaches who are paid millions are just doing anything and everything they can to win on the football field. It is expected they would prevent players from going to possible opponents and rivals as long as they are allowed to do so. But just because everyone else is doing it, does that make it OK?
The plan I would have for transfer reform, if we want to call it that, is similar to that of the plan proposed by Kyle Kensing of CFB Huddle.
While there has to be some limitation to prevent players from jumping repeatedly like Luke Ridnour on NBA rosters, a one-time, one-questions-asked transfer should be a condition granted any athlete, save for instances of arrest.
If the NCAA is truly concerned about protecting the best interests of the student-athlete, then it is time for the organization to take a hard look at this situation the next time the rules committee gets together and shut down this policy once and for all. Doing so will not open up a free agent signing period in college football, as some may fear.
Let the players make the decision on where they go to school. Let the coaches coach.