SEC’s new transfer rule change will have immediate implications at Florida, Alabama

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 08: Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide reacts to a play during the second half against the Georgia Bulldogs in the CFP National Championship presented by AT
ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 08: Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide reacts to a play during the second half against the Georgia Bulldogs in the CFP National Championship presented by AT /

College football doesn’t start for three more months, but the Florida Gators already notched a win at Friday’s SEC meetings, while Alabama suffered a loss — at least on the surface.

The SEC voted to approve two rule changes on Friday about transfers within the conference.  Graduate transfers can now move to other SEC schools without needing a waiver from the conference and can play immediately. Players on teams facing sanctions also won’t be forced to sit a year if they transfer to other SEC teams.

It’s great news for Florida, who brought in former Ole Miss wide receiver Van Jefferson. He is one of a slew of transfers fleeing sanctions at Ole Miss, and instantly becomes the most established wideout on Florida’s roster.  His 42 catches for 456 yards would have led the team last season. The redshirt junior should pair with junior Tyrie Cleveland to give first-year head coach Dan Mullen some stability on offense.

Meanwhile, Alabama’s attempt to block a transfer was once again thwarted. Two years ago the Crimson Tide tangled with Georgia over defensive back Maurice Smith. The SEC eventually stepped in and awarding Smith a waiver to play for the Bulldogs. This year, Alabama blocked former four-star offensive lineman Brandon Kennedy, who graduated in December, from contacting other SEC schools.

Friday’s rule change permits Kennedy to play wherever he chooses next season, with Tennessee and Auburn reportedly interested. Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban, in his typical, cantankerous fashion, chafed both at the public outcry over his decision and the potential rule change on Tuesday.

"“If we agree in the SEC in these meetings that we’re going to have free agency in our league and everybody can go wherever they want to go when they graduate and that’s what’s best for the game, then I think that’s what we should do,” Saban said. “Then Brandon Kennedy can go wherever he wants to go. But if we don’t do that, why is it on me?”"

Despite Kennedy’s likely SEC transfer and Saban’s passive-aggressive shot at “free agency” in college football, Alabama could benefit in the long run from Friday’s rule changes.

If the point of free agency is to allow players to choose the destination that’s best for them, it’s hard to imagine any other school besides Alabama being at the top of that list — a point Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples astutely noted.

"“If he can somehow manage to overcome his strident objection, Saban probably would have his pick of graduates from Arkansas or Kentucky or Vanderbilt should such a school have an accomplished—but not quite accomplished enough to leave for the NFL—player at a position where Alabama needs some experience. That would be great for the player, who would get to finish his career at a program that didn’t think he was good enough out of high school, and for the Crimson Tide, which could fill an immediate need with a proven talent.”"

Overall, Saban’s concerns about free agency are overwrought. Undergraduate transfers without hardship waivers from the NCAA will still be forced to sit out a year before playing. That’s as coaches can still jump from program to program with more pay and no repercussions.

The new rules don’t do anything to threaten Alabama’s iron grip of the SEC and college football. They’ll find a way to use these rule changes to their advantage.

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