HOOVER, Ala. — Will Muschamp didn’t necessarily expect this.
After all, it’s not every day, not every year, not every career, even, that the coach and athletic director of an opposing conference school asks for one of your players.
That’s what happened during this year's Southeastern Conference Spring Meeting. Arkansas’ head coach, Bret Bielema, and athletic director, Jeff Long, approached Muschamp with an unusual request.
They asked whether the South Carolina coach would allow senior running back David Williams to transfer to the Razorbacks — an inner-conference move that’s rarely done, even by a player, like Williams, who had graduated.
What did Muschamp say? “Absolutely,” the coach recalled.
“Give the guy an opportunity, if that's what he wants to do,” the second-year Gamecocks coach continued. “David's a good football player. I think that they'll find that they got a good one.”
This is a rare and unusual story, a unique look at a hot-button issue this college football offseason: the control that coaches have on transferring players’ new homes. Muschamp could very well have blocked Williams from transferring inside the SEC — a coaching decision that’s quite common.
HOOVER, Ala. — One of the players at Southeastern Conference media days Thursday was not lik…
Some coaches block players from transferring to schools outside of the conference, too. That’s what happened earlier this summer with former LSU tackle Willie Allen. Coach Ed Orgeron blocked Allen from transferring to his top choice, TCU, after the Horned Frogs made what LSU officials said was impermissible contact with Allen before LSU gave him his release.
Kansas State coach Bill Snyder caused a national buzz after it emerged that he blocked a transfer from 35 schools. The backlash forced Snyder to reconsider his stance.
The rule allowing coaches to control a player's transfer destination is one under so much scrutiny that the NCAA created a “working group” to investigate the policy.
“We have an interest in learning what that group will discuss and decide over the next 10 to 12 months,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said. “From their meeting two weeks ago, we saw a set of concepts, one of which was the idea that financial aid should not be tied to whether a school grants permission to contact. That's one of those control points in transfers. I think it's time for that to be not only discussed, but I think that's something that should move forward from my perspective.”
Coaches aren’t completely against a change to the policy, but they do fear the development of “free agency” in college football, they said this week at Southeastern Conference media days.
That’s a term many of them used during interviews at the Wynfrey Hotel. If the rule is completely nixed, what’s stopping opposing conference schools — or others — from recruiting players off your team, Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen asked.
“I don’t think we need to have free agency within our conference. You look at the coaches, and that’s what they’re against,” Mullen said. “I don’t want to sit here (and have to) worry about Tennessee recruiting (my players). I’m worried about signing day, but I’m worried about Tennessee or South Carolina recruiting my senior class.”
Would that really happen?
“I think any time you pass things, there’s a lot of unwritten consequences that might occur and consequences you don’t think about right now,” Mullen replied. “The possibility of something like that happening is not good for the game of football.”
Graduate transfers, like Williams, would likely be the target. Players who graduate from a four-year university are free to transfer and play immediately at another four-year school, if released by their current coach. Non-graduate transfers must sit out one year in adherence with NCAA policy.
Allen, the former John Curtis tackle who left the Tigers this summer, is part of the latter group. He enrolled at a Texas junior college in order to play this season. He’ll be eligible, potentially, to join TCU next season, bypassing LSU’s attempt to block him.
It's normal protocol for coaches to block players from transferring within the conference, but that didn’t stop Muschamp. In fact, Arkansas and South Carolina, despite being in opposite divisions, play each other this season.
Muschamp has blocked players before.
“I don’t have a policy. I think every situation is different,” he said Thursday, the final day of the four-day event. “I don’t think you can ever clump all transfers into one thing. David is a young man that did everything right. I didn’t want to penalize David. Josh Shaw is a young man that played for me at Florida, had a death in the family. He’s from San Diego and transferred back to Southern Cal. I petitioned the NCAA for him to be immediately eligible, and he was granted his eligibility. I think all situations are different, and it’s all based on that coach and what he thinks.”
Mullen said he thinks players should never be blocked. He claimed that he has never blocked a player from transferring.
Missouri’s Barry Odom, in his second year with the Tigers, said coaching departures must be considered — something players mentioned in interviews this week.
“For me, it would depend situation to situation,” Arkansas senior lineman Frank Ragnow said. “It’s a crazy world because a head coach can leave whenever he wants, but it’s just different.”
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops takes a hard-line approach when it comes to the school in which a player transfers. He suggested that a school be forced to pay at least two years for a transferring player. Now, schools can pay just one year for a graduate transfer. Players should only transfer for academic reasons, he said, and they should be redshirted their first year at their new school with the ability to play the second year.
“I might suggest that, if they want to transfer for academic reasons, maybe redshirt them and give them two years. Redshirt them first year and play the next year," he said. "Let's help these guys. Redshirt them and make that school pay for two years and play one."