At 9:37 a.m. on May 8 — 90 minutes before Ohio State quarterback Joe Burrow announced his intentions to transfer — an LSU athletic department employee received an email from his counterpart at Ohio State.
“I hope all is well in Baton Rouge,” the email read. “Attached is a permission to contact letter for Joe Burrow.”
The Advocate received a copy of the email and the attached letter through a public-records request.
“In accordance with NCAA Bylaw 188.8.131.52, this letter shall serve as permission for staff members of the following institutions to contact Joe Burrow regarding a possible transfer to your institution and participating on your football team.”
Listed were two names: Cincinnati and LSU.
The flirtation with and ultimate signing of Burrow to LSU’s football team has sent the Tigers' fan base into a frenzy and has some asking a relevant question: Why did LSU need to obtain permission to speak with, and later host on a visit, a transferring football player who graduated in three years from his previous school?
That’s a primary topic on the agenda at the Southeastern Conference meetings beginning Monday in Destin, Florida.
“Transfers issues,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said in an interview last month, “those will be front and center.”
The NCAA Division I Council will vote at its next meeting in June on a proposal to abolish the bylaw allowing schools to control the destination of transferring athletes — something commonly referred to as blocking transfers.
Blocking transfers is not rare in college football, but only recently has attention — and scrutiny — fallen on the coaches who restrict their transferring players from speaking to or visiting potential landing spots. In most of these cases, coaches block players from transferring to schools within the same conference or those on their future schedules.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron has restricted at least one transferring player, barring tackle Willie Allen last spring from leaving for TCU. Allen instead went to junior college before landing this spring at Louisiana Tech.
Kansas State coach Bill Snyder came under fire last year for denying a player from transferring to a list of 35 destinations he presented to the coach. Alabama coach Nick Saban is blocking a graduate transfer for the second time in two years, according to AL.com. He’s restricting lineman Brandon Kennedy from speaking with in-conference schools Auburn and Tennessee.
The NCAA Transfer Working Group has been mulling potential changes to transfer bylaws for more than a year, and Sankey made clear last month the SEC’s stance on the issue: Coaches should not be allowed to stop players from transferring to certain destinations.
Welcome to Louisiana, Joe Burrow.
“We need to move away from that. The hard part becomes the mechanics for people. Is it just, ‘Go where you want?’ ” Sankey said. “The ability to control communication destination and financial aid upon departure is a piece that needs to change. … I think the Transfer Working Group has some work to do to figure out what that mechanic might be.”
There are several alterations to the transfer policy being discussed.
The Transfer Working Group in April expressed “strong support” for two potential changes: (1) schools should not bar transfers, and (2) athletes who sign national letters of intent should be allowed to transfer and play immediately if their head coach leaves. The working group says it continues to discuss allowing transfers to play immediately if they reach a benchmark GPA.
As a college student in New York, Sankey himself transferred as a sophomore. So he understands athletes need to “make adjustments even at young points in life,” he said.
Still, there are plenty of questions that linger, some of which could be answered, for the SEC anyway, in Destin.
“We have differences in year-in-residence (year off). Should that remain?” Sankey said. “Again, I think that’s part of the operational piece.”
Athletes transferring from one Football Bowl Subdivision school to another require a year-in-residence before being eligible to play. At LSU, three players sat out in fall 2017: defensive lineman Breiden Fehoko, receiver Jonathan Giles and tight end Thaddeus Moss.
Players who have graduated are able to transfer and play immediately — like Burrow or Stanford transfer-turned-LSU cornerback Terrence Alexander, who signed with the Tigers last month and is eligible for 2018. Graduate or not, the transferring player must seek permission to communicate with another school, as Burrow did for LSU and Cincinnati.
Many expect the NCAA to vote to change that legislation. It would take effect Oct. 15. Part of the proposal is the creation of a national database for transferring athletes. Schools would enter the name of an athlete who has announced they plan to transfer. The database, accessible to all schools, would make it known which athletes wish to be recruited by other schools.
“We have strong support from the membership for allowing student-athletes to transfer and be recruited without losing their scholarships,” said Justin Sell, South Dakota State athletic director and working group chair, in a statement. “We will ask the Division I Council to move forward with a vote on that proposal in June. This is meaningful change that will benefit student-athletes, schools and coaches.”
Transfer policies aren’t the only issues likely to arise in Destin among SEC coaches and administrators, Sankey said. College basketball recruiting will be a topic of discussion following the release of the Rice commission’s report last month, the result of an FBI investigation into the sport.
Time will be spent on football officiating and rule changes, such as the significant alteration of the kickoff: players can now fair catch a kickoff to take possession at the 25-yard line.