Column: Wild and Wylie
When the Liberty coaching staff finally looked to the bench for a quarterback during the Flames 24-0 defeat to Syracuse, their best option was not even wearing shoulder pads because the NCAA is not allowing him to play. Liberty’s most heralded transfer player, former Auburn quarterback Malik Willis, was denied his appeal to play immediately after transferring to Hugh Freeze’s program and is ineligible to compete in the 2019-2020 season. Because of this, Flames fans are forced to see their talented SEC recruit ride the bench this year.
While transferring players can apply for a waiver to play immediately, in most cases they are required to sit out for an entire season at their new program. The only certain option for a Football Bowl Subdivision college football player to play immediately is if they are transferring as a graduate student, like Jalen Hurts did this year when he left Alabama for Oklahoma.
Most college coaches support the rule because it keeps players from constantly changing teams and gives programs more stability with the athletes they recruit. Other proponents of the rule cite how the rule benefits smaller universities, by helping them keep their players from being snatched away by larger, powerhouse programs.
But the one-year transfer rule is a burden to the unpaid labor force of college football – the players – who have a multitude of reasons, both football and otherwise, why transferring might be the best decision for their career and life. Program stability is important, and it would be bad for college football if star players hopped from program to program year after year. But allowing each player one free transfer during their undergraduate college career would be a compromise to both protect players and give some much-needed freedom to players.
No other on-campus job at a college requires a transfer to sit out a year. A transfer-student facilities employee does not wait a year before cutting the grass on a football field and a transfer-student journalist does not have to wait a year before covering that game for his or her campus newspaper. So why do the transfer-student athletes?
Every January, after the last Bowl game is played, the “coaching carousel” begins, where prominent coaches move to the NFL or take more money at other programs, and up-and-coming coaches try to use their success at smaller universities to propel themselves into a big-name coaching destination. They face no consequences for changing teams, and it seems hypocritical for them to have flexibility but for their players to be locked into their original commitments.
By allowing transfers, college football runs the risk of having players be recruited and re-recruited every year. It’s not hard to imagine a D-II prospect having a breakout season at a smaller university, prompting Alabama and Clemson to come with offers if that player agrees to transfer.
For players who dream of playing professional football, the university they play for impacts the quality of coaching they receive and effects how much national attention they are exposed to. A defensive end at Alabama is more likely to go pro than even the best defensive player at a Football Championship Subdivision or Division II school.
Because their careers are so dependent on what college they attend, players should have some flexibility with decisions that affect their future. While idealistic football fans may expect players to show loyalty to the teams they play for, the reality is that college football is simply a means to an end for these players who aspire to play in the NFL.
The solution is simple: give players one transfer with no consequence. That way, if they exceed expectations at a smaller school, they can maximize their talent by joining an elite team. If the coach who recruited a player leaves or the player loses their starting spot, they can look for somewhere where they feature more prominently. That’s why Willis transferred to Liberty.
Knowing the legacy of new Head Coach Hugh Freeze, Willis chose to leave Auburn, where he was fighting for his playing time, and came to Liberty, where he believes he will have the chance to feature prominently in the Freeze offense. But due to this restrictive rule, he will have to continue to wait before he finally gets his shot.