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How 5-star Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson *might* become eligible to play for Michigan in 2018

He doesn’t meet specific criteria, but the NCAA could allow it anyway.

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Mississippi Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

The blockbuster transfer of this college football offseason is already happening. That’s Ole Miss quarterback Shea Patterson leaving Oxford for Ann Arbor.

Patterson was the No. 1 quarterback in the class of 2016. He’s a rising junior, and he’ll carry this line into his next start: 238-of-392 passing (61 percent) for 3,139 yards (8 per throw), 23 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, and a 141.2 rating. Patterson’s got a great arm and good athleticism. He’ll thrive under Jim Harbaugh.

The biggest question about Patterson: When will he play next? The NCAA almost always requires a transfer to sit out the first season at a new school.

Ole Miss’ ongoing NCAA sanctions don’t make him immediately eligible.

Ole Miss is banned from the postseason in 2018. So players whose last year of college eligibility is 2018 can transfer and play immediately, according to an NCAA rule (and as confirmed by the organization after the sanctions came out).

The rule makes it so athletes aren’t barred from the postseason for the entire remainder of their college careers. But a redshirt-free Patterson’s last year of eligibility would be 2019, when Ole Miss is bowl-eligible again.

There’s no other exception to the rule that clearly fits Patterson.

The most common is for students who’ve graduated. Patterson’s too early in his career for that. There are three other explicit waivers to the sit-out-a-year rule:

  • Players who transfer “for reasons of health.”
  • Players who transfer because poor Academic Progress Report scores meant postseason bans for all of the player’s remaining seasons. This doesn’t apply.
  • Players who lose eligibility after a violation of recruiting regulations at their old school, if they can demonstrate that they were innocent — or only had “inadvertent involvement.”

Ole Miss is in trouble for violating recruiting regulations. But Patterson didn’t lose eligibility and wasn’t implicated in any violations, so it’s hard to see how that one would apply.

But the NCAA could decide to make Patterson eligible anyway.

ESPN writes that Patterson has to apply for an “individual waiver” if he wants to play. That’s not an NCAA term, but Patterson has nothing to lose by trying.

SB Nation asked the NCAA what avenues might exist for a four-year college transfer to become eligible immediately at a new school, if he’s not a grad student and doesn’t meet any of the specific criteria for a waiver. A spokeswoman sent back this note:

In addition to the rules [mentioned above], there is also a waiver process available. Schools can submit waivers to the national office if they believe there are special circumstances that warrant an exception to the rule, such as some sort of abuse at the prior school. Because we cannot contemplate every type of mitigation that may be presented, these are considered on a case-by-case basis by the staff. There is always an appeal opportunity to a committee of members if the school does not agree with the waiver decision.

The Division I Council’s Subcommittee for Legislative Relief would be the group to hear Patterson’s case. Michigan would have to apply on his behalf and make the case that “special circumstances” warrant immediate eligibility.

However the NCAA rules on Patterson could be the same as on any other Ole Miss undergrads who transfer.

That subcommittee has the power to “exercise reasonable discretion in evaluating cases and allow consideration of mitigating factors” when deciding whether to grant waivers. That discretion’s not supposed to apply to cases of transfers from four-year colleges. Here’s all the paperwork, if you’re interested in reading it.

But the NCAA can do what it wants anyway, because it’s ultimately answerable only to itself on these decisions.

“From what I’m hearing, I’m pretty sure that I will win that and be able to play next year,” Patterson’s said. “If I don’t, I’ll work as hard as I can learning the offense and I’ll be playing the year after.”

If the NCAA decides Patterson being forced to sit out a season would look bad or be bad, it doesn’t have to force him to sit.

Other Big Ten East schools might not like it, but those teams don’t have the power to do anything other than say that out loud.