After the NCAA imposed sanctions on Ole Miss’ football program in December, a handful of players announced their intention to transfer. The NCAA’s punishment included a bowl ban for 2018, and NCAA rules permit players to transfer without sitting out a season if a postseason ban runs through the end of their eligibility. That meant free transfers for rising seniors, but the NCAA has also let a handful of underclassmen play elsewhere in 2018.
Prized quarterback Shea Patterson transferred to Michigan, and the NCAA has already approved an immediate eligibility waiver for him. The NCAA has also cleared five other ex-Ole Miss players for 2018, their lawyer told CBS Sports: Houston defensive back Deontay Anderson, UCF receiver Tre Nixon, Georgia Tech offensive linemen Jack DeFoor, Nebraska defensive back Breon Dixon, and UAB running back Jarrion Street. According to CBS, Florida will soon apply for a waiver for former Ole Miss receiver Van Jefferson.
The NCAA’s general rule for football players is they have to sit out a season upon transferring, unless they’ve already graduated or qualify for a specific exception.
The Ole Miss underclass transfers don’t clearly fit into any of those buckets, but that hasn’t mattered, because the NCAA is empowered to do pretty much whatever it wants.
The process that led to immediate eligibility for most of these players isn’t public, but based on Patterson’s case, it probably involved some work between their new schools and Ole Miss. A player’s former school is typically able to prevent him from playing right away at his new school, because NCAA rules almost always give schools more power than players.
At least a couple of the Ole Miss transfers sought immediate eligibility on the grounds that former coach Hugh Freeze’s administration had misled them as recruits about the danger Ole Miss faced from NCAA investigators. Patterson’s eligibility reportedly came through after his camp dropped that particular rationale. After the QB got his eligibility, his lawyer credited Ole Miss for helping to make it happen. Ole Miss’ athletic director Ross Bjork said:
“Our biggest thing was we wanted to work with Michigan directly. We were able to do that and reach a resolution. We’ve admitted all along that our program has gone through some challenges. While Shea was here, we had a coaching change in July. If that impacted his well-being and he didn’t want to be here, we wish him the best and didn’t want to stand in the way of it.”
There’s no good reason these players shouldn’t be allowed to play now.
It’s good that they can. This is the right thing.