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The SEC and/or Alabama should let Brandon Kennedy transfer wherever

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The Alabama lineman reportedly wants to transfer to Auburn or Tennessee. Various organizations’ rules are getting in his way.

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Alabama offensive lineman Brandon Kennedy is an attractive transfer target. Kennedy was a four-star recruit in the class of 2015, and he’s spent three years building himself up with the Crimson Tide.

Kennedy was a redshirt sophomore in 2017 and was slated to spend the season as the Tide’s backup center. But injuries limited him to three appearances, and his bio on Alabama’s website says Kennedy received a medical redshirt after the season. In theory, that leaves him with three seasons of college eligibility remaining. He’s spent three years at Bama.

Kennedy wants to play in the SEC, which complicates things.

The schools at the top of his list are Tennessee and Auburn, according to various reports.

He graduated from Alabama in December. Under NCAA transfer rules, that makes him eligible to play immediately at whichever school he goes to next.

But the SEC has its own transfer rules, which say players who transfer from one SEC school to another have to sit out a season, unless they get a waiver:

A transfer student from a member institution shall not be eligible for intercollegiate competition at another member institution until the student has fulfilled a residence requirement of one full academic year (two full semesters) at the certifying institution. Further, a transfer student-athlete admitted after the 12th class day may not utilize that semester for the purpose of establishing residency. Student-athletes meeting the terms of [the relevant NCAA rules] may seek a waiver of the provisions of this bylaw.

The SEC would have to make an exception to let Kennedy play immediately at either Auburn or Tennessee. As recently as May 21, Alabama was reportedly blocking Kennedy from even communicating with the Tigers or Vols. The Tide are allowed to dictate where Kennedy can play, thanks to NCAA rules, and hadn’t given him the necessary “permission to contact.”

Nick Saban said at the SEC’s spring meetings Tuesday that Kennedy “can go where he wants to go” but indicated that it was on the SEC to move the process along.

The Tide coach said “I always give people releases” and brought up Maurice Smith, a grad-transfer defensive back who moved from Alabama to Georgia two years ago. The Tide blocked Smith for a while, then decided to let him go. His immediate eligibility then hinged on the SEC giving him a waiver or not, and the conference eventually did.

If the powers that be don’t do right by Kennedy, he could lose on two fronts.

The first front: He might not get his first choice of schools. Alabama should be chill and let Kennedy go wherever he wants, as Saban has indicated the Tide will do.

The second front is more complicated. Because Kennedy has already been in college for three years, he might only have two years left to play out his career, if he has to sit out a year.

As a general rule, the NCAA requires athletes to complete their four seasons of on-field play within a five-year period. Injuries can extend that clock, but only one of the two redshirt years Kennedy has taken so far was because of injury. He also redshirted as a true freshman in 2015. If the SEC forced Kennedy to sit out in 2018, he’d effectively be a triple-redshirt: once as a true freshman, once for injuries, and once as a transfer.

Here’s what Kennedy’s first five years in college would look like if the SEC made him sit:

  • 2015: Redshirted as a true freshman
  • 2016: Played as a redshirt freshman
  • 2017: Was injured as redshirt sophomore, received medical redshirt
  • 2018: Sat out as a redshirt sophomore at Auburn or Tennessee
  • 2019: Played as a redshirt sophomore at his new school

The NCAA only extends the five-year clock if circumstances beyond the player’s control — like an injury — cost him more than one season of competition. The rules are explicit that redshirt years and “years in residence” after transferring do not pause a player’s five-year clock. The NCAA can always grant waivers for more, but there’s no guarantee.

Could Kennedy just pick another school and avert this problem?

Yeah.

But shouldn’t the SEC and Alabama just do what they can to let a college athlete go to school and play where he wants?

Yeah.