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Thursday, September 28, 2023


Point/Counterpoint: The SEC Transfer Rule

When the Southeastern Conference passed a new rule banning the acceptance of incoming student-athlete transfers with a history of discipline for domestic violence or sexual assault, they set a new precedence for the collegiate level.

First proposed by the University of Georgia, this change will apply to transfers from both NCAA schools and junior colleges, and sets new expectations for conference schools to establish new conduct policies for current and prospective student-athletes.

In the competitive world of sports, talent can trump all at times, allowing some questionable characters to slide by.

Take for example, former four-star recruit Jonathan Taylor, a talented defensive lineman dismissed from Georgia following an arrest for felony domestic violence, who later enrolled at the University of Alabama.

While second chances are honorable, the programs that offer them take risks at signing such players, and the risk never had a chance to pay off for Alabama, as Taylor was again arrested and ultimately dismissed from the program.

While one may understand why players like Taylor are brought in for another chance by these high profile programs, there is more to sports than just winning.

“It’s well-documented across all sports, especially professional sports — behavior issues really can hurt your brand,” University of Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said, in a report from ESPN. “So trying to protect that and trying to do the right thing, and also understand that they are kids, it’s a balancing act.”

Certainly not all student-athletes are troublemakers, but some have had more than a few run-ins with the law, and with a bright spotlight on the SEC, they look to set a new standard.

“We should be a leader nationally to say, ‘Let’s do the right thing, and let’s have integrity, and let’s hold these kids and these young kids — men and women — to the highest standards possible.’ There’s nothing wrong with that,” Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork said, according to ESPN.com.

Domestic violence and sexual assault are serious issues currently plaguing our society, and the SEC has taken a huge step forward on its part by setting an example for others to follow in the collegiate sports world.

However, while the merit of the new rule is undoubted, the conference has now opened itself up for other conferences to close the gap competitively. 

The SEC has long been one of the leading conferences at the collegiate level, particularly in football, where many programs are just behind the pros.

For a student-athlete, joining an SEC team can be a testament to being among the elite at your sport.

While there is certainly some wisdom in the new rule, implementing an all-out ban could turn the SEC’s loss into another conference’s gain.

English poet Alexander Pope once said “to err is human; to forgive, divine”, and athletes are no different, so young student-athletes certainly deserve the chance to learn from their errs.

Zach Mettenberger, former quarterback in the SEC, is a prime example of such a player.

Once, Mettenberger was competing for the starting job at Georgia, but one incident at a bar his freshman year changed everything for the promising QB.

He pled guilty to two counts of misdemeanor sexual battery and was soon dismissed from UGA.

Mettenberger paid for his mistakes, and after one season at community college, he made it back to the SEC in 2011, transferring to LSU.

There he became one the top QB’s in the SEC, led his team to a 19-6 record, became a two-time team captain, and ultimately, a sixth-round draft pick in the NFL, all while proving himself better than the incident.

“This has been humbling,” Mettenberger told ESPN of his experience. “It makes you realize how quickly it can all go away.”

LSU took a chance on a student-athlete with ‘serious misconduct’ problems and it paid off for them; they gave a young man a chance to turn his life around and both parties emerged better for it.

While not all cases turn out like Mettenberger’s, the SEC could be shortchanging themselves if they let such opportunities pass.

Some, such as Alabama head coach Nick Saban, express concerns for the new rule as well.

Saban told AL.com that he doesn’t like the change for a number of reasons, but primarily the black-and-white nature of it.

“Now, they have a responsibility and obligation to do the right thing,” Saban said of the SEC. “But what I see happening a lot is people don’t get convicted of things. They’re condemned as soon as they get arrested, and I’m not sure that’s fair because I don’t think that’s what our country was really built on.”

If this new rule had been in place at the time of Mettenberger’s return to the SEC, he might not have been allowed to join LSU, and another league would have gained ground on them.

Any time a revolutionary rule is instituted, especially in a conference with such esteem and prestige as the SEC, the rule is subject to much scrutiny.

With their new transfer restriction, the schools of the Southeastern Conference have turned a corner in policy regarding misconduct, but it remains to be seen whether administrators, coaches, boosters and fans value integrity over victory.

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