It one of the fastest rulings in NCAA history, the organization ruled that Justin Fields will not have to sit out a season as was once the norm when transferring from one school to another.
Fields was the top- rated quarterback in last year’s recruiting cycle. He committed and signed with the University of Georgia knowing well that the Bulldogs had an established starting quarterback that just took his team to the national championship game. After one season in Athens, Fields entered his name into the transfer portal and transferred to Ohio State.
For years, a player deciding to change schools had to sit out one season before they could play at their new school. This rule was in place to discourage wide-spread transferring. There were, of course, exceptions to the rule. In rare cases, the season of waiting was waived if a player could make a compelling case for the need to transfer. Such exceptions would be scenarios like having a sick parent they wanted to move closer to so they could be there to help or if a school was put on probation by the NCAA taking away post-season play.
In the case of Justin Fields, the early news was that he and his attorney would use racism as their reason for exception to the rule. It seems some idiot yelled racial slurs at the young man during a football game in Athens. This reason would almost certainly result in a waiver by the NCAA. The organization would want no part of refusing such a request nor should they.
Justin’s attorney has claimed that their case did not involve the claim of racism or anything negative toward the University of Georgia. Then what
exactly was their case? He is not moving closer to home or family. Georgia is not on probation. In fact, he would even have his head coach and position coach still in place.
Fields is transferring for one reason and everyone knows what it is, he couldn’t win the starting job at Georgia. Nobody believes that he would have transferred if he had finished the season as the starting quarterback.
Jake Fromm made it clear that the job was his for the rest of his time in Athens, so, Fields transferred. It is as simple as that.
One year ago, the University of Florida had to wait into August and preseason practice for two wide receiver transfers to get their cases decided by the NCAA. At the same time, Jacob Eason began his season of sitting out for having transferred from Georgia to the University of Washington.
With this latest ruling in Fields’ favor, the NCAA has for all practical purposes created unfettered free agency in college football. I am certain that there are plenty out there who believe these players should be free to
change schools at will and I am not sure I disagree.
However, the University of Georgia put a lot of time, effort and resources into Justin Fields. Now the Bulldogs have no realistic backup at quarterback if Fromm gets injured. It is not unreasonable to expect some responsibility to go along with a scholarship.
Losing one player to transfer isn’t a huge deal and UGA will survive just fine, but the number of players entering the transfer portal has increased dramatically in just a couple of years. This ruling will only increase that number exponentially.
The result of widespread transfers will be evident on the football field eventually. At this rate, it is may become very difficult for some schools to develop any kind of depth as players transfer out if they fail to win the starting job at their position. And even though the top schools like Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Ohio State have already lost highly ranked recruits to transfer, it will not be the perennial powerhouse teams that get hurt if this escalates. Sure, some blue-chip prospects who do not win starting jobs will leave these schools, but these schools will also be able to cherry pick the lesser programs for their best players. A three-star prospect who suddenly develops into a star at a school like Duke or Illinois can transfer to a top program in the SEC to showcase their talents in primetime every week. The rich will just get richer and vice versa. With the number of transfers this is likely to become, the NCAA will need to increase the scholarship limit for every school to retain any semblance of viable depth on these rosters or at least allow scholarship exemptions for teams to rebuild after losing multiple players to the transfer portal.
The next player that gets denied the waiver on his transfer should sue the NCAA and demand to know why Justin Fields did not have to sit out. In fact, Fields’ transfer to Ohio State pushed quarterback Tate Martell to transfer from Columbus to Miami. Martell has requested a waiver to play immediately.
With the Fields ruling, it will be virtually impossible for the NCAA to force any transferring player to sit out a season. The Pandora’s Box of college football free agency has been thrown open now and it will be difficult if not impossible to slam that lid back shut. I do not blame Justin Fields for wanting to play nor do I blame the Buckeyes for wanting to have him available immediately, but I will be surprised if this does not go in a direction that is harmful to college football in the future.