On Wednesday evening, Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey announced in a statement that all transfer waiver requests that were submitted, challenging the longstanding rule against intraconference movement, had been approved due to the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In consideration of current circumstances resulting from disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, including eligibility relief provided to student-athletes in August by the NCAA, and in anticipation of changes to NCAA transfer legislation, the Southeastern Conference today approved a number of transfer waiver requests that originated from member institutions seeking exceptions to the long-standing Conference bylaw that requires intraconference transfers serve a year in residence before being eligible to compete.
It must be stated unequivocally that these approvals are solely a reflection of the unique circumstances present and should not be interpreted as endorsement of the rationale set forth by individuals seeking these waivers. These are unprecedented times in which decisions about eligibility and competitive opportunities demand consideration of the current challenges facing our student-athletes and schools as a result of COVID-19. In a non-COVID environment there may have been a different outcome for some of the waiver requests determined today.
Our member institutions have been clear in the past that they oppose immediate eligibility for intraconference transfers. Given the increased number of waiver requests this year, and a changing national landscape related to student-athlete transfer issues, it is evident that the current transfer bylaw must undergo a thorough review by Conference membership in the most timely manner possible and prior to the 2021-22 academic year.
This of course means that former Georgia Bulldog, now Ole Miss Rebel, Otis Reese has been declared eligible to play in the 2020 season by the conference. Our man Otis has been campaigning for months now since he transferred to Oxford way back when in January and he finally got the first piece of good news.
And the timing couldn’t be any better either, coming a week after the No. 5-ranked Florida Gators racked up over 600 yards of total offense against the Rebs. The secondary was torched every which way.
Reese, a 6-foot-2, 215-pounder, would have certainly helped in the effort to slow down Kyle Trask and Kyle Pitts from running all over the Vaught-Hemingway Stadium turf, but now he can turn his attention to slowing down the Kentucky Wildcats and the rest of the Ole Miss schedule moving forward.
Alas, this is great news, right?!
Well, in the words of the legendary Lee Corso, “NOT SO FAST, MY FRIEND!”
The SEC granting Reese immediate eligibility is the first step in this case, but typically, it is the second step. In a normal progression of the asinine transfer process, the NCAA would first approve a player’s waiver before the conference would second the approval.
However, in this instance, the NCAA continues to keep its head buried in the sand and has yet to issue a decision on Reese’s eligibility. The radio silence is nothing new to the process, but the ongoing questions surrounding the Georgia native have been unanswered since January. The campaign to #FreeOtisReese ramped up throughout the summer as other incoming Rebel transfers were approved before him and similar decisions were made around the country. J.T. Daniels, Marcel Brooks, Taulia Tagovailoa, Phil Jurkovec, Tay Martin, Raheem Blacksheer, Joey Gatewood, Cade Mays........ the list of players who transferred around or after Reese and have been approved to play goes on.
At this point, it’s pretty clear that the NCAA has no rhyme or reason to its unproductive and senseless transfer rules, or it has a visceral vendetta against Ole Miss. There is really no in between.
So, while Wednesday’s ruling by Sankey and the SEC is a move in the right direction, it’s not exactly clear what’s next and the waiting game continues. Reese is allowed to play by the conference but not the ‘governing body’ that oversees it, putting Lane Kiffin and the program in a precarious position.
Ole Miss travels to Kentucky this weekend. The Wildcats are a beatable bunch, but quarterback Terry Wilson completed 24 of his 37 pass attempts for 239 yards and a touchdown against Auburn last weekend. It isn’t quite the 416 yards that Trask dropped on the Rebel secondary, but it’s not that far off and came against a much more talented Tiger secondary. The Kentucky offense is going to find a groove against Ole Miss, like every team (outside of maybe Vanderbilt and Arkansas) will, and score points. If Reese is back there to lock down the Cats’ receiving core, perhaps things will go a little better?
It is now Thursday afternoon, and it doesn’t appear like a decision will come before Saturday. Does Reese travel with the team and prepare as if he will hear back tomorrow? Can Ole Miss play him anyway and avoid ramifications? Will Kiffin and co-defensive coordinators D.J. Durkin and Chris Partridge keep him out of practice and walkthroughs, knowing they have to focus on improving the players who are able to suit up?
This entire situation is ridiculous from top to bottom, and as frustrating as it is for the team and its fans, imagine how Reese feels. He just wants to play. It can be assumed that he will don the pads for the Rebels at some point this season, but that’s not enough.
Do better, NCAA.