The NCAA published a 31-page book this year, Transfer 101, and on Page 3 used red letters with this warning:
“Before you act, do your homework. Make sure you understand how transferring will effect you.”
It might have just said: Flip a coin.
Between 2007 and 2012, the NCAA granted immediate eligibility to 85 football transfers. It denied eligibility to 86, according to figures available at ESPN.
That’s almost suspicious for an organization that operates the website “eligibilitycenter.com.”
The NCAA works in such mysterious ways that a few days before it denied immediate eligibility to Arizona sophomore receiver DaVonte Neal, it granted the appeal of 2012-13 Maryland point guard Pe’Shon Howard, who will be able to play this season at USC.
Howard’s appeal included the word “ailing grandmother,” which was the term former UA point guard MoMo Jones successfully used in his play-today transfer from Arizona to Iona.
Neal’s appeal for immediate eligibility was not as dramatic. He said he left Notre Dame to be closer to his 6-month-old daughter, Baylee. A few days earlier at Louisiana Tech, citing “family issues,” former LSU receiver Paul Turner was also denied a chance to play this year.
These are loosely labeled “hardship requests,” and the NCAA moves slowly on each. Why? Because it is probably overwhelmed and surely understaffed. From 2007 to 2012, the NCAA says it processed 631 transfer cases in all Division I sports.
It approved 307 and denied 324. No wonder Neal and UA coach Rich Rodriguez were put on hold for five months.
The long and mysterious process, vetting dozens of requests simultaneously, determines if a 19-year-old college kid is merely trying to exploit a loophole. The NCAA is thus put into a judge-and-jury position. Who do you believe? Whose grandma is really ailing?
It appears that family illness trumps all.
In 2012, Illinois fullback Jay Prosch was allowed to play immediately at Auburn after his appeal included the phrase “ailing mother” nearby. Alabama quarterback Phillip Sims, citing “illness in the family,” did not have to sit out after transferring to Virginia.
Yet Iowa State basketball standout Kerwin Okoro last month was denied his plea to play immediately at Rutgers. He said he moved close to his Bronx, N.Y., home because his father and brother both died recently.
The NCAA slots transfer requests in three categories: financial, injury and illness. Death does not appear to count.
Although the UA tirelessly appealed, hopeful Neal would be able to step into RichRod’s lineup this fall, there was nagging doubt that he simply wanted to play in an offense, Arizona’s, that got him the ball more than Notre Dame ever would.
Arizona is likely to someday be happy with the NCAA’s decision. It means Neal will have eligibility as a fifth-year senior, 2016, when his physical skills are apt to peak.
But coaches live in the present. It’s understandable RichRod is eager to put Neal on the field now. Who knows if RichRod will be coaching at Arizona in 2016? Who knows if Neal won’t jump to the NFL or suffer a serious injury?
In the modern era, virtually every Arizona player who transferred from a four-year school benefited from sitting out one season.
Brad Anderson arrived from BYU in 1980, sat out 1981, and then caught 97 passes for 1,789 yards and became an All-Pac-10 receiver. The same was true for Arkansas transfer Jay Dobyns, who sat out 1981 by NCAA edict, and in his three Arizona seasons caught 103 passes.
Purdue transfer Cleveland Crosby made 164 tackles at Arizona and was a first-team all-league lineman. Oklahoma State transfer Mike Robinson made 117 tackles at Arizona and was a fourth-round NFL draftee.
Defensive lineman Anthony Smith left Alabama, sat out the ’88 season, and was not only All-Pac-10 a year later, but a first-round NFL draft pick.
Transfer quarterbacks Dan White, of Penn State, and Nick Foles, of Michigan State, were both idle for a redshirt season, and became immediate impact players once they gained eligibility.
The future isn’t necessarily now.
Three years ago, stacked up in an Oregon backfield that included LaMichael James, freshman tailback Lache Seastrunk transferred to Baylor. He appealed for immediate eligibility in 2011.
Included in his request was that he preferred to be close to both his “ailing grandmother and ailing grandfather” near Waco, Texas.
His appeal was denied.
In retrospect, it might’ve been the best thing to happen to Seastrunk. Now, more physically mature at 22, Seastrunk is coming off a 1,000-yard season and is averaging 9.3 yards per carry; he is a certifiable Heisman Trophy contender and coveted NFL draft pick.
Imagine DaVonte Neal as a fifth-year senior, returning to his hometown in a 2016 made-for-TV game against BYU at University of Phoenix Stadium.
If you’re betting on the future, the NCAA did Arizona a favor. You just won’t know it for a year or two.