Should a walk-on be punished for transferring? Texas Tech quarterback Baker Mayfield seems to have been.
Texas Tech Red Raiders quarterback Baker Mayfield
Matthew Emmons / USA TODAY Sports
By Keith Whitmire
Baker Mayfield is either: A) a valuable college quarterback , or B) not good enough to get a scholarship.
He's both, thanks to a faulty NCAA rule and Texas Tech taking full advantage of it.
Mayfield walked-on to Texas Tech last fall and opened the season as the starting quarterback. It was the kind of improbable rise they make movies out of.
He won his first five starts before getting injured, then started the final two games of the regular season. Normally that would be good enough for Mayfield to be awarded a scholarship this spring.
Yet Mayfield, in an ESPN.com interview, said he was told he wouldn't be given a scholarship in the spring and that Tech "was still working on one for next fall."
Mayfield also says he found himself splitting second-team snaps as the Red Raiders began preparation for their bowl game.
He could read the writing on the wall and decided to transfer to Oklahoma. If he has to keep paying his own way, it might as well be for the team he grew up rooting for.
But hold on. Mayfield found himself subject to the same rules as a prized scholarship recruit. If he transferred within the Big 12, not only would he be required to sit out a year as all transfers do, but he would also lose a year of eligibility.
That's a year of eligibility that he would have paid for himself, mind you.
Tech wouldn't release Mayfield to go to Oklahoma unencumbered. Last Friday, a panel of Tech administrators, faculty and other non-athletic types stood by their football program and denied Mayfield's appeal.
So the kid who's not good enough to get one of Tech's 85 football scholarships is too good to release to OU without penalty?
It doesn't make sense, but neither does the NCAA rule that treats walk-ons the same as scholarship players. If a school doesn't make a financial commitment to a student-athlete, then that student-athlete shouldn't be tethered to the school. Pretty simple.
Obviously the NCAA wants to deter student-athletes from transferring on a whim. In a sport with large numbers, unrestricted movement could result in chaos for programs. (Of course, there are no such restrictions on yanking scholarships. Coaches can do that at any time.)
Applying transfer rules to walk-ons isn't fair. There's not much competitive advantage to be gained in accepting walk-ons, kids who normally don't see much, if any, playing time.
A common retort I've seen about Mayfield's case is, "He knew the rules when he got into this." As if you should never protest a bad rule. If that were the case, we would all be singing "God Save the Queen" before games.
Mayfield has also been accused of having a sense of entitlement, and of being scared off by the competition. So he transfers to a place with even more competition? Did you see OU freshman Trevor Knight torch Alabama in the Sugar Bowl?
It's hard to imagine Mayfield transferring if Tech hadn't dragged its feet on giving him a scholarship. Maybe Tech doesn't owe him that, but the NCAA owes walk-ons a chance to compete wherever they desire. It's not like the NCAA - or anyone else - is paying for it.