On Friday afternoon, the SEC put a bow on the Maurice Smith transfer saga. The former Alabama DB, a grad transfer, has been granted a conditional waiver to Southeastern Conference rules that will permit Smith to transfer to the University of Georgia to pursue a graduate degree while having the option to complete his final year of athletic eligibility in either 2016 or 2017, with provisions dependent on the achievement of Smith’s stated academic objectives should he play in 2016.
“Graduate transfer rules were established with the intent to be grounded in the academic interests of the student-athlete,” said SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey. “This conditional waiver permits Maurice Smith to receive financial aid to pursue his stated academic goals at the school of his choice while connecting his athletic participation directly to those goals.”
The Smith story has been quite the soap opera the past few weeks with the back-and-forth between Smith’s family and Alabama after the DB was being blocked to transfer to UGA, where former Bama defensive coaches Kirby Smart and Mel Tucker now work.
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If Smith couldn’t be cleared to attend Georgia, he was strongly considering Miami, which was the program Smart was blocking transfers from considering since UGA’s old coach Mark Richt now coaches there.
Georgia requested the SEC make an exception to two SEC bylaws for Smith, one that requires incoming transfers to have at least two years of eligibility remaining and the second that requires student-athletes that transfer from one SEC institution to another SEC institution to sit out a full academic year prior to competing.
The waiver grants Smith a graduate-student exemption to SEC Bylaw 14.1.15 (Two-Year Eligibility), which requires a student-athlete to have at least two years of eligibility remaining to be eligible to receive financial aid, practice and compete. Based on the waiver, Smith will be allowed to receive financial aid and practice with Georgia immediately.
Smith is required to enroll in his stated degree program, the Master of Public Health graduate program, as a full-time student and must earn all possible Academic Progress Rate (APR) points for each term of his enrollment. If the APR points are not earned, the university may not utilize the graduate-student exemption in football until after the 2019-20 academic year.
The waiver also grants provisional relief to SEC Bylaw 184.108.40.206 (Transferring within the Southeastern Conference), which governs intra-conference transfers. The bylaw requires a student-athlete to spend one full academic year in residence at the institution to which he/she is transferring. The conditions of the waiver state that Smith may play in 2017 as outlined by the bylaw, or he may play in 2016 contingent on completing at least nine credits of graduate level coursework in his degree program during the fall 2016 semester, and ultimately achieving his stated goal of earning a graduate degree in Public Health.
If Smith plays in 2016 and fails to complete nine hours of coursework, he will not be eligible for postseason competition. If he fails to graduate prior to the beginning of the 2018-19 academic year, Georgia would be precluded from requesting a waiver of either the two-year eligibility requirement or the intra-conference transfer rule for a graduate transfer in football until the beginning of the 2021-22 academic year (three years) or Smith’s graduation from the graduate program, whichever comes first.