It seems inevitable that it’s going to happen. It’s just a question of “when.”
In case you couldn’t tell by that vague lede, I’m referring to players being given the ability to transfer once and gain immediate eligibility. The B1G already proposed the idea, which the NCAA addressed it will vote on this spring.
Right now, it’s murky at best in terms of which undergraduate transfers receive a waiver for immediate eligibility. If you’re a high-profile quarterback who hires Thomas Mars, chances are, you’re good. If you’re a tight end who wants to go closer to home to play close to your sick grandparent, chances are, you’re in trouble.
So, that got me thinking.
If I could play genie and grant former transfers immediate eligibility after they joined the B1G, who would I pick? This isn’t necessarily a list of the best transfers of all-time.
I focused on guys who, in my opinion, got a raw deal. These guys either had new coaches come in, or their current coaches didn’t give them the time of day they deserved. In most of these scenarios, circumstances outside of their control led to them transferring and being forced to redshirt a year because of NCAA rules.
Not anymore. Genie Connor is retroactively giving these 4 B1G transfers immediate eligibility:
1. Luke Ford, Georgia to Illinois
Ford’s case was really what prompted this idea. If you recall, the 4-star tight end transferred from Georgia to Illinois after his freshman season and requested a waiver for immediate eligibility last year, citing the desire to be closer to his sick grandpa. Unfortunately, he was denied, and he spent the 2019 season on the bench.
As we found out on Tuesday, Ford’s grandpa died:
My Grandpa just passed on to a better place in heaven. Love you Papa! I’m sorry you didn’t get to see me play in person, my heart is devastated… Rest in Paradise 🌴❤️
— L U K E F O R D🇺🇸 (@lukeredx97) February 19, 2020
Man, that’s brutal.
The #FreeLukeFord movement, which was even spread by Georgia fans and was trending worldwide at one point, still wasn’t enough to get the NCAA to hear Ford’s appeal last year. Meanwhile, players like Tate Martell were granted immediate eligibility because of coaching changes.
We still essentially haven’t seen Ford play because he was on the bench at Georgia in 2018 and NCAA rules prevented him from providing an impact in Champaign in 2019. If this new rule is passed, cases like Ford’s won’t be considered such a bad look for the NCAA because it won’t be up to the organization’s ruling anymore.
Still, though. Ford has to be frustrated at the timing of how this all went down.
2. Ty Isaac, USC to Michigan
Like Ford, the former 4-star running back recruit wanted to play closer to home after his freshman season at USC. Isaac, an Illinois native, wanted to play close to his mom, who couldn’t fly after recovering from hearing loss surgery.
As outlined by MLive.com, the NCAA requires all student-athletes seeking a hardship waiver to transfer to a Division I school within 100 miles of the family member in question. Ann Arbor is more than 250 miles from Isaac’s home in Joliet. So basically, Isaac’s only Power 5 option was Northwestern. Notre Dame would’ve been on the border (it’s 100.8 miles from Joliet to South Bend), but still, that’s not exactly a long list of favorable options.
Michigan fans remember what happened in 2014 — Brady Hoke’s team crumbled and he was fired at season’s end. Would Isaac have saved Hoke’s job? No, but the offense was a disaster, and it probably could’ve used a change-of-pace back like Isaac, who racked up nearly 1,200 rushing yards during his 3 active seasons in Ann Arbor.
3. J.J. Watt, Central Michigan to Wisconsin
Remember that time when Butch Jones thought Watt was a tight end? And remember that other time when Jones thought Watt was an offensive tackle?
Yeah, no wonder Watt left Central Michigan.
Watt was a walk-on at Wisconsin, so would he have played even without the NCAA transfer rule? Probably not much, but then again, we’re talking about one of the best defensive players of the 21st century. How many snaps would he have needed to emerge? Not many. He did initially go to Central Michigan as a defensive end out of high school. Plus, he was Wisconsin’s Scout Team Player of the Year during his redshirt season.
We know that once Watt got on the field as a sophomore, he became a force. In those 2 active years in Madison, Watt racked up 35.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks. Yes, he ultimately made his presence felt.
The frustrating thing is that Watt essentially had a year of his physical prime wasted because of the NCAA. And, well, because Jones didn’t know a future Hall of Fame defender when he saw one.
4. Jeff George, Purdue to Illinois
George transferred before transferring was cool. He had a pretty good reason to make a switch, too. After his freshman season in West Lafayette, Purdue coach Leon Burtnett resigned. In stepped former Texas coach Fred Akers, who ran a triple-option offense. George didn’t want to stick around of that.
As a former Gatorade National Player of the Year, he had his options. After initially committing to Miami (FL), he went to Illinois because he had a clearer path to the starting job. The irony was that in 1987, George sat because of NCAA transfer rules and watched Illinois’ non-existent offense crumble to a 3-7 season … which ended with coach Mike White resigning amidst recruiting violations.
George stayed at Illinois and took over the starting job for the Illini in 1988 (he was on his fourth head coach). In 1989, he led the program to its second top-10 finish in the previous 25 years. Even better, he left school a year early and was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1990 NFL Draft.
All things considered, things could’ve turned out much worse for the Indianapolis native.