SEC lifts ban on graduate school transfers despite Bernie Machen's opposition

Aaron M. Sprecher

The SEC is rightly lifting its ban on graduate transfers. Bernie Machen disagrees, and so is saying stupid things about it.

The SEC approved a change to its conference policies on Friday that will allow student-athletes who have obtained undergraduate degrees to transfer to SEC schools and be immediately eligible for athletic competition without applying for a waiver, CBS Sports's Jon Solomon reports.

This is a good thing: By doing this, the SEC is affording student-athletes who actually embody the "student" part of that euphemism the privilege of continuing their education and plying their trade at an SEC school. It brings the SEC in line with NCAA policy, and generally makes more sense to the cohort that believes that supporting the welfare of college athletes means giving them agency in the form of mobility.

Alas, that group does not seem to include outgoing Florida president Bernie Machen:

Florida president Bernie Machen opposes the NCAA rule allowing immediate eligibility at a new school if a player graduates. Florida has recently added two high-profile graduate transfers: Virginia football player Jake McGee and Michigan basketball player Jon Horford.

"If they really wanted to transfer somewhere else, they should sit out a year," Machen said. "Why didn't Horford stay at Michigan another year? Because he had a free pass."

When asked why not give athletes the flexibility to transfer once they've accomplished the goal of graduating, Machen replied, "Go to grad school at Michigan. They have some pretty good grad schools. … It's really just a way for a school to fill a void at the very last minute, or a player going to get more playing time without having to sit out."

The stupidity is dumbfounding.

Machen realizes, as anyone with a brain does, that this rule mostly benefits schools, allowing them to fill voids on the field or court — as Florida will with McGee, a tight end who fits Kurt Roper's offense snugly, and Horford, a frontcourt player who slots in nicely where Damontre Harris might have — with experienced and talented players, and the players, who will enjoy greater freedom of movement. But if he's smart enough to realize that, why would Machen not also realize that this benefits students, and does a better job of treating the athletes who make millions (and billions) for the NCAA and its member schools, Florida included, as students?

Students who aren't bound by the terms of athletic scholarships are allowed to go to grad schools different from the institutions where they earned their undergraduate degrees without penalty; there's nothing preventing a student from graduating from Michigan and coming to Florida to go to law school or pursue an M.F.A., and certainly no analogous activity that student could be barred from doing immediately.

Similarly, college students are also allowed to transfer as undergraduates without any such penalties; any attempt to restrict that freedom of movement for the average student would be met with uproarious laughter and/or the involvement of legal counsel. It is only student-athletes who are impeded, whether with outright restrictions or stern discouraging words, from transferring — and it's not because of the "student" half of that term.

Machen's words are those of a person looking out for the interests of his school's athletics department — though, given that he takes an explicit shot at Jon Horford and an implicit shot at Jake McGee (and outgoing Florida transfer Cody Riggs) with them, and is also condeming something his flagship programs did in the last month, it's not as if he's doing that well — and not for the student-athlete. It is frustrating rhetoric to hear from someone who holds a ton of sway in higher education.

And so I say this: With respect, Dr. Machen, you are — still, somehow and dismayingly — the president of an academic institution. Consider caring about the well-being of students in regards to their academic pursuits, at least feigning that sympathy, or developing the sense and sensitivity to shut your mouth.

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