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SEC approves transfer rules change, clearing way for Florida’s Van Jefferson to play in 2018

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The Gators’ receiving corps is now all but assured of a welcome boost.

Tennessee Martin v Mississippi Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images

The SEC’s member schools voted this week to approve a change to transfer rules allowing for graduate transfers be immediately eligible to compete at SEC schools even if they remain within the conference, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey announced Friday, clearing the way for Florida Gators wide receiver Van Jefferson to suit up for the Gators in 2018.

Sankey made the announcement in remarks to reporters at this week’s SEC spring meetings in Destin, Florida.

Jefferson, who transferred from Ole Miss to Florida earlier this year after graduating from the former school, was one of a slew of Rebels who transferred out of Oxford after the school was sanctioned by the NCAA in December for violations related to a years-long investigation into allegations of misconduct by the football program under Hugh Freeze.

But while Ole Miss initially objected to those players being immediately eligible at other schools, every Rebel who transferred to a school outside the SEC had already been granted immediate eligibility prior to this week, leaving Jefferson as the outlier.

And though Jefferson still needs to apply for an NCAA waiver — or have Florida apply for one on his behalf — to be eligible to play in 2018, the rest of his cohort getting their waivers granted has made that step seem no more than a formality, with the SEC’s rules barring him from immediate eligibility were his true obstacle to seeing the field this fall.

And as athletic directors and coaches from league schools spent this week in Destin, with transfer rules being a primary topic of discussion, it became clear that a positive resolution for Jefferson was likely to come soon. As of this Friday, it has — though it is not precisely clear whether the rules have been changed to allow intra-conference graduate transfers immediate eligibility, to allow intra-conference transfers immediate eligibility if they leave a school facing or under NCAA penalties for one in good standing (as Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel indicates is the case), or both.

Regardless of the actual substance of the rule change — or whether it becomes known as the Van Jefferson Rule or the Brandon Kennedy Rule or the Maurice Smith Rule — the change itself means this is the second consecutive year that Florida’s football program has been able to make an important addition by virtue of lobbying the SEC to change its rules.

In 2017, the SEC reduced a penalty related to the previous academic progress of graduate transfers that allowed for Florida to bring in Notre Dame graduate transfer quarterback Malik Zaire despite having two previous graduate transfers become academically ineligible at the tail ends of their stays in Gainesville.

Zaire ultimately didn’t have the impact the Gators had hoped he would, failing to wrest the starting job from the inconsistent Feleipe Franks until late in the season and then suffering a season-ending injury, and Florida will obviously hope for more out of Jefferson, who could end up a starter in a receiving corps that has lacked his savvy.

But Florida’s now twice-proven capacity for creating change — conveniently self-serving change, if also arguably noble change — via editing of the SEC’s rulebook speaks to the program’s ranking in the league’s pecking order, and athletic director Scott Stricklin’s ability to spearhead proposals within the league. (And if the rules change is, in fact, to intra-conference graduate transfers as a whole and not those fleeing NCAA sanctions, the little-cited note that Florida succeeded in getting a change that Georgia sought and failed to obtain year ago would also seem relevant.)

This change, in other words, is victory for Florida on multiple fronts: It’s the biggest step toward getting Jefferson his deserved chance to play right away, sure, but it’s also a reminder that the Gators retain the ability to get what they want from the SEC.