Monday March 23rd, 2015

Those of us who watch a lot of HGTV know that even the most outdated structures can be modernized and made functional. We also know that when the house has moldy Sheetrock and a load-bearing wall that separates the kitchen and dining room from the open-concept floor plan of the buyer’s dreams, it’s sometimes best to rip the place down and rebuild. Why? Because a bunch of ad hoc fixes through the years can end up looking something like this.

That photo depicts the dwelling equivalent of the NCAA’s transfer rules. Adapted over the years as the college sports landscape changed, the transfer structure is a Frankenstein of bad policy stitched together with what were originally reasonable intentions. The latest issue arose last week when a player found out that the elimination of the waiver system might keep his father from ever seeing him play again.

Jason Kersey of the The Oklahoman told the story last week of Khari Harding, the Auburn safety from Edmond, Okla., who transferred to Tulsa to be closer to his father, Corie, who is fighting cancer. Because of Corie’s condition, the Hardings figured Khari would receive a waiver to play immediately. And he would have—except that last Monday the NCAA’s board of directors ratified a plan to eliminate waivers that would allow transferring players to play immediately.

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This rule change was originally passed in April 2014 with good intentions. The NCAA staff, which handled the waiver requests first, and the NCAA Division I Legislative Council Subcommittee for Legislative Relief, which handled appeals, couldn’t apply the rules fairly or evenly because every transferring player’s situation is different and because the rules are confusing and open to broad interpretation.

Tulsa officials released a statement to The Oklahoman last week indicating that they will continue to fight on behalf of Harding to get him grandfathered in under the old rule. Hopefully NCAA leaders will consult their VP of Common Sense (they have one, right?) and let Harding play. After that, athletic directors and school presidents need to use Harding’s situation as another lesson that their transfer rules don’t work. Instead of applying patches that only create more problems, they need to rip the rules down to the studs and rebuild them.

A year ago, that would have seemed impossible. But now that schools and conferences have responded to lawsuits by offering four-year athletic scholarships that will cover the full cost of attendance, longer term medical care and lifetime tuition assistance, it’s clear the people in charge of college sports are willing to make changes previously considered radical for the good of everyone in the enterprise. Their next project should be the transfer rules.

They do not need to modify the graduate transfer rule—which allows players who have obtained bachelor’s degrees to transfer and play immediately while pursuing a master’s at another school. That is the best rule on the NCAA’s books. Using our house renovation analogy, this is the wooden deck that turned out even better than the homeowner had hoped. Coaches and some ADs hate it, but it encourages athletes to buckle down in class and get degrees. No one should complain about that. Also, when a player graduates, he/she and the university have fulfilled their obligations to one another. They should be allowed to part ways without penalty to either side.

But the transfer rules for undergraduates need a complete overhaul. What’s amazing is they can be fixed without causing much pain for the schools or for the athletes. School administrators merely need to be willing to fix them. This set of three simple rules—which would take up less than one page in the NCAA manual—would streamline the process and make it fairer for the athletes and for the schools. The athletes would get the freedom to transfer on scholarship, and the schools would get real power to enforce the requirement that the player sit out a year after transferring.

Here are the rules the schools should adopt…

1. Schools may not prevent athletes from transferring to another school and receiving financial aid.

This would eliminate situations like the one involving Kansas State and former Wildcats basketball player Leticia Romero. Romero wanted to transfer in 2014 after Kansas State fired coach Deb Patterson. Kansas State officials refused to grant any of the 94 schools on Romero’s list permission to contact her because of fears that her former coaches would try to lure her to another school. (Here’s a thought: If you’re worried former coaches will try to lure your best player away, don’t make them former coaches by firing them. If you do fire them, don’t be shocked when players want to leave.) The issue wasn’t the requirement that Romero sit out a year after transferring. She was fine with that. The problem was that Kansas State’s refusal to release Romero meant she couldn’t accept a scholarship from any other NCAA school for a year. Romero, from the Canary Islands, claimed she couldn’t afford to pay her way to another school.

Kansas State officials claimed they couldn’t release Romero without a change to athletic department policy. That change was made in May after the athletic department was crushed in the press, and Romero transferred to Florida State. Before that, Kansas State officials’ intransigence served only to make them look vindictive and petty. They also looked foolish when a “clerical error” allowed Middle Tennessee State to contact Romero and essentially foiled their plans to keep her in Manhattan. So let’s save these folks from their own lack of PR savvy and take that power out of the schools’ hands. If the player wants to leave and accept a scholarship elsewhere, the player can leave and accept a scholarship elsewhere. As soon as the player requests a release from his/her scholarship, any school can contact that player and recruit him/her.


2. The player must sit out the following season. (With only one possible exception.)

It’s easy to complain that coaches can move freely with no penalty, but that’s not true. They do pay penalties in the form of buyouts. Yes, those buyouts are typically paid by the school hiring them, but as Rich Rodriguez will attest, that doesn’t always happen. Players should also be willing to give up something to transfer.

Transfers shouldn’t be effortless. They disrupt the roster at the previous school, and they could impact the player’s progress toward a degree if the player’s credits don’t transfer seamlessly to the next school. A player should have to really want to leave. To prove that desire, the player must be willing to sit out a year. Just as in the legislation going into effect in the 2015-16 school year, an undergrad who has redshirted and transfers before his/her senior season would be granted an extra year of eligibility to allow the athlete to sit out and then play. This part wouldn’t happen often. Since most athletes are required heavily encouraged to attend summer school, most redshirted players who wish to transfer will have a bachelor’s degrees and can transfer without sitting out a year anyway. But those players who don’t have a degree will need to sit for a season.


3. The athletic director at the previous school signs a form allowing the transferring player to play immediately.

That’s it. If the coach and athletic director at the previous school don’t care if the player contributes to his/her new team right away, why should anyone else?

If this rule was in place now, there would be no confusion about Harding’s situation. Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs and coach Gus Malzahn are human beings with functioning hearts, and neither would object to letting Harding play in 2015.

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Had this rule been in place in 2012, receiver Justin McCay would have been allowed to play immediately after transferring from Oklahoma to Kansas. The NCAA denied McCay’s request for a waiver even though Sooners athletic director Joe Castiglione went to bat for McCay and requested that he be able to play immediately. The same thing happened when Castiglione tried to help tailback Brandon Williams play immediately at Texas A&M in 2012. Under this plan, Castiglione would be the only one capable of granting or denying the waiver. And the player would need a legitimate reason. “I don’t like the food in the dining hall” doesn’t justify a waiver. That player can sit a year on scholarship and then play. “My father wants to see me play one more time before he dies,” on the other hand, is a very good reason to grant a waiver. The ADs would have to use their best judgment, and most of them are smart/decent enough people to use that power wisely. And if they don’t, public scrutiny has a knack for helping them acquire a little wisdom.

One Power Five AD I spoke to this weekend suggested that puts too much pressure on the AD, but I agree to disagree. Athletic directors at those schools are paid quite well in part because they routinely have to make controversial decisions. Besides, this rule could benefit ADs who just lost a coach and had to hire a new one. New coaches tend to want to run off players who don’t fit their systems. (School and NCAA officials like to pretend this doesn’t happen. It does. Pretty much every time.) This way, the AD could allow the players getting run off to play immediately at new schools rather than requiring them to drop down a level of competition if they want to play right away. This would make those players less apt to complain about getting run off, and it would offer those players an incentive to go somewhere they fit better and free up the scholarships the coach would prefer to use on players who fit his/her system.

Those would be the only rules governing undergraduate transfers. No muss. No fuss. If a hypothetical Georgia football player wants to transfer, he would request a release from his scholarship. If he decided to go to Maryland, the Terrapins could offer him a scholarship if they had one available. If the player wanted to transfer for dubious reasons, Bulldogs AD Greg McGarity could do nothing and the player would sit a year. There would be no appeal process because the only “penalty” is an extra year of free school. If the player wanted to transfer for a good reason, McGarity could waive the year-in-residence requirement and the player could suit up immediately.

The transfer process doesn’t need to be as difficult as the schools have made it for themselves and their athletes. It can be much simpler. School presidents and athletic directors need only open their minds, tear down the old rules and rebuild.

A Random Ranking

On Thursday, I covered Georgia State guard R.J. Hunter’s three-pointer from the parking lot that beat third-seeded Baylor and knocked Hunter’s father, Panthers coach Ron Hunter, off his stool. This is the second NCAA tournament game-winner I’ve been lucky enough to see in person. The first was Ty Rogers’ shot to lift No. 12 seed Western Kentucky over fifth-seeded Drake in 2008. Here are the top 10 game-winning shots in NCAA tourney history.

1. The Laettner shot, 1992

2. Yeah, that was supposed to be an alley-oop, 1983

3. The Jordan shot, 1982

4. Father-son I, 1998

5. Tyus Edney goes coast-to-coast, 1995

6. U.S. Reed’s heave

7. Rip rips the other Huskies, or, Bless you, Bill Raftery, 1998

8. Father-son II, 2015

9. Seeing the Forrest through the Trojans, 1992

10. Fear this Turtle, 2003


First and 10 

1. Arkansas coach Bret Bielema hasn’t stopped arguing that hurry-up offenses are a safety issue and should be curtailed. “We have to protect student athletes to extremes we never thought of before,” Bielema told Matt Hayes of The Sporting News on Tuesday. “I just read a study that said players in the no-huddle, hurry-up offense play the equivalent of five more games than those that don’t. That’s an incredible number. Our awareness as a whole has to increase.”

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While Bielema is absolutely correct that more needs to be done to make the game safer, there are a few problems with his argument. There is no hard data that suggests playing in those offenses is more dangerous, and logic would dictate that the subconcussive head-to-head collisions endured by players inside the tackle box in a hurry-up (usually spread) offense are less violent than the ones endured by players running a packed-in, ground-and-pound offense like Arkansas runs.

Plus, this seems awfully conspicuous given the fact that it would force some of Bielema’s division rivals to radically alter their offenses. Even Alabama’s Nick Saban, whose old argument Bielema has adopted, didn’t seem all that bothered by the extra exposures when he ordered offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin to jack up the tempo and the Crimson Tide’s average plays per game increased by nine in 2014.

Bielema also must be careful with his argument, which essentially is that less football equals less danger. The next logical step after that is that the safest possible option is no football at all. Bielema probably doesn’t want football to be legislated out of existence, but that is where his logic leads.

2. Rest in peace, Chuck Bednarik. The namesake of the award that goes to the nation’s best defensive player was a three-time All-America honoree who played linebacker, center and punter for Penn from 1946-48. As a pro, Bednarik would star in one of most iconic photos in Sports Illustrated history.

3. BYU may still want membership in a Power Five conference, but its independence got a little easier when the SEC ruled that games against the Cougars will count toward the requirement that each team play at least one Power Five opponent in its out-of-conference schedule each season.

On Friday, Mississippi State announced a home-and-home series with BYU that will send the Bulldogs to Provo in 2016 and the Cougars to Starkville in ‘17. The ACC had already decided to count games against BYU toward its Power Five requirement.

According to ESPN’s Brett McMurphy, the SEC will also allow games against Army, another independent, to fulfill the requirement. Games against Notre Dame already counted toward the requirement. Navy, which previously played as an Independent, will begin play in the American Athletic Conference in 2015.

4. Orlando Sentinel beat writer Brendan Sonnone snapped a photo of former Notre Dame center Matt Hegarty visiting Florida State practice Saturday. Hegarty, who can play immediately for another team as a graduate transfer, decided to leave Notre Dame after he was asked to switch positions and told he may have to spend his final season as a backup.

Florida State needs to replace four starters on the offensive line. That outgoing group includes Cam Erving, who finished last season at center after moving from left tackle during the 2014 season. If Hegarty does land at Florida State, the Seminoles would be getting a player who has already overcome some serious adversity to continue his football career. Hegarty had a stroke in ‘12 and subsequently had surgery to repair two holes in his heart. He was the subject of an inspirational ESPN piece in 2014.

5. Baylor coach Art Briles said 410-pound former offensive lineman LaQuon McGowan would work at tight end this spring, and Briles seems to be developing his heaviest pass target accordingly. McGowan, who caught a touchdown pass in Baylor’s Cotton Bowl loss to Michigan State, showed off his hands again Friday during Baylor’s public scrimmage. Have fun with this, Big 12 secondaries.

Big man on the loose. #FridayNightLightsBU

A video posted by @bufootball on

6. The news was not so good for one of the Big 12’s more established pass-catchers. TCU receiver Josh Doctson will miss the rest of spring practice with a broken hand. Doctson, who led TCU in 2014 with 1,018 receiving yards, suffered the injury Tuesday. Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Doctson should be ready to go by preseason camp. “Josh will be good,” Patterson told the paper. “Josh had had good practices. But you can’t catch with a cast on your hand.”

7. Unfortunately for Arizona State, receiver Cameron Smith will not be ready to play this year. The Sun Devils’ best returning receiver had knee surgery to repair an injury that had been bothering him since last season, and it will force him to sit out the 2015 campaign. Smith caught 41 passes for 596 yards in ‘14, and he was expected to be the Sun Devils’ primary deep threat following the departure of Jaelen Strong to the NFL.

8. Rick Neuheisel got in trouble with the NCAA when he was Washington’s coach because of his involvement in a March Madness pool. He later won a $4.5 million settlement after filing suit against the NCAA and Washington. Now, the CBS Sports Network analyst could make some more scratch from the case if the song he wrote to commemorate it becomes a hit. Neuheisel debuted “Two Left Feet” on The Dan Patrick Show last week.

9. Princeton played its spring game Saturday. In Japan. Read about it here.

10. This week in Jim Harbaugh…

What’s Eating Andy?

Please, tell me about your bracket. Tell me why you are a trailblazer because you didn't pick Kentucky to win the national title. Tell me that you didn't complain when UCLA made the field because you just knew the Bruins were bound for the Elite Eight. (You also apparently knew UAB would shock Iowa State because you are prescient like that.) Tell me all these things. I want to hear them. I really do.

What’s Andy Eating?

Instead of taking names to announce when customers’ orders reach the counter, Maple Street Biscuit Company employees ask a question. That question rotates daily. When I arrived Thursday at the original location on San Marco Boulevard in Jacksonville, Fla., craving that greatest of all carbohydrates, that question was “What was your first job?”

I could have told them the story. When I was 16, a friend’s dad hooked me up with a weekend gig at a furniture store in Casselberry, Fla. It paid an unbelievable $8 an hour, and all I had to do was assemble furniture in the back, smash boxes in the garbage compacter and squash entertainment centers into customers’ Honda Civics.

The job only lasted about two months—playing offensive tackle on Friday nights made for some stiff, sore box-smashing performances on Saturday mornings—but it led to a monumental discovery: The Uncle Jones Barbecue trailer. The trailer was set up between our store and the Sam’s Club next door, and for $5, the folks from Uncle Jones would drop two pieces of white bread in a Styrofoam box, cover them with roughly a pound of exquisite pulled pork and call it a sandwich.

Long after my furniture assembly career ended, I frequented Uncle Jones’ brick-and-mortar location on State Road 436 in Altamonte Springs. The Joneses put out a buffet for lunch and dinner. The pork was always perfect. The fried okra was life-changing. The chicken was usually bone dry. Still, the place was my favorite. I kept its business card in my wallet deep into my 20s, even though it once succumbed to the health department. Apparently, the state of Florida frowns on roaches. As far as I’m concerned, the roaches had good taste in collard greens.

Instead of regaling the folks at Maple Street with this long-winded, ill-fated tale of another Sunshine State restaurateur, I simply said “furniture assembler.” I learned about my fellow diners as the biscuits came flying from the kitchen. A former paperboy’s order arrived. Then a former bookbinder’s. Then a former babysitter’s. In short order, someone yelled “furniture assembler.” I looked at the counter and saw the Five and Dime.

Andy Staples

The biscuit is the sine qua non of this glorious creation. The soft, flaky wonder—which according to a newspaper story framed on the wall gets its slight sweetness from a recipe that replaces sugar with maple syrup—provides the backbone that supports the decadence in between the halves. The Five and Dime stuffs fried chicken, cheddar cheese, pecan wood smoked bacon and a fried egg into one of those beautiful biscuits. Then this heavenly sandwich gets smothered in spicy sausage gravy. The gravy makes it impossible to eat with the hands, but the construction allows a knife and fork to produce a series of perfect bites that incorporate every element. The creamy, kicked-up gravy hits first, followed by a savory hunk of biscuit. Then comes a juicy chunk of chicken and the smoky bacon followed by the cheese and egg. Another few drops of gravy washes the entire flavor bomb down and readies the palate for the next bite.

Maple Street seems to be expanding quickly. It opened in 2012 and already has five locations (four in Jacksonville and one in Chattanooga, Tenn.). The classed-up diner look, old-school diner hospitality and quality coffee selection resonate with customers, but the stars are the biscuits. My first job may have been furniture assembler, but my most recent job is biscuit eater.

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