SEC clears path for Smith's transfer from Alabama to Georgia

ATLANTA (AP) The Southeastern Conference cleared the way Friday for former Alabama defensive back Maurice Smith to transfer as a graduate student to Georgia.

The SEC granted two exceptions to conference bylaws as requested by Georgia on behalf of Smith. Smith won't have to sit out a year and will be eligible this season. He also was given an exception to the SEC rule which says transfers have at least two years of eligibility remaining.

The ruling Friday by SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey comes after Alabama granted Smith's release. Smith can follow former Alabama assistants Kirby Smart and Mel Tucker to Georgia. Smart is Georgia's new coach and Tucker is the defensive coordinator.

Sankey said Smith earned the exceptions by graduating from Alabama in three years.

''The standard for granting waivers has been clear and compelling evidence that there is reason for allowing an exception to SEC rules,'' Sankey said in a statement. ''I found, among other contributing factors, that a student-athlete who graduates in three years and exhibits a strong commitment to his or her academic future provides compelling motivation to help them achieve their goals on and off the field.''

Sankey also said Smith ''has clearly and passionately stated his desire for a graduate degree in Public Health.''

Smith will be allowed to receive financial aid from Georgia immediately.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart thanked Sankey ''for granting the waiver which will allow Maurice Smith to pursue his dreams at the University of Georgia as a graduate transfer.''

''This has been a difficult situation to navigate and we are grateful to all who have been involved in bringing it to a resolution,'' Smart said in a statement released by Georgia on Friday night. ''Now that it is behind us, we are all anxious to move forward.''

Smith has the option to complete his final year of eligibility in 2016 or 2017. He is expected to play this year and must complete nine hours this semester to be eligible for postseason play.

Alabama coach Nick Saban initially blocked Smith's request to transfer within the conference.

After Wednesday's practice, Saban said Alabama had done everything it could ''to allow the conference to make the decision about whatever they decide is in the best interest of the conference and the SEC rules relative to Maurice Smith.''

Smith was a first-team nickel back for Alabama during spring practice. He had 15 tackles while playing every game in 2015.

It was not immediately known when Smith might join Georgia's team.

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AP college football website: http://collegefootball.ap.org

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