It began as a rule to prevent coaches from dealing with roster management decisions in the late spring.

It has devolved, some SEC coaches say, into a rule that protects the elite of the conference while also potentially affecting the overall health of the league.

“There are benefits to the rule,” an SEC coach told me, “but there are problems down the road we probably should’ve seen.”

At the top of the list: the health of the conference, which has been college football’s top league since the early 2000s. For 2 decades the SEC recruited better than any other conference, and has dominated the national championship race.

But in 2021, during the infant stages of NIL and free player movement, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey — at the behest of the conference coaches — instituted the spring transfer portal rule, prohibiting players who enter the portal in the spring from being eligible to play in the fall for any other SEC school.

The hope was the rule would curtail spring transfers, and allow coaches to get better control of roster management. But the rule won’t restrict players from leaving if they truly want to play elsewhere — and all the rule does, multiple SEC coaches told me, is drive good players away from the league.

The more good players leave the league, the more vulnerable it becomes.

Case in point: Georgia blue-chip DT Bear Alexander. The freshman was a top backup in 2022, and was projected to replace All-American Jalen Carter in 2023.

He entered the spring transfer portal the day before Georgia’s G-Day spring game last weekend, and is expected to sign with USC. That means an elite, All-American caliber player is leaving the SEC to play in the Pac-12 at USC because the opportunities are limited in the SEC to play in the fall.

Key word: limited.

Players can still use the traditional waiver process to gain eligibility for the current season. In other words, if LSU QB Garrett Nussmeier decides he doesn’t want to sit behind starter Jayden Daniels, he can enter the spring portal and transfer to another SEC school.

But he would need to win a hardship appeal to play in 2023. In the past, those appeals were difficult lifts.

But in the NCAA’s new player-friendly atmosphere of the past 3 years, players are having much more success with hardship appeals.

So while the spring transfer rule has teeth, it’s still not the complete fence around the program coaches wanted. And it, through unintended consequences, has left the glaring hole of future conference stability.

There’s irony in the reality that coaches asked for the rule, and now they’ve got it — and everything that goes with it.

“None of us like the uncertainty with (free) player movement,” another SEC coach told me. “But all of us sure would be interested in recruiting a player here or there from another (SEC) roster, if they’re available. So what’s more important? Protecting what you’ve got, or getting what you need?”

There’s no telling where any hardship claim would land, but players who transfer into a school in the winter portal, and want to transfer again 4 months later to another SEC school, more than likely won’t get approved — unless there are extenuating circumstances (see: health and welfare of the player).

But those who have played at a school for multiple seasons and were competing in spring practice for a starting spot and lost, should be looked at favorably with a hardship waiver. There’s no reason to limit movement because they lost out on competition.

As much as anything, the spring transfer rule has become a quarterback rule. There’s only 1 quarterback on the field, and it’s the most turnover-heavy position in the sport.

There are 3 current SEC backups who could start at SEC schools, were they given free movement from the spring portal: Garrett Nussmeier (LSU), Max Johnson (Texas A&M) and Brock Vandagriff (Georgia).

If they choose to enter the spring portal, they could take the easy route of transferring outside the SEC (and therefore increasing the talent in other leagues). Or they could take the potentially more difficult route of appealing to transfer and play immediately inside the conference.

On the surface, it doesn’t look like Nussmeier, Vandagriff or Johnson would lose an appeal. All were (or still are) competing for starting jobs in spring practice.

Florida and Auburn are looking for quarterback help in the spring portal, and Gators coach Billy Napier said after last Thursday’s spring game that the “process has already begun” to identify potential candidates.

“We anticipate adding a player to our team at that position,” Napier said.

There are 11 days remaining for players across college football to enter the spring portal and be eligible for the 2023 season. They must be in the portal by April 30, but they can decide where they will play as late as the beginning of fall camp.

Four SEC players have already entered the spring portal, including Alexander, Georgia LB Ryan Davis, Alabama TE Elijah Brown and Mississippi State offensive tackle Jackson Cannon. More are on the way.

If they want to continue to play in the SEC in 2023, they’ll need a waiver to do so. That’s the rule.

Even if it’s doing long-term damage to conference.