Tennessee's Cade Mays is the victim of the NCAA's latest blunder, which is absolutely worth getting upset about
There are times when all I want to say to Tennessee fans is “heeeeeeeel.”
It usually relates to something that I feel like is being taken to an extreme. I won’t get into the merits of starting a Twitter movement not to hire a coach, but even Tennessee fans know what I mean. They’re a passionate bunch, and for those of us neutral-party observers on the internet, sometimes it’s a bit much.
But when I heard that Cade Mays was denied immediate eligibility, all I wanted to do was let Tennessee fans off the leash so that they could rightfully pounce on the NCAA.
Of course, they didn’t need me to tell them that. Anyone with half a brain could have predicted that #FreeCadeMays would have been trending by night’s end.
Well, perhaps with the exception of the NCAA. That’s the organization that waited until Aug. 17 to rule on Mays’ transfer request, announcing its decision just before the complete 2020 SEC schedule was released. Imagine that. I’m sure that was totally random. Right.
You know what seems totally random? The NCAA’s eligibility waiver process. Mays’ former lawyer Thomas Mars, who helped get immediate eligibility for the likes of Justin Fields and Shea Patterson, agreed with the randomness of how and when the NCAA determines who’s worthy of immediate eligibility:
Tom Mars, former attorney for Cade Mays:
“I’m sadly disappointed to say the least. But at this point, I don’t think there’s anything the NCAA could do about a waiver request that would shock me. I’m starting to think they must use a dartboard to make these decisions.”
— Trey Wallace (@TreyWallace_) August 18, 2020
Why would Mars say that for someone he no longer represents? Like the rest of us, he’s seen the NCAA’s horrendous offseason. For what it’s worth, we can point out just hypocritical it’s been without necessarily touching on its lack of action regarding adjustments related to COVID-19.
Remember earlier this offseason when it appeared that the NCAA was about to make a historic change and allow for a 1-time transfer exemption so that undergraduates would no longer have to wait a year to play? In late April, the NCAA’s Board of Directors recommended against that rule in an effort to prevent Power 5 teams from losing star players in the event that some teams played during the pandemic while others didn’t.
(For those of you who don’t know, football, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball and hockey are the only sports who have transfers sit out a year while 20-plus other non-revenue sports allow transfers to play immediately. Keep that in mind.)
Mays, of course, announced in January his intentions to transfer from Georgia to Tennessee. His move had nothing to do with the pandemic.
The problem was that after the decision to punt on the 1-time transfer exemption rule, the NCAA granted immediate eligibility to the likes of J.T. Daniels, Taulia Tagovailoa and Phil Jurkovec. Speaking of Daniels, he was ruled immediate in late May, which was just 8 weeks after he transferred from USC to Georgia.
Why? Tennessee reportedly didn’t file the waiver for Mays until early July because it believed the 1-time transfer exemption rule would pass. Why? The waiver process is extensive by design, and it’s not as simple as filling out a medical history at the doctor’s office.
An intra-conference waiver apparently held that process up. That could explain why the NCAA still somehow hasn’t made a ruling for Joey Gatewood, who transferred from Auburn to Kentucky in December. Daniels, Tagovailoa and Jurkovec transferred from other conferences.
There was also the bizarre circumstances surrounding a lawsuit that the Mays family filed against Georgia as a result of Mays’ dad, Kevin, having his finger partially amputated after it was pinched in a folding chair during a Georgia recruiting visit in December 2017.
Could that have played a part in the decision to deny Mays immediate eligibility? Who knows. Mars said in January that it wouldn’t play a part in that. But if it did, goodness, that’s weak.
Can someone explain what sort of hardship Tagovailoa went through? He sat on the bench behind the best quarterback in Alabama history as a true freshman and then left for another Power 5 school instead of competing for an open starting job.
Daniels got hurt and lost his starting job … like plenty of other college athletes have. Mays, a Knoxville native, wanted to go to the hometown school that he was once committed to and play with his younger brother, Cooper, who enrolled early at Tennessee. Why does that make him less worthy of playing immediately than Tagovailoa or Daniels? The answer of “well those guys had essentially already sat out a year and Mays didn’t” is also weak. So Mays gets punished because he was good enough to play consistently as an underclassman? Weak, weak, weak.
The NCAA created a system in which it forced players to get creative in order to get immediate eligibility. The same organization admitted in its own release on waiver expansion that the process had become “unsustainable” and that it was “strained.” Of course, it was news to the NCAA that Power 5 athletes in big-revenue sports would seek creative solutions so that they wouldn’t have to waste a year of their athletic primes. Shocker.
That’s what this comes down to. Tagovailoa, Daniels, Gatewood, Mays and everyone else who transfers should all be allowed immediate eligibility. There shouldn’t be waivers denied like Brenton Cox or Luke Ford, and there shouldn’t even be granted waivers handled like Aubrey Solomon’s. Tennessee fans remember all too well when they didn’t find out about Solomon’s eligibility until 4 days before the Vols’ 2019 opener. What are the odds that the NCAA waits until 4 days before the season to rule on the appeal filed to get Mays immediate eligibility?
After all, the “unsustainable” process is “strained.” To think that it’ll yield a timely, logical result is wishful thinking at this point.
I’ll disagree with Mars on one thing. A transfer dartboard implies that the NCAA has some sort of aim. There’s precision to darts, or at least that’s the intent. The more accurate comp would be a wheel that sits in the NCAA offices. When the NCAA needs a break from the rest of what’s on its overloaded plate, it spins the wheel for fun to rule on transfer waivers.
Meanwhile, a kid waited months and months to find out whether he’d have to waste a year of his athletic prime because the NCAA said so. This is a twisted game that the NCAA continues to play. No transparency. No effort to “do right by the student-athlete” or whatever the NCAA tries to claim it does.
Congrats, NCAA. You earned the right to have a bunch of barking dogs outside your home for the foreseeable future.
If history is an indication, they won’t stop howling until you do right by them.