Two programs that made the biggest splashes through the transfer portal this offseason have both been hopeful of their transferee quarterbacks being under center this fall.
From the you-don’t-say department, fortune hath smiled upon the Buckeyes, and thy name is the NCAA.
The NCAA granted the waiver of former Georgia quarterback Justin Fields on Friday, who will be eligible to play this fall. The crux of Fields’ argument for a waiver was supposedly being the target of a racial slur allegedly yelled by a now-former UGA baseball player during a game last season, which was picked up by some fans and made its way to Fields.
While that may be true, it sure seems like the main reason for Fields’ transfer is the same as Tate Martell’s move to Miami - the chance to get out of the incumbent starting QB’s shadow and get a fresh start with less competition. Fields comments during the season and this week all but confirm it. Following the UGA – USC game, Fields was caught on camera saying “I handed the ball off good as f*#k. I didn’t do s#*t, bro.”
Yesterday, Fields spoke after learning of his waiver being approved.
“Now that this matter is concluded, I would like to clarify some facts,” Fields said. “I have no regrets about my time at UGA and have no hard feelings for the school or football program. My overall experience at UGA was fully consistent with UGA’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. My sister is a softball player at UGA. I am still close friends with many of my UGA teammates. A part of me will always be a Georgia Bulldogs fan.”
To clarify, the crux of an application for a waiver is whether the transfer “is due to documented, mitigating circumstances outside the athlete’s control and directly impacting his or her health, safety, or well-being.”
Shea Patterson’s waiver to play at Michigan was approved based on the Hugh Freeze mess and postseason ban and Patterson’s claims of being misled during recruiting. Fields’ was approved, presumably, based upon the single comment of a now-former student-athlete. Martell’s approval should follow suit.
The problem is the “directly impacting his or her health, safety, or well-being” standard is the most subjective of subjective standards that places the NCAA in a position to determine whose hardships are more worthy than others. Is a single reprehensible comment from a drunken idiot during a football game create a more impactful situation for a player’s well-being than the suspension of a head coach and a media frenzy around the program for months, followed by said coach’s retirement?
I don’t know. But the point is we shouldn’t be splitting these hairs, because it seems obvious to me in both of these situations: these alleged reasons are simply pretextual for each player to land in a better situation for him and play immediately. That’s what it all boils down to. Both players faced a roadblock and wanted out, wanted a better chance to get on the field.
And, to be clear, I am NOT trivializing racism and the impact it has in society in any way. I have not lived the horrors that minorities have experienced in this country, and I’ll never be able to imagine and fully appreciate what they’ve been through. But I have to consider that it was a single incident, Fields did not transfer in the wake of said incident, his sister has come to UGA to play softball, and he effectively absolved UGA of being a racially divisive school in his comments yesterday.
But the NCAA apparently decided that was enough. And by accepting it, they tacitly approved a player looking for a better situation to get one by giving an excuse rather than a true underlying reason. They set the standard of just how little is required to get a clean slate at a new university. Pass Go. Collect $200 (or don’t, as that would be a violation, but you get the point).
As such, who is the NCAA now to reject another player’s excuse who is trying to better himself while escaping a situation in which he is unhappy? Is remaining at a program where a player is not happy against a player’s mental or psychological well-being? What if he is homesick? Or is unhappy with teammates? Or playing time? Or the city or part of the country he lives in? Who is to decide what constitutes a true impact on a player’s safety, mental health, or well-being???
It’s hard to say, and because of that, the NCAA should not write off as trivial Martell’s situation at Ohio State. If anything, they should grant his approval, shake his hand, give him a wink, and wish him well as the new starting QB….just like they effectively did with Fields on Friday.