Malik Zaire's graduate transfer decision could hinge on this week's SEC meetings

Dr. Saturday
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/ncaaf/players/226558/" data-ylk="slk:Malik Zaire">Malik Zaire</a>, Notre Dame’s former starting QB, is pursuing a graduate transfer. (Getty)
Malik Zaire, Notre Dame’s former starting QB, is pursuing a graduate transfer. (Getty)

Notre Dame transfer Malik Zaire reportedly wants to spend his final season at Florida, but he needs the SEC to adjust its rule for graduate transfers for the move to come to fruition.

The quarterback received his release from Notre Dame all the way back in November and graduated soon after. Many schools have shown interest in Zaire throughout the process, but he reportedly narrowed his choices down to Texas and Florida in recent weeks.

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Because he graduated from Notre Dame, Zaire would be immediately eligible at most schools, but Florida is not one of them because the SEC has certain academic requirements for graduate transfers. Because those requirements were not met by past UF grad transfers — ex-Georgia Tech linebacker Anthony Harrell and ex-Fordham lineman Mason Halter (both in 2015) — the school is not able to add grad transfers for three years.

Here is the specific bylaw (part B) that is affecting Zaire:

When the SEC holds its annual spring meetings this week in Destin, Florida, that rule, among others, will be on the table for discussion. And if that portion of the graduate transfer policy is changed (or Florida is granted an exemption), Zaire would be able to make the move to Gainesville. A rule change requires a majority vote. And with Zaire’s situation looming, SEC rivals would essentially be voting for (or against) a rule that could help the Gators on the field in 2017.

[More college football from Yahoo Sports: SEC spring practice summaries]

“I do think we need to look where we’ve been restrictive in the past because of the absence of national rules and look at reducing some of those restrictions,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said last month. “I’m one who would position it as interest in freeing things up without just removing every restraint because I think the restraints have been healthy for us.”

Sankey told the Associated Press last week that this will be the first extensive conversation league officials have had about graduate transfers in quite some time.

“This will be the first meaningful conversation we’ve had since the proliferation of graduate transfers has happened nationally,” Sankey said. “I expect our membership to have a pretty meaningful conversation about the right perspective on graduate transfers entering the SEC from outside and then the topic of inter-conference transfers.

“A football player that enrolls as a graduate student and never goes to class, that’s not healthy.”

Zaire started only three games during his time at Notre Dame, but would definitely enter the mix to start if he is able to enroll at UF. The Gators have five scholarship quarterbacks, but four are freshmen (two redshirt freshmen and two true freshmen) and the other is Luke Del Rio, a redshirt junior who has had trouble staying healthy (and has been average at best when healthy). One of the redshirt freshmen, Feleipe Franks, is considered the favorite to start.

Zaire, a lefty, threw for 816 yards and six touchdowns while rushing for 324 yards and two scores for the Irish. He started in place of Everett Golson for the 2014 Music City Bowl and earned MVP honors in a win over LSU. He then entered the 2015 season as the starter, but went down with a broken ankle in Week 2. From there, DeShone Kizer started for the rest of the season. Zaire and Kizer battled for the starting role entering 2016 and split time early in the year. After a season-opening loss to Texas, the two-quarterback experiment ended with Kizer coming out as the No. 1 quarterback.

Texas, Zaire’s other reported finalist, returns Shane Buechele, who showed flashes of brilliance in 2016 as a true freshman. Buechele outplayed freshman Sam Ehlinger in the spring game, but new Longhorns head coach Tom Herman has yet to name a starter. Zaire would provide a veteran presence at the position, but would need to beat out the two promising youngsters in preseason camp to earn the starting role.

[More college football from Yahoo Sports: Big 12 spring practice summaries]

The new early signing period will also be on the agenda this week for the SEC. Sankey has gone on the record in opposition of the change, which allows high school recruits, beginning with the 2018 class, to sign national letters of intent during a 72-hour period beginning Dec. 20 and ending Dec. 22. Seniors who are not locked into their decisions can still wait until National Signing Day, which is Feb. 7, 2018 for this recruiting class.

“I’m not a singular voice,” Sankey told the AP. “I’ve probably been more specific with my concerns. There are very vocal advocates. I knew my first meeting as commissioner that the majority of conferences in the Football Bowl Subdivision wanted to see an early signing day.

“I still don’t think that’s best.”

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Sam Cooper is a writer for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!

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