Yes, it’s happening again.
Brandon Kennedy, a backup offensive lineman for Alabama, wants to transfer. In most cases, that would not be much of a problem. Kennedy graduated in December and would be immediately eligible at his next school, but his preferred transfer destinations have become an issue for the Crimson Tide program.
Al.com reported earlier this month that Kennedy hoped to transfer to either Auburn, Alabama’s top rival, or Tennessee, where former Tide defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt is now the head coach. Alabama, who plays both teams next season, would not even grant Kennedy permission to contact those or any other SEC schools, a decision Kennedy appealed.
That appeal, Al.com reported Monday, was denied:
Kennedy, who decided to leave the Crimson Tide program in early May, is hoping to join either Auburn or Tennessee as a graduate transfer but is still blocked from even having contact with those two schools as well as any other SEC schools and any future Alabama opponents. The next step for Kennedy, who graduated in December, is an in-person hearing with Alabama’s appeal board.
Alabama has done this before
In 2016, the program staunchly opposed defensive back Maurice Smith’s quest to transfer to Georgia, where Kirby Smart, formerly Alabama’s defensive coordinator, had been hired as head coach. Eventually, after plenty of drama, Alabama granted Smith his release and the SEC approved Smith’s request to finish his career at Georgia. In his lone season for the Bulldogs, Smith played in 12 games and tallied 50 tackles and two interceptions.
The SEC generally does not allow players to transfer within the conference, though there have been a few exceptions, including Smith.
Nick Saban does not favor in-conference transfers
Saban, entering his 12th season at Alabama, explained why last week and compared in-conference transferring to free agency.
“We have an SEC rule about do we want to have free agency within our conference,” Saban said. “I think there are certain circumstances and situations where it may be better for the student-athlete. In those cases, I would be supportive of guys doing it. I’ve done it in the past, I’ve not done it in the past. I do think this whole transfer thing is something we should look at more at a thousand feet. We don’t like to get put in the middle of these rules as coaches. I think none of us do.
“We have rules, but yet we’re not supposed to abide by the rules and they reflect poorly on us when we try to support the rules that we have. The rules that we have, we have for a reason and I just stated the reason. Do we want free agency in the SEC? Should guys be able to leave your team and go play for somebody else next year that you have to play against? I do feel that there are cases where that may be a viable option if it’s for academic reasons.”
Attitudes toward transfers have gotten more lenient for student-athletes
Schools used to put all sorts of restrictions on where a kid could transfer. Alabama’s restrictions for Kennedy — SEC teams and future opponents — are pretty standard practice. But coaching staffs and athletic departments have loosened their grip to a certain extent, giving student-athletes more freedom to choose any school they’d like — just like any other student.
Kennedy’s case is a bit atypical. He was Alabama’s backup center as a redshirt sophomore last year, but suffered a season-ending injury early in the year. He was granted a medical redshirt and graduated early. As a graduate transfer he would be immediately eligible. And because of the medical situation, he would have three years remaining.
From a competitive standpoint, it’s understandable why Saban would not want him to play for an opponent next year (and the two after that). But in a world where inter-conference transfers are becoming more and more common, there’s certainly an argument to be made for Kennedy getting to transfer wherever he wants like a run-of-the-mill student would.
We’ll see how long this all plays out, and perhaps it will be a topic that comes up at the SEC meetings next week.
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