Transfer troubles

Last year, Arkansas coach Houston Nutt badly wanted to sign high school quarterback Mitch Mustain to a football scholarship. Mustain was not only the best quarterback in the state of Arkansas, but also the best QB in the entire country according to Parade magazine.

Nutt was coming off two losing seasons and needed a shot in the arm for his program, and signing the top quarterback in the country would be the perfect remedy. When Mustain began to waver on his early commitment to Arkansas, Nutt hired his high school head coach Gus Malzahn as his offensive coordinator. Shortly afterward, Mustain agreed to play football at Arkansas.

After Mustain went 8-0 as a starter during the first nine games of this season, Arkansas turned to a more run-oriented style of offense and replaced Mustain with sophomore Casey Dick. Ultimately, the Razorbacks won the SEC West and finished 10-4.

At the end of the season, Malzahn decided the job was not what he was led to believe when he was hired and resigned to become the assistant head coach and co-coordinator at Tulsa. Nutt likely will get a nice raise for leading the Razorbacks to such a fine season, and he is being mentioned as a possible candidate for the head coaching position with the Dallas Cowboys. And Mustain was left at a school he had been questionably induced into attending, running an offense that didn't fit his style of play, under an offensive coordinator that he didn't know.

He requested and eventually was granted a release from his scholarship (although I doubt this would have been granted if he had wanted to transfer to another SEC school) and began the process of identifying another school to attend. He still is enrolled at Arkansas, but I expect that to change once things start to shake down after the Feb. 7 national signing day. Although Nutt and Malzahn are free to coach immediately at their respective institutions, Mustain must sit out a year before he again will be eligible to play – regardless of where he goes.

And therein lies the problem. Doesn't something sound inherently wrong with this situation?

Isn't it a bit unfair that coaches can come and go as they please but student-athletes, whom we are suppose to be the most concerned about, have to sit out a full academic year. And if a Division I-A football player doesn't receive a release from the university he currently attends, he not only has to sit out the year but also isn't eligible for an athletic scholarship for the year.

It's time for the NCAA to step up to the plate and hit a home run for the student-athlete. It's time to allow a college football player one free transfer during his college career to wherever he wants to play as long as he is in good academic standing at his current institution. If it's OK for the assistant coach who recruited him to leave without restrictions and it's OK for the head coach that signed his scholarship papers, it should be OK for the student-athlete for whom the game exists in the first place.

Many football coaches and college administrators will argue that this will create more opportunities for unscrupulous coaches and boosters to improperly recruit great players away from one school to another. But isn't this already against the rules? Should we punish the student-athlete because coaches cheat or the NCAA fails to enforce its own rules? I don't think so.

In fact, college baseball and lower-division football already allow one free transfer, and I don't see those sports going to hell.

And Division I-A football probably wouldn't either. The more likely scenario is for a ballplayer who is not quite good enough to play at one institution to find himself a better opportunity at another institution. Or maybe he has family that he wants to be closer to, or his girlfriend back home is pregnant and he wants to be closer to home. Maybe he is just unhappy with the decision he made at 18 years old and the quality of his college experience is not what it should be, and his grades are suffering because of it.

Maybe he just wants to play for the green team instead of the blue team. And if a coach can switch schools for a greener wallet, a player should be able to change schools for greener pastures.