Ohio State has won National Signing Day. Transfer quarterback Justin Fields will be eligible to play for the Buckeyes in 2019.
Fields, a five-star 2018 recruit who left Georgia after one season, has been granted his immediate eligibility waiver by the NCAA and is the favorite to be new head coach Ryan Day’s starting quarterback for the 2019 season. Fields enrolled at Ohio State in January. The Buckeyes start spring practice March 4.
Fields’ appeal for immediate eligibility initially was to be centered on racial slurs that were directed at him by a former Georgia baseball player, who was subsequently dismissed from the team. Fields, who was considered a professional baseball prospect in high school and a potential player in college, felt uncomfortable joining the Georgia baseball team after that incident, sources told Yahoo Sports at the time of his transfer.
Fields released a statement Friday addressing the issue.
“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.”
This NCAA decision goes down as another win for attorney Tom Mars, who helped six Mississippi transfers gain immediate eligibility last season — most notably quarterback Shea Patterson, who is at Ohio State’s arch-rival, Michigan. The Fields family retained Mars in its attempt to help Justin gain eligibility for the ’19 season.
“The NCAA made the right decision, but I recognize that not everyone is going to see it that way,” Mars said in a statement to Yahoo Sports. “As Nick Saban might say, people should trust the process. That’s especially true for people who don’t know all the facts, which in this case includes just about everyone on the planet.
“College sports fans and commentators are bound to have different opinions when the NCAA publishes the details and rationale behind a decision that involves sanctions. As a couple of recent examples illustrate, there may be good reason in some of the infractions cases to have an informed debate about the fairness of the process and the logic behind the decisions.
“That said, cases involving student-athlete waivers are governed by federal privacy laws, and there’s no exception in those laws based on people’s interest in high-profile college quarterbacks. With that in mind, anyone who chooses to criticize this decision will have to do so without knowing anything about the facts of this case. But that won’t be anything new to the college sports fans on Twitter.
“Justin and his family wanted to make clear what this case wasn’t about, and they couldn’t have been more clear about that through the message that Justin posted on Twitter. With that information on the record, I hope fans and commentators will trust the process we went through here and applaud the NCAA for granting Justin a waiver.”
Fields played sporadically this season as the backup to Jake Fromm at Georgia. He completed 27 of 39 passes for 328 yards and four touchdowns, and also ran for 266 yards and four scores, but could not dislodge Fromm, a sophomore, as the starter. The Bulldogs never seemed comfortable finding a role for Fields, often using him as a run-only quarterback in the red zone.
The only player ranked higher than Fields by Rivals.com in the 2018 class was Clemson signee Trevor Lawrence, who led the Tigers to the national championship as a freshman.
Ohio State returns a talented nucleus from the 2018 team that went 13-1 and won the Rose Bowl. The urgent need for this season was quarterback, after the NFL entry of Dwayne Haskins, and Fields would seem to fill that need. It was expected that he would compete with backup Tate Martell for the job, but Martell himself transferred to Miami when Fields went to Ohio State.
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