The NCAA graduate-transfer rule, enacted in 2011, is about new beginnings and satisfying endings. About closing one door and opening another. About pursuing new opportunities when old ones had been exhausted.
The rule allows athletes who have completed their academic requirements at one institution (but not exhausted their eligibility) to transfer, and they are not required to sit out a year, as is the case when undergraduates switch schools. According to the NCAA, men’s basketball is the sport most impacted by this rule, as 2.7 percent of the current players are graduate transfers. As of 2019, just one percent of football players fell into that category.
There have, however, been some notable graduate transfers in our sport, none more so than quarterback Russell Wilson, who moved from North Carolina State to Wisconsin in 2011. He led the Badgers to the Rose Bowl in his lone season with them, and was taken in the third round of the 2012 NFL draft by the Seattle Seahawks. He is now one of pro football’s brightest stars.
Another quarterback, Jalen Hurts, moved from Alabama to Oklahoma last season, after three seasons with the Crimson Tide, the first two as the starter. He sparked the Sooners to a Big 12 championship and a berth in the College Football Playoff, and was chosen in the second round of the draft this past spring, by the Philadelphia Eagles.
And here at Missouri State we’re enthused about our own graduate transfer, cornerback Jeremy Webb. He came to us in August after spending the last two seasons at Virginia Tech, and has recorded an interception in each of our first two games. He also held Central Arkansas’ best receiver, Lujuan Winningham, without a catch in our Sept. 26 game against the Bears.
Jeremy’s career in Blacksburg was sidetracked by tears to each Achilles tendon, seven months apart, in 2018. The Hokies had landed him (over West Virginia, Iowa State, Tennessee, Mississippi and Nebraska, among others) after he established himself as one of the nation’s top junior-college defensive backs in two seasons at ASA College, in Brooklyn.
But he tore his left Achilles in May 2018, during offseason workouts, and his right in December of that year. He missed spring practice in 2019, and appeared in just three games that fall, making a single tackle. Now he’s with us, and we’re happy to have him, as he’s big (6-4, 205) and fast, and part of a defense that has shown real progress to date.
He is also a case study in how advantageous the graduate-transfer rule can be, for a player and his new school — how it can help the player revive his career and a program like ours rebuild.
Coaches have increasingly warmed to the idea of graduate transfers. As Utah coach Kyle Whittingham told ESPN.com in 2017, “If a kid comes into your program, does everything right, gets his degree and still has eligibility left, I don’t see why you would hold him back if he thinks he’s got a better opportunity.”
Others have noted that while the integrity of the rule — furthering one’s education in a graduate program — is being violated, it protects players in many ways, in that schools are not obligated to honor the scholarship of post-graduates who retain eligibility.
“The overall purpose of signing a kid is to get him graduated,” Dana Holgorsen, then the coach at West Virginia (and now at Houston), told ESPN.com for that ‘17 piece. “Once you get him graduated, if the kid wants to reset and go to a better situation — if he does what he’s supposed to and gets his degree — why shouldn’t he have every right to do it?”
It’s difficult to disagree. A fresh start is far from a bad thing. It can, in fact, benefit all concerned, as we are learning first-hand.