College football’s new free agency

Amid all the consternation about the transfer of Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson to Florida State, I feel sorry for Sean Maguire.

A few weeks ago, the redshirt junior was riding high, the de facto starter for the Seminoles after the departure of No. 1 NFL pick Jameis Winston.

Coach Jimbo Fisher expressed confidence in his quarterback, despite a shaky spring game. Florida State magazines devoted columns to projecting his future as the team’s next signal-caller.

Maguire already had shown he could manage the team in a spot start last season against Clemson when Winston was benched for basically being a knucklehead.

All of that came to a screeching halt with Golson’s decision to play his final season in Tallahassee.

The former Notre Dame quarterback became a Notre Dame graduate on Sunday, and a Florida State Seminole on Tuesday. This immediate transfer eligibility is the way it can work if you perform what the NCAA says is the most important task assigned to its student-athletes — earn a degree.

Golson isn’t the first, but certainly the most recognized, “free agent” in college football. He shopped his talents at Florida and Alabama, among others.

“Free agency’s a little bit of the recruiting puzzle in college football now, whether we want to believe it or not,” Terry Bowden told Bleacher Report. Bowden has coached at every level of college football and is currently head coach at University of Akron. “The top 30 quarterbacks in the country always go to the same few schools every year. When one is passed by another one, he’s looking to transfer so he can play somewhere else.”

Athletes typically have to sit out a year when transferring. With the graduate transfer rule, which Golson is taking advantage of, a player doesn’t have to sit out if he has already graduated. The rule was put in place to allow players, who can have five years in which to use their four years of athletic eligibility, to start working on a master’s degree.

Critics say players are making decisions based on football, not academics. And Golson is not the only one.

Eastern Washington star quarterback Vernon Adams Jr., who earned his degree, decided to transfer to Oregon. It was a move to the big time, where he’ll get more exposure and a better shot at making it to the NFL.

This creates a situation where coaches have to worry they might lose their best player and big-time programs might start recruiting off smaller programs’ rosters. In fact, even dominant programs could lose players to other powerhouses with a better offer.

Some are urging the NCAA to tighten the rule. Certainly, this is a further professionalizing of amateur sports. But is that a bad thing?

If a player has earned his degree yet still has a year of eligibility, the option to transfer without a penalty seems just. While this may make coaches nervous, a player who has earned his degree should have the right to determine how to spend his remaining eligibility.

After all, this is a system that works predominantly in favor of the coaches already. A little equity doesn’t hurt when the player has earned a degree.

IU’s basketball team has seen both sides of this rule. Graduate Matt Roth had his scholarship pulled. A year later, the team brought in Illinois State grad Nick Zeisloft.

Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson is most prominent example of the rule working. He transferred from North Carolina State to Wisconsin in 2011, leading the Badgers to the Rose Bowl while elevating his NFL stock.

Golson’s case is less than pristine. He sat out the 2013 season for penalties related to academic fraud. Still, he did his time, and the Irish chose to keep him on the roster.

His case and that of Adams do not justify a change.

Still, one has to feel for Maguire, a quarterback by all accounts far less dynamic than Golson who bided his time and was ready to take charge of the Seminoles.

While Florida State coach Fisher insists the quarterback competition is wide open, we all know better. Golson is now a Seminole and will grab the spotlight as quarterback this fall. You can count on one hand the number of days he likely will show up in class after the season.

Somewhere along the way in a long season, though, here’s hoping that Maguire gets his chance.

At a glance

The NCAA graduate transfer has allowed the transfer of some high-profile quarterbacks for a final season at another school, such as these:


Russell Wilson;N.C. State;Wisconsin

Tyler Murphy;Florida;Boston College

Greg Paulus;Duke;Syracuse

Cody Sokol;Iowa;Louisiana Tech

Dane Crist;Notre Dame;Kansas

Matt JoeckelTexas A&M;TCU

Jacob Coker;Florida State;Alabama

Bob Johnson is a sports correspondent for the Daily Journal.