Nick Saban: 'I've never been in favor of free agency' in the SEC

Alabama initially didn’t grant <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/ncaaf/players/231393/" data-ylk="slk:Maurice Smith">Maurice Smith</a> a grad transfer waiver in 2016. (Getty)
Alabama initially didn’t grant Maurice Smith a grad transfer waiver in 2016. (Getty)

As graduate transfer rules are set to be the dominant topic of this week’s SEC spring meetings, Alabama coach Nick Saban is staying consistent regarding his feelings for graduate transfers within the SEC.

Alabama reluctantly allowed defensive back Maurice Smith to follow former defensive coordinator Kirby Smart to Georgia as a graduate transfer in 2016 and Saban said during a brief media availability Tuesday that he wasn’t a fan of “free agency” within the SEC.

“What is the intent of the rule to start with?” Saban rhetorically asked. “I think the intent of the rule to start with was based on the fact that somebody was changing schools for academic reasons. That was the intent of the rule to start with — that was the way I understood it. And that was why we allowed people to transfer to other places. So now that doesn’t matter. So that’s not the intent of the rule anymore.

“I’ve never been in favor of free agency in our league. I don’t think that’s a good thing. I wasn’t for it last year, I don’t think I’ll ever be for it. Why should guys leave your team and go play for somebody else and then you have to play against them? I don’t think that’s fair.”

Smith’s mom said last summer that Saban told the family that he felt not transferring was in Smith’s best interest before getting up and walking out of the meeting.

While Smith departed Alabama, the school had a prominent grad transfer on offense for 2016. Former Bowling Green wide receiver Gehrig Dieter came to the Tide as a grad transfer and had 15 catches for 214 yards and four touchdowns in 2016.

Smith’s saga was the grad transfer angle last summer. This summer, it’s the rule that governs graduate transfers from other conferences. Florida is currently restricted from taking graduate transfers by a rule implemented after former Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli played for Ole Miss because previous graduate transfers didn’t fulfill their academic responsibilities.

If the rule is changed, Florida is reportedly likely to get the services of former Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire. Tuesday, when Florida coach Jim McElwain was asked if he was lobbying to change the rule, he said “if it happens, it happens and we’ll all move forward.”

“I probably will say like I do with all the rules,” McElwain said when asked what he would say in the discussion about the rule change. “If we have rules in the Southeastern Conference that are different than the other conferences than we’re playing against and competing against, I don’t know what we’re trying to prove there I guess, maybe.”

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of Dr. Saturday and From the Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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