A decision regarding the immediate eligibility of Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson, who transferred in December from Ole Miss which has been slapped with NCAA violations and an additional postseason bowl ban, should come in the next month.
Michigan submitted Patterson’s waiver application to the NCAA on Monday, according to Thomas Mars, who is representing Patterson and several Ole Miss transfers. A copy of the application also was sent to Ole Miss compliance.
Ole Miss has 10 days to respond and can support or oppose the request, and it can also choose to not respond. But the ultimate decision on Patterson’s eligibility will come from the NCAA, the governing body of college athletics, after it receives Ole Miss’ response, and that should happen before Michigan begins spring practice in late March.
Elizabeth Heinrich, executive senior associate athletic director and Michigan’s chief compliance officer, and Nathan Wood, assistant athletic director of compliance, have worked in concert with Mars while constructing the application.
“I can’t name a lawyer who’s more knowledgeable and experienced in this area than Elizabeth Heinrich,” Mars said. “It was a real privilege working with her the last couple of months.”
Daron Roberts, the founding director of the Center for Sports Leadership and Innovation at the University of Texas, said of the Patterson case, “it’s not splitting atoms here” in terms of how the NCAA should handle situations like Patterson and the other Ole Miss transfers.
Roberts holds degrees from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and Harvard’s law school and in his current role focuses on high school and college student-athletes. He also has been a college and NFL assistant, including a brief stint as assistant to the secondary coach of the Lions in 2009. He recently wrote an article, “NCAA Transfer Rules Need to be Tweaked,” for the University of Texas website and has watched the Patterson situation from the sideline.
“This is a classic case study in ways a student-athlete should be afforded mobility when what they were promised in the recruiting process was misrepresented,” Roberts said. “I’m not in favor of being able to leave if (a coach) says you can start and you didn’t. But I am in favor if the coach says the team is in good standing, or there are no sanctions and investigations, and you find out that’s not the case.
“If I put my lawyer hat on, there’s a burden of full disclosure whether you’re selling a building or an apartment or a car, and that doesn’t seem to be the case when we’re talking about recruiting. I think Shea’s situation seems cut and dry. The Baylor and Ole Miss situations, these seem to be situations that are pretty clear cut. I’m sure there are murkier situations. I can imagine a situation a head coach isn’t privy to an investigation going on by the department, but the cases we’ve seen the last two three years — Ole Miss and Baylor stand out for me — these are egregious examples of dishonesty with recruits.”
Undergraduate transfers typically must sit one season before regaining eligibility. What Mars, who represented former Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt in his defamation suit against the school, has diligently worked to try to prove is the “egregious behavior” on the part of former Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze and his staff who allegedly misled incoming recruits like Patterson. If the NCAA agrees, it could justifiably waive the transfer rule in this case.
Earlier this month, it was revealed Miami (Fla.) quarterback Evan Shirreffs, also represented by Mars in his transfer appeal, would be allowed to transfer to three Atlantic Coast Conference schools at which he had previously been blocked to immediately play by Miami, according to CBS Sports.
In Mars’ research as counsel for Nutt and, later, the transfers, he has untangled a web of misrepresentation initiated when Ole Miss received a notice of allegations from the NCAA two years ago. He uncovered through text messages, phone logs and interviews, how Freeze and the athletic department launched a plan to mislead media and football recruits saying the bulk of the violations involved women’s basketball and track and that Nutt was responsible for issues regarding the football program.
Despite a story broken a week later in Yahoo Sports by Pat Forde that indicated the NCAA had charged Ole Miss with multiple violations, Freeze allegedly assured Patterson, the nation’s No. 1 quarterback recruit who was to enroll early at Ole Miss in 2016, he should not be concerned. This was unfolding shortly before national signing day, and Freeze allegedly used Patterson as a conduit to other Ole Miss recruits to inform that all was well with the football program.
Rick Allen, a former Division I compliance director, who began the “Informed Athlete” site in 2008 (informedathlete.com) to help student-athletes navigate recruiting, scholarship and transfer eligibility at all college levels, believes the NCAA will, to some degree, explore each case involving an Ole Miss transfer on an individual basis.
He doesn’t, however, see this as a cut-and-dry decision.
“I don’t think it is because you can obviously look back over time and there’s been a lot of NCAA schools that have been penalized for rules violations, and I’m sure many of them didn’t reveal details of the investigation to incoming recruits,” Allen said. “There’s a lot of different aspects and angles to this thing. The one common denominator is you’re talking about five, six seven players transferring from the same program and the NCAA is going to look at case precedent and they’re going to look at how they’re going to set precedent in the future.
“Does Shea Patterson telling another player in a text message, this was what I was told by the coaches, is this enough to overturn the rules that have been in place for years? The other thing is, and maybe I’m being cynical, but frankly, coaches lie to recruits all the time. Coaches lie and mislead kids frequently. Does that, along with the fact there are documented violations, quite a number of them, and Coach Freeze was telling his assistant coaches to put this spin on it and get it out there, is that enough to change their transfer rules?”
Allen did, however, stress that the NCAA in recent years has allowed more input from the NCAA student-athlete advisory board.
“So I think there’s certainly a possibility they will rule in favor of these athletes,” Allen said.
The NCAA may consider tweaking its transfer rules, according to a recent CBS Sports story that says the Big 12 has put forth a proposal that covers a number of transfer issues. Among them, undergraduates can transfer and immediately play if, according to the proposal, “sanctions have been imposed on the original institution that limit post-season competition in the student-athlete’s sport.” Also, a student-athlete can transfer without having to sit a year if the head coach leaves or is fired, although if the player follows the coach, the player would have to sit the year. And an athlete on scholarship will no longer be allowed to be blocked from transferring to specific schools.
Roberts takes issues with the current NCAA transfer process in general.
“And how restrictive it is,” he said.
He uses the analogy of the non-student-athlete who realizes he or she wants to transfer to another school for a different major. It is not the norm for a dean to restrict the student and block the transfer.
“This is not a disgruntled kid who is not getting snaps,” Roberts said of Patterson. “We’ve complicated an issue that shouldn’t be. This is a very particular situation, but it satisfied the requirement for why it should be expedited.”