It is always difficult to understand and grasp the behind-the-scenes work that goes into something like the exceptionally drawn-out process to convince the NCAA to grant Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson immediate eligibility this fall.
The curtain is rarely drawn on a situation like this one that meandered and was at times contentious and hotly contested during the four months since Patterson transferred to Michigan from Ole Miss in December.
It is now official that Patterson will be able to play this fall, according to a joint announcement Friday by the NCAA, Michigan and Ole Miss. The Detroit News reported Thursday night that a source confirmed this agreement among the three parties and that Patterson would be immediately eligible.
According to the release, “the NCAA Division I Council recently approved an amendment to transfer waiver guidelines for student-athletes seeking immediate eligibility following a transfer. This amendment was effective April 18, for transferring student-athletes who are seeking immediate eligibility for the 2018-19 academic year.
“Following notification of this change, the University of Mississippi promptly reached out to the University of Michigan to discuss how these new standards could impact the University of Mississippi's support of a transfer student-athlete's desire to compete immediately at the University of Michigan.
“The University of Mississippi and the University of Michigan have worked together over the last several days in conjunction with the NCAA national office staff, and with a focus on the best interest of the student-athlete, to put forward a new waiver application. That new application was submitted this week by the University of Michigan and supported by both schools.”
Patterson also issued a statement Friday, through the Michigan athletic department.
“There are a lot of people who worked really hard to help make this transfer process a success. I want to thank Coach (Jim) Harbaugh, the University of Michigan and the NCAA for allowing me to continue my education and football career at one of the best universities in the country.
“A special thanks to Michigan’s Compliance Staff and to Tom Mars for his personal guidance for me and my family during this time. With this decision behind us, my family and I are fully focused on the upcoming season. My teammates and I are always committed to competing at the highest level and winning championships. Go Blue!”
Thomas Mars, Patterson’s attorney, praised the NCAA decision and said he understood it was a difficult decision.
“The objective here was to get a ruling that would allow Shea to play for Michigan this fall,” Mars said. “I couldn’t care less what section of the NCAA rules were used to reach this result.
“The NCAA could have used a Ouija Board to reach that decision, and we wouldn’t have complained.”
'Joy and relief'
Patterson, who had been starter at Ole Miss, filed the initial waiver appeal through Michigan’s compliance department contending he was lied to by former Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze, members of the football staff and athletic department personnel. He believed — along with the other players who transferred — he was misled during the recruiting process in 2016 regarding the breadth of the NCAA violations.
Ole Miss is on three years of NCAA probation and has one year remaining of a two-year bowl ban.
Mars described this process as a “time-consuming, challenging endeavor” but, ultimately, rewarding. He said it was a privilege to assist Patterson and his family as they navigated this process, which he currently is going through with five other Ole Miss transfers.
He said his pinnacle moment was calling Patterson on Thursday to share the news of his immediate eligibility in what was an emotional conversation.
“The best part of it was saved for last,” Mars said. “Calling Shea to give him the good news (Thursday), and to hear his reaction, was one of the most personally rewarding experiences I’ve had in the more than 30 years I’ve been a lawyer.
“I caught Shea cold just as he was walking into the football building to do a few things before leaving for Paris. I could sense both the joy and the relief in Shea’s voice. It wasn’t a long conversation, but it was deeply personal, and it’s one I’ll never forget.”
Patterson arrived Friday in Paris with his Michigan teammates and coaches who are spending the week here on an educational and sightseeing visit. He participated in spring practice with the Wolverines and will compete for the starting job this fall.
Mars has had considerable legal dealings with Ole Miss. He represented former Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt in a defamation suit against the school settled last year and put the university in a position to issue a public apology it said it would never make. Ole Miss apologized last October for spreading lies that NCAA violations took place under Nutt’s watch as head coach.
In Mars’ work as counsel for Nutt and, later, the transfers, he revealed Freeze’s misinformation campaign was initiated when Ole Miss received a notice of allegations from the NCAA two years ago. Mars uncovered through text messages, phone logs and interviews, how Freeze and the athletic department launched a plan to mislead media and football recruits – including Patterson – telling them the bulk of the violations involved women’s basketball and track and that Nutt was responsible for issues regarding the football program.
He was just as thorough and diligent in his work for Patterson.
When Ole Miss and athletic director Ross Bjork fired back in response to Michigan’s waiver request saying they had “no choice” but to file an objection, Mars carved that response and told The News, “If I didn’t know better, I would have thought Ole Miss hired Pinocchio to write its response to Michigan’s waiver request.”
'There are no losers'
Mars was gracious in his remarks with regard to this decision.
“The NCAA has caught a lot of criticism lately, and I’ve been pretty hard on Ole Miss in recent weeks,” Mars said. “I haven’t been asked to limit my comments about today’s announcement or to heap praise on anyone. These comments reflect my own thoughts. People shouldn’t look at this announcement and try to identify the winners and losers. There are no losers. Everyone came out on top.”
According to the statement released Friday, Michigan has withdrawn its previous waiver application and all associated materials “in favor of this new, cooperative approach based on facts which all parties agree to.”
Mars is hopeful the five Ole Miss transfers he also represents will have a similar result.
“The NCAA didn’t just do the right thing in Shea’s case; they did it the right way,” Mars said.
Mars also praised Ole Miss.
“The solution the NCAA came up with in this case wouldn’t have been possible without Ole Miss’s support,” he said. “I know Ross Bjork answers to a number of constituent groups, and I hope they see this outcome as a “win” not just for Michigan and Shea - but for Ole Miss as well. That’s the way I see it.”