Column: Calm down, Ole Miss cannot block Shea Patterson from 2018 eligibility

Posted on Apr 11 2018 - 5:26pm by Grayson Weir

The University of Michigan Athletics Department has cancelled this weekend’s spring football game, citing weather concerns. As a result, Wolverine faithful will not be able to watch their new ‘golden boy’ quarterback Shea Patterson take the field on Saturday, perhaps the only time the former Rebel would have been allowed to suit up for the blue and maize in 2018.

Pending an appeal for immediate eligibility with the NCAA, let’s get one thing clear: Ole Miss cannot “block” Shea Patterson from playing football for Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh during the 2018 season. Plain and simple.

After his 2017 season was cut short with a knee injury, Patterson announced his intentions to transfer from Ole Miss, citing that he was misled by Hugh Freeze’s coaching staff about the scope of the then-ongoing NCAA investigation when he signed with the university in 2016. Wishing him the best, Ole Miss granted Patterson a full transfer release from the program. In December, he committed to play at Michigan.

Quarterback Shea Patterson passes downfield during the game against Auburn last season. Auburn won 44-23. File photo: Ariel Cobbert

According to NCAA rule, any player who transfers is deemed ineligible for the following season at his/her new school. Thus, Patterson must sit out the 2018 year.

However, a 2016 amendment to the bylaw provides immediate eligibility if the NCAA determines he or she “was the victim of egregious behavior by the previous institution’s staff member… that directly impacts the health, safety and wellbeing of the student-athlete.”

This is where it gets interesting.

To play in 2018, Patterson is required to have an appeal waiver approved by the NCAA, which he and Michigan’s compliance department filed with the organization at the end of February. On Monday, the news broke that Ole Miss objected to the waiver claim, based on Patterson’s “assessment of the conditions within the program” that led to his transfer.

In response, Athletics Director Ross Bjork said Ole Miss had “no choice” but to file an objection to Patterson’s request for immediate eligibility.

“We would not oppose a waiver of the year in residence requirement based on a legitimate reason for any student-athlete who wants to transfer from Ole Miss,” he said in a written statement. “With the waiver in question, the way it was written, we had no choice but to respond the way we did. With anyone who leaves our program, we wish them the best academically and athletically. At this point, it’s not really our matter; it’s an NCAA and Michigan matter.”

Bjork is right. Neither he nor the university can deny or grant Patterson’s attempt. The NCAA makes the decision; it’s between the organization and Michigan/Patterson.

Ole Miss simply disputes the way it went down– and for good reason. Amidst an appeal of its own, Ole Miss is hoping to overturn an unfavorable NCAA ruling and obtain bowl eligibility for 2018.

So, let’s think logically.

How would admitting to a display of “egregious behavior,” including the misleading of recruits regarding the potential seriousness of the NCAA issues facing the program, be beneficial to the university’s appeal in any way? It wouldn’t.

If a player in transfer hired an attorney with an established background of partisanship against your university and attempted to recruit players from your roster to another, would you feel inclined to further complicate your own university’s issues to make said player’s transfer easier? Probably not.

Why is this an issue in the first place? Patterson is a 21-year-old sophomore in college, who, because of unforeseen circumstances, coaching changes and injury, made a personal decision to transfer schools. He was not happy and wanted to leave. Fine. Why must he be penalized for it? Just like any non-athlete looking to transfer, he shouldn’t be … but that speaks to the logical abolition of the NCAA transfer rule as a whole, which is a different debate for another day.

The bottom line is this: Ole Miss does not have a say in whether Patterson can take the field for Michigan next year. There is no “vendetta” being held against him. As Bjork said, “with anyone who leaves our program, we wish them the best academically and athletically.”

Let’s move on.