What were Fields’ “mitigating circumstances”? His lawyer – Thomas Mars of Arkansas, the transfers’ go-to counsel – hasn’t said, and the NCAA doesn’t explain waiver decisions; it just says “yea” or “nay.” It was speculated that Fields’ claim would be based on the October incident at Sanford Stadium that saw a member of the school’s baseball team direct a racial slur toward Fields. (The baseball player was summarily expelled.) After his waiver was granted, Fields said: “My overall experience at UGA was fully consistent with UGA's commitment to diversity and inclusion. My sister is a softball player at UGA. “
So: We don't know what Mars' argument was, or if the NCAA even requires much of an argument. As Mars told ESPN: "The rule passed last April is intentionally very vague. Who knows what mitigating factors or circumstances means?"
After it was learned that Fields was headed for Ohio State, the quarterback in line to replace Dewayne Haskins, who declared for the NFL draft, announced that he was transferring to Miami. Tate Martell is himself seeking a waiver, and an attorney advising him told ESPN that “it should really be the burden of someone else to disprove that (a player has been adversely affected by his former school).”
That comes close to suggesting that any player who feels unfulfilled in any way -- lack of playing time, lack of carries/catches -- can claim mistreatment. If requiring a transfer to sit out a season seems harsh, the new way appears an overcorrection. It’s not easy to feel sympathy for millionaire coaches, but imagine how perilous roster management could become. Do you recruit 10 quarterbacks in the expectation that the nine who aren’t No. 1 will be gone before they’re sophomores?
The NCAA’s intent was surely to err on the side of its players. The unintended consequence could be the creation of a system of free agency wherein anybody/everybody is bound to nobody/nothing. This didn’t blow up overnight – receiver Demetris Robertson was granted a waiver after transferring from California to Georgia last summer, you’ll recall – but the sight of Fields becoming Ohio State’s de facto quarterback five weeks after leaving Georgia because he couldn’t become its quarterback was so dizzying that the NCAA is already reconsidering.
As Kaity McKittrick, chair of the NCAA’s legislative relief committee, told Murphy: “We do believe attention on a small number of high-profile requests can skew perceptions of the scope of staff and committee review. Each waiver request is reviewed individually, as they each present a unique fact pattern and almost always confidential information about the student.”
Quarterbacks upping sticks has long been a sideshow – Oklahoma’s past two QBs, both transfers, won consecutive Heisman Trophys; now the Sooners have Jalen Hurts, lately of Alabama – but the new requirements are so flimsy it’d be an upset if any waiver isn’t granted. Ergo, the NCAA faces a choice: Does it walk back its player-friendly stance, or does it throw open the gates and say, “Go play wherever and whenever you want”?
Back to Eason: He stands as the "before" to the current laissez-faire way of doing business. As Chip Towers of DawgNation reported, Eason's family "put out feelers" as to whether a waiver claim might have a chance of being granted and "were convinced it would not." But that was then, meaning barely a year ago, and this is now, meaning a whole new world.