Tom Mars: Immediate eligibility unlikely at Florida for Brenton Cox

Georgia outside linebacker Brenton Cox (1) talks to Georgia outside linebacker Adam Anderson (56) during the Middle Tennessee State game last September at Stanford Stadium. (Photo by UGA's Lauren Tolbert).

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Georgia outside linebacker Brenton Cox (1) talks to Georgia outside linebacker Adam Anderson (56) during the Middle Tennessee State game last September at Stanford Stadium. (Photo by UGA's Lauren Tolbert).

The odds are very long that former Georgia 5-star outside linebacker Brenton Cox will be cleared to play this season at Florida.

That’s according to NCAA transfer expert Tom Mars. The Atlanta-based attorney, who is considered one of country’s foremost legal authorities on the NCAA’s transfer policies, said he doesn’t have any inside knowledge about the grounds Cox might use to request a waiver for immediate eligibility with the Gators, but he doesn’t see it happening.

“Unless there’s some well-kept secret that would qualify him for a waiver, I’d say chances of Brenton Cox getting a waiver are approximately zero,” Mars said Tuesday.

Mars would know. His success rate representing athletes in cases opposing the NCAA’s transfer restrictions – including former Georgia quarterback Justin Fields -- led the NCAA to ask Mars to join its enforcement staff as part of the specially-formed Complex Case Unit.

Cox, a sophomore who played in 13 games last season, abruptly withdrew from UGA on Aug. 5 after going through three preseason camp practices with the Bulldogs. Three days later, the Stockbridge High graduate was enrolled at Florida and appeared on the Gators’ team roster.

Florida coach Dan Mullen on Monday said not only would the Gators seek a waiver for Cox’s immediate eligibility, but added that he was fairly confident that it will be granted.

“We’re definitely going to apply for a waiver for him and see,” Mullen told reporters Monday in Gainesville, Fla. “I think, we hope, we feel good about it, of having him be able to play. I think you look at all the previous scenarios that are out there around the country. We feel we have a good opportunity.”

Mars doesn’t think so.

“This comment from coach Mullen typifies part of the root problem with the current thinking about waivers,” Mars told the AJC. “It’s impossible to generalize about these cases. And it’s irrational for anyone to think that just because this or that player got a waiver, some other player with different circumstances should probably get one, too.”

Another hurdle Florida will have a hard time clearing is the SEC’s intraconference transfer requirements. Moving from one conference institution to another another requires a second waiver from SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey.

The league last year adopted two exceptions that allow immediate eligibility: One, is for the player to have graduated with a degree, the other is if the school the student-athlete is leaving is being sanctioned for major NCAA violations. Neither of those exceptions apply here.

Mars is now seeing the transfer-waiver process from the NCAA’s side of the fence. He believes the coaches’ flippant mentality about testing the rules is creating a glut in the system.

“When head coaches start thinking that way and figure, ‘why not file for one and see what happens?’ they put undue pressure on their compliance staff to file what’s essentially a meritless waiver request,” Mars said. “That adds to the backlog in Indianapolis, which is what eventually led to the Legislative Council raising the bar.”

Whether he plays this season, Cox still could help Florida from a strategic standpoint. He spent eight months this year, and including spring ball, 18 practices with the Bulldogs, so he’ll be familiar with the playbook, preliminary game plans and certainly personnel.

Nothing one can do about that, Mars said. And he doesn’t buy the argument that competitive-advantage factors should be considered in eligibility deliberations.

“Coaches are completely free to take their playbook and an entire staff to a rival,” Mars said. “I’ve never heard anyone express alarm about that scenario or suggest the NCAA ought to pass a rule prohibiting that.”

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