Here's what the SEC got right in changing its intraconference transfer bylaw | Toppmeyer

Blake Toppmeyer

If Auburn coach Bryan Harsin needs insight into what LSU’s offense will be like under first-year offensive coordinator Jake Peetz, all he has to do is ask his quarterback, TJ Finley.

Two months ago, Finley was competing to be LSU’s starting quarterback. He didn’t exit spring practice atop LSU’s depth chart and opted to give it another shot elsewhere in the SEC West.

Thanks to a new SEC rule, in-conference transfers like Finley won't have to sit out a season. He can play for Auburn this year. SEC university leaders voted last week to adapt the conference’s bylaw, which previously required undergraduate intraconference transfers to sit out a season unless they received a waiver.

Changing the conference bylaw was a smart move and put the conference in line with the ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12, which previously revised their intraconference transfer bylaws.

The SEC's alteration came on the heels of the NCAA's rule change to allow immediate eligibility for first-time undergraduate transfers. But the NCAA rule does not trump individual conference rules for intraconference transfers.

The SEC had a choice: Keep its restrictive intraconference bylaw on the books or embrace the evolving transfer landscape. By amending its in-league transfer bylaw, the SEC is giving itself the best opportunity to keep transferring talent within the league.

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But the SEC added an important caveat: Starting next year, for fall sports intraconference transfers to gain immediate eligibility, they must declare their intent to transfer by Feb. 1.

That differs from the NCAA’s deadline for fall sports athletes, which will be May 1 starting next year. The SEC made the right call to speed up the timeline.

No longer will a football player be able to pull Finley’s maneuver of competing in spring practice for one SEC school before suiting up in the fall for a conference rival.

Finley isn't the only player who swapped SEC squads this offseason – Alabama linebacker Henry To'o To'o transferred from Tennessee, and Georgia tight end Arik Gilbert transferred from LSU – but he's the most notable example of a player competing in spring practice at one SEC school before transferring to another and gaining immediate eligibility.

The Feb. 1 deadline will nix that practice, while still allowing a window after the season for players to transfer within the conference and gain immediate eligibility.

The SEC's rule does not require a transferring athlete to decide on a destination by the Feb. 1 deadline.

Moving up the deadline to declare an intent to transfer by three months allows coaches to get a better grasp on their roster before the upcoming season. Yes, some players still will hit the transfer portal during the spring, in time for the NCAA’s May 1 deadline, but those players will have to exit the conference if they are undergraduate players who aim to avoid sitting out a season.

Most of the league’s top transferring talent probably will adhere to the Feb. 1 deadline because those players will want to consider immediate eligibility at another SEC school. The conference’s earlier deadline will encourage players to decide more in advance whether they’re in or out with their current team.

Allowing a player to practice at one SEC program in the spring and suit up for a conference foe in the fall needed to be nipped in the bud. Such maneuvering equated to a trade-deadline acquisition in which the school that loses the player gets nothing in return.

At least with the Feb. 1 deadline in place for intraconference transfers, coaches who lose a player to an SEC rival will have time to address the departure through an incoming transfer.

The SEC’s Feb. 1 deadline for fall sport intraconference transfers to gain immediate eligibility more closely matches the NCAA’s deadline for winter sport athletes (May 1) and spring sport athletes (July 1) – in other words, not long after the season ends.

Coaches who are skilled recruiters and effective roster managers shouldn’t fear the new transfer rules, especially within the SEC. It’s another opportunity to add talent.

The SEC is wise to adapt to the times, while setting its own terms with a distinct deadline.

Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.