Hightower Gets A Waiver

Aug 24, 2020

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My brain is a nonstop "Covid Waiver" factory. I want the entire world to understand just how far Friday's decision reaches. I have to take the dog to the vet in 40 minutes but I'll try to talk about Brian Hightower's waiver before I have to leave.

First off, if you didn't hear, Miami WR transfer Brian Hightower got a waiver from the NCAA to play during the 2020/21 school year. For a Big Ten player, that means a spring season. So he's eligible to play right away without having to sit for the mandatory year after a transfer. Here's his tweet:

That's huge because he was going to lose a season. The way I read the NCAA ruling (I'm still waiting for them to realize what they've done to the 2022 high school seniors and step in to clarify a few things), this works in Hightower's favor. It's huge. Because the way I'm interpreting this (the NCAA is basically declaring the 2020/21 school year a "freebie"), sit-out transfers are the only college football players who wouldn't have seen their clocks extended by a year. They'd be sitting during the freebie season and would return in 2021 with the same eligibility.

(Again, maybe the NCAA comes back and clarifies "for sit-out transfers, we'll still apply one year to their eligibility once their sit-out year is complete", but as of now, I don't think it works that way.)

Remember, he already played two seasons at Miami. So he only gets two more years on the field. His clock was "3 to play 2" when he arrived, so the plan was for him to sit out a year and then play those two seasons.

Now it's three. Here's how I explained it on Twitter. I'm calling this XX, XY, YX, YY:

+ Covid never happens and Hightower does not get his immediate eligibility waiver approved: he sits for the 2020 season and then plays out his final two years of eligibility in 2021 and 2022.

+ Covid never happens but Hightower DOES get his eligibility waiver approved: he plays in 2020 and 2021 and then his eligibility is up - no 2022.

+ Covid does happen (the NCAA gives everyone a freebie year) but Hightower doesn't get an eligibility waiver: he has to sit for the upcoming spring football season and then can play in the fall of 2021 and the fall of 2022.

+ Covid happens and he gets an eligibility waiver (this is what has happened). He can play this spring, it doesn't "count", and then he can still play in 2021 and 2022. So three seasons: 2020 (played in early 2021), 2021, and 2022.

The way I read this whole thing, this was the only way he was going to get that extra season that every other player is getting. If this was a normal, non-pandemic year and Hightower got this waiver, he'd play this year and next but not be around for 2022. Now he can play immediately (in the spring) and still get two more years.

My first thought was that part of the waiver approval process this year must be "if we don't give kids a waiver, they're basically losing a year compared to their peers". But then I did some research and saw that Marquez Ezzard, Hightower's Miami teammate who transferred to Georgia Tech, had his waiver application denied on Thursday. So no, they're not just giving them out to everyone due to Covid.

This obviously turns my attention to Brevyn Jones (transfer from Mississippi State) and Khmari Thompson (transfer from Missouri). I guess it doesn't matter much for a guy like Jones - if he does get a waiver, it's doubtful he plays with so many seniors on the line, so a forced sit-out year would just turn into a year where he's sitting out. But Hightower can likely help immediately, so getting him for this spring season, whatever it looks like, could be big. Especially with Ricky Smalling no longer on the roster.

Yes, I'm probably making too much of this issue. Maybe Brian Hightower isn't even a contributor and he sticks around until he gets his degree in the spring of 2022 and then heads on out. At that point, this waiver decision wouldn't matter. He'd still have another year of eligibility, he just wouldn't use it at Illinois.

But if we do play a season this spring (I think they have to), this could be big. Not as big as, say, landing a safety to replace the recently departed TreSean Smith. But WR depth took a hit when Smalling left, and Hightower was a 4-star in high school, so hopefully he can help immediately.

Off to the vet. Hope the poor dog doesn't have to wear a cone, but she probably will. Poor doggo.


uofi08 on August 25, 2020 @ 11:17 AM

I'm curious to see how waivers are applied this year, especially to the leagues that aren't playing this fall. I guess I don't know the intricacies of transfer rules. Like if the big ten ends up not playing at all, would that count as the sit out season for transfers? I would hope so as it's not something they can control. Being that the spring season won't be a full season and won't count towards a year of eligibility, I really hope they grant waivers to every tranfer at a B1G school.

Another random thought. Are waivers granted to the player, the school, or some combination of both? If Hightower wanted to, and the opportunity was there, could he take his waiver and transfer to a SEC, ACC, or Big 12 team right now? This is assuming he's still able to enroll at a different school this semester.

Robert on August 25, 2020 @ 12:39 PM

Waivers are granted to the player. It's all about the clock. When you start your first semester freshman year your clock begins. You have five years to play four seasons.

For Hightower, with the "every transfer has to sit one season" rule, it eats up one of the five years. He played two years at Miami, would be forced to sit for a year at Illinois, and then would have 2 to play 2. This means he has 3 to play 2. And since the season doesn't "count", he'll have 3 to play 3.

That's why waivers are such a big deal for a player who is, say, 2 to play 2. They redshirted somewhere, then they played two seasons, then they want to transfer (and they don't have their degree yet so they can't grad transfer). They arrive at their new school with two more years where they can play football but if they don't get a waiver their five years will run out and they'll only be able to play one season after sitting one. So they'll never play 4 seasons because their 5 ran out before their 4. Sit play play sit play and they're done.

And no, Hightower couldn't take that waiver elsewhere. He's enrolled at Illinois. So he'd have to restart the waiver process if he wanted to play elsewhere because the school year already started. These waivers are usually "here's why I had no choice but to leave Miami", and I doubt the NCAA would then accept a "here's why I had no choice but to leave Illinois" waiver the following week. Even with the Big Ten pushing the season to the spring.

uofi08 on August 25, 2020 @ 01:47 PM

Thanks for the response Robert. I am aware of the 5 to play 4 rule. That makes transferring such a huge disadvantage for kids that redshirt (but a potential advantage if you can grad transfer after 3 years with 2 years of eligibility). My random thought was more inline with how grad transfers are never really official until they're actually enrolled and playing. I figured it was similar with regular transfers and since some schools haven't started, or are still allowing enrollees, that maybe there was a loophole. Glad to hear there's no such loophole.

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