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SEC has chance to change transfer rule for the good

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Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze on transfers: "If you bring in a kid that's had an issue and that issue's repeated and it affects other people, man, that's not easy for us to live with." Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

DESTIN, Fla. -- Hidden behind the constant grumbling about satellite camps and the mathematics of cost of attendance that overshadowed the introduction to the 2015 SEC spring meetings stood a powerful proposal that could change the landscape of the country's toughest conference.

Before the throng of SEC heavyweights and thirsty scribes descended on the Sandestin Beach Hilton, Georgia sponsored a proposal that would forbid student-athletes from transferring to SEC schools if they have been disciplined for "serious misconduct" by a previous school or athletic department.

The SEC doesn't have personal conduct restrictions when it comes to undergraduate transfers. However, there are restrictions for graduate transfers, and anyone who fails to meet all seven criteria required to successfully transfer into the SEC as a graduate student has to get a waiver from the commissioner's office.

Though administrators and coaches stand by their grad transfer rule, some find it perplexing that the league holds the two types of transfers to different standards, and they have a point. For example, Everett Golson had to get a waiver because of past academic improprieties (which he eventually served a one-year punishment for) to play in the SEC, but an undergraduate with a past criminal issue can be admitted freely. This is baffling. If the league is going to have a waiver process for graduates, it should have one for undergrads, too.

If the SEC, which is under the microscope more than ever thanks to its giant TV network that hits 60 million homes, wants to show it's tough on serious conduct issues, such as domestic violence, it should start meticulously vetting its transfers.

"We’re holding our graduates to a higher standard that we’re not holding our undergraduate transfers," Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork said. "I think we need to equalize and have similar policies that cover both.

"We should be a leader nationally to say, 'Let’s do the right thing and let’s have integrity and let’s hold these kids and these young kids -- men and women -- to the highest standards possible.' There’s nothing wrong with that."

Bjork is absolutely right. Georgia's proposal is a revolutionary rule, and it's a valid rule that the SEC bigwigs should prioritize in the final hours of the league's spring meetings.

"It is one of the primary topics of conversation here this week," outgoing SEC commissioner Mike Slive said of the discussions about personal player conduct.

It should be, because the SEC -- like other conferences -- has had some questionable characters slide into its league over the years. The most recent example is former Georgia and Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Taylor. He was dismissed from Georgia after a felony domestic violence arrest last summer, only to sign with Alabama in January. After his arrival, Taylor was arrested and charged with domestic violence again. His accuser recanted her story, but he was ultimately dismissed from Alabama's team as well.

Alabama coach Nick Saban endured a lot of criticism -- as he should have -- for recruiting and eventually signing Taylor, but the coach defended himself by saying he is all for giving people second chances.

I understand second chances, but I'm also for people thinking beyond the parameters of football when it comes to who you allow on your campus. I'm sorry, but someone with a disturbing past such as Taylor's should not be given the opportunity to continue his football career at another SEC institution. Coaches are hired to win games, yes, but there's something powerful and, well ... human, to be said for putting values over W's.

Domestic violence and sexual assault have to be taken more seriously in our society, and the SEC has a chance to take a giant step forward in the realm of college sports.

"We live and die with these decisions," Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. "If you bring in a kid that’s had an issue and that issue’s repeated and it affects other people, man, that’s not easy for us to live with. That’s tough. We’re real people. Those certainly make you think long and hard about doing that again."

All week, people associated with three of the most powerful letters in college athletics talked ad nauseam about the power of the SEC brand and the importance of protecting it and representing it. The SEC Network makes it that much bigger and makes the margin for error that much smaller.

What better way to protect and enhance your brand than to make personal conduct a priority when it comes to allowing people to carry your torch?

"It’s well-documented across all sports, especially professional sports -- behavior issues really can hurt your brand," Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said. "The Southeastern Conference has a really good brand. The member institutions have a really good brand. So trying to protect that and trying to do the right thing, and also understand that they are kids, it’s a balancing act."

Slive understands that balancing act, which is why he described the talk this week about personal conduct as "vigorous." Some people like the idea of a restrictive proposal, but others don't.

"We shouldn't have any rules in the SEC that the other big-time conferences don't have. ... I'm not for it," Saban said, according to CBSSports.com. "It gives us an excuse to protect ourselves from any criticism for giving guys opportunities."

But it also gives schools an excuse to protect themselves from possible future incidents.

The issue of personal conduct doesn't involve any sort of draconian role from the commissioner when it comes to enrolled students. As many have repeated all week, anything related to student-athletes on a campus should be handled by the university administrators. There are too many variables, and there is too much information the commissioner won't have, compared to university officials. That's why there are code of conduct boards and Title IX coordinators.

But as Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin said, the real issue has more to do with the consistency of who the SEC allows into its league.

"Why can’t the SEC be a leader in integrity, student conduct matters, and say, 'Hey, perhaps it’s a new day? Perhaps there should be some standards along the personal conduct side,'" Bjork said.

"Why not have [equal] standards that set a tone at the highest level?"