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NCAA waiver for Justin Fields at Ohio State could be good news for Texas WR Bru McCoy

Though the NCAA isn’t transparent about the waiver process, the Friday news about Fields might be another sign of a major sea change.

NCAA Football: U.S. Army All-American Bowl Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Will consensus five-star wide receiver Bru McCoy play for the Texas Longhorns this season after transferring from the USC Trojans following a short stint on campus and taking classes?

The question looms above the offseason for Texas as McCoy goes through offseason conditioning on the Forty Acres.

On Wednesday, head coach Tom Herman was asked about McCoy’s situation and understandably wasn’t able to provide much information.

“I think every situation is unique, you know,” Herman said. “I applaud Bru and his courageousness to say, ‘Hey, this is not where my heart is, and I’m going to do something to change that.’ But as far as timetable, I have no idea. I would assume before the season starts.

“Then, my role, very minimal. I mean, this is a student-athlete, their family, along with our compliance department kind of getting all of the ducks in a row as far as appeals process is concerned.”

In other words, this is between the NCAA, Texas, USC, and the McCoy family. Herman is a stakeholder in the decision as the Longhorns head coach, he just doesn’t have any influence over how the process plays out.

At this time two years ago, the odds of McCoy securing a waiver for immediate eligibility would not be high. Since then, however, things have changed.

Last spring, the NCAA approved a significant amendment to the transfer waiver guidelines:

The transfer is due to documented mitigating circumstances that are outside the student-athlete’s control and directly impact the health, safety and well-being of the student-athlete.

This rule requires that the previous institution’s athletics administration does not oppose the transfer, though it’s not clear from that document whether that still applies with the new transfer rules that were put into effect after this amendment.

More importantly, this particular amendment was how Shea Patterson became eligible at Michigan immediately. According to a statement released by Michigan and Ole Miss, the schools worked together with the NCAA and submitted a new waiver application for Patterson after the amendment was passed, which the NCAA approved. Patterson had claimed that he was misled about NCAA sanctions by the previous Ole Miss staff. The statement said that the schools and NCAA worked together “with a focus on student-athlete well-being.”

That’s the aspect of the amendment that provides the most latitude for interpretation. So the McCoy family may have a good argument that the departure of Kliff Kingsbury and his dishonesty during the recruiting process negatively impacted his well-being. It’s a slightly different situation than what Patterson and his teammates went through at Ole Miss, but it’s close enough and indicates that the NCAA has relaxed waiver requirements.

Friday’s major breaking news around college football was the waiver granted for former five-star quarterback Georgia Justin Fields to gain immediate eligibility at Ohio State.

“Now that this matter is concluded, I would like to clarify some facts,” Fields wrote. “I have no regrets about my time at UGA and have no hard feelings for the school or football program. My overall experience at UGA was fully consistent with UGA’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. My sister is a softball player at UGA. I am still close friends with many of my UGA teammates. A part of me will always be a Georgia Bulldogs fan.”

The statement seems to provide further perspective on previous reports that Fields sought a waiver because of a racial slur directed at him during a game by a Georgia baseball player who was subsequently dismissed.

Based on the definition of “healthy, safety, and well-being” that the NCAA is apparently using for the new waiver process, it’s not surprising that Fields gained immediate eligibility. Would it be surprising if McCoy gained eligibility from similar considerations about the departure of USC offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury after his ever-so-brief tenure in Los Angeles?

Not particularly, though it’s also not clear how far the NCAA is willing to extend the nebulous definition of “well-being” nor is it clear what argument the McCoy family will make to the NCAA.

The lack of transparency in the waiver process makes everything more difficult to understand — even in high-profile cases like those of Patterson and Fields, the only public information about why the waivers were granted came from reporting during the waiver process, not statements from the NCAA or the institutions involved after those waiver claims were adjudicated.

Basically, the NCAA gave itself more freedom last year to make whatever decisions it wants in regards to waiver claims and as long as those decisions benefit the student-athletes and institutions with the highest stakes, there’s an incentive for the involved parties to maintain the opacity of the process.

If student-athletes realize that they can attain immediate eligibility now for claims that the NCAA would have denied quickly in the past, it would significantly change the power dynamics in favor of student-athletes and against the institutions and the NCAA as whole.

As the organization largely resists major restructuring, this is an area that could see more significant changes in the coming years, even as the NCAA tries to maintain its power over student-athletes to benefit its institutions.

For Texas, though, the operative question over the coming weeks will be whether those changes start manifesting behind the scenes quickly enough to allow McCoy to play for the Horns this fall.