Transfer rules make quarterbacks more transient
Ohio State was fortunate to have Kenny Guiton.
Midway through its unbeaten season in 2012, during the third quarter of a game against Purdue, quarterback Braxton Miller was scrambling when he was slammed to the Ohio Stadium turf. It was hard enough that Miller was injured, carted off the field and taken to a hospital.
Without Miller, Guiton entered the game and helped the Buckeyes rally from an eight-point deficit to win in overtime.
The moment might soon serve as a reminder of a bygone era.
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Guiton was a veteran backup for the Buckeyes, a fourth-year junior who had stayed with the program since he arrived as a high school recruit from Houston, affording coaches a reliable passer off the bench. He is the last scholarship quarterback to finish his college career at Ohio State without becoming the primary starter, a break from the growing trend of transfers in college football.
When Matthew Baldwin announced last month that he was transferring, he became the third quarterback in a year to leave Ohio State, following Joe Burrow, who headed to LSU last spring, and Tate Martell, who departed for the University of Miami in January.
Among the last 10 scholarship quarterbacks to sign with the Buckeyes, five ultimately transferred. The commonality? The starters stayed, the backups transferred.
Guiton, now the outside receivers coach at Louisiana Tech, said this week that he contemplated transferring, broaching the subject with Ohio State’s coaches and family members. He gave it the most thought after Urban Meyer arrived as the new coach midway through his career.
“I knew that if I left, and if I could go anywhere else, it wasn’t going to be somewhere big-time, where the level of football would match up to Ohio State,” Guiton said. “I could go play, but am I fighting for a bowl game? Am I fighting for this luxury of football I’m getting to play right now? I just thought the positives and negatives didn’t weigh out the same.”
It’s not just the Buckeyes. Among Ohio State’s foes in the Big Ten East, quarterbacks have transferred from Michigan and Penn State since spring practice.
Among the three scholarship quarterbacks on the Buckeyes roster, each transferred in the past year: Justin Fields (Georgia), Gunnar Hoak (Kentucky) and Chris Chugunov (West Virginia).
Most college football analysts attribute the frequency of transfers to a larger appetite for playing time.
“The fact they're big stars coming out of high school, they're playing on television, that everybody knows them, I think that puts more pressure on them to feel like they've got to leave now as opposed to staying and waiting,” said former Ohio State quarterback Stanley Jackson, an analyst for the Big Ten Network.
Fields and Martell were particularly hyped prospects. They were featured on the first two seasons of the Netflix show “QB1.”
The series emerged among an abundance of existing recruiting coverage from websites, chronicling the careers of quarterbacks soon after they begin starting for their high school teams. The players grew large social media followings.
“You go back to the late ’90s and early 2000s, when you were coming out of high school, you were not a celebrity,” Jackson said. “These kids are celebrities now.”
If attitudes have changed, so have NCAA rules to further player movement. The graduate transfer rule allows players with eligibility remaining to receive their undergraduate degrees and transfer to another school without the penalty of sitting out a year.
Burrow left as a graduate transfer and started at LSU last season.
In other instances, the NCAA has appeared more lenient in approving hardship waivers. Fields and Martell were granted immediate eligibility when they transferred and submitted waivers to play right away.
Former Indiana coach Gerry DiNardo, an analyst for the Big Ten Network, thought the rule changes represented the most significant factor for spurring transfers, fostering a different climate than when he was an offensive lineman at Notre Dame in the early 1970s.
“I think fans and people that are critical of these players look at it like, ‘Oh, this generation nowadays,’ ” DiNardo said. “I don’t think so. There was a lot of unhappy guys when I went to college. There were 140 guys on scholarship. There were a lot of guys who went there to play who weren’t playing. Highly, highly recruited guys. If they had other options, some of them would have left.”
For decades, players had been more hesitant to transfer because of tighter restrictions. The idea of having to sit out a season often proved a major deterrent.
Jackson remembered hanging out with teammates in a dorm room at Morrill Tower after his freshman season in 1993. They were playing a video game as they discussed transferring. A New Jersey native, Jackson thought about a return to the East Coast, but sitting out a season marked a major obstacle.
For Guiton, the decision to remain at Ohio State never paid off with significant playing time. He threw only 134 passes in his career and never overtook Miller as the starter. He did start twice as a senior when Miller was hurt again.
But Guiton savored other moments, like the comeback win over Purdue and becoming a team captain for his final season in 2013.
It was a personal choice.
“The only advice I’d have for a guy,” Guiton said, “is, ‘Hey, do what’s best for you.’ ”