The Tate Martell saga is, well, it’s something.
After numerous high school transfers and de-commitments, Martell signed with Ohio State out of Las Vegas powerhouse Bishop Gorman High School in 2017. He redshirted in his first season on campus, then served as Dwayne Haskins’ backup this fall. Outside of an ill-conceived short-yardage package, his redshirt freshman season was a success; Martell completed 23-of-28 passes for 269 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions while rushing 22 times for 128 yards and two scores, largely in mop up duty.
With Haskins off to the NFL, the QB1 job in Columbus appeared to be his — until Justin Fields showed up. The No. 2 player in the Class of 2018 left Georgia after one season and enrolled almost immediately at Ohio State. Fields will appeal for an NCAA waiver that permits immediate eligibility if a student-athlete transfers “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.”
The thinking is that the Fields camp will use a September incident in which a Georgia baseball player used to the N-word to refer to Fields during the fourth quarter of the Bulldogs’ 38-12 win over Tennessee. As USA Today‘s Dan Wolken theorized: who is the NCAA to tell a 19-year-old Black student that one of his fellow students publicly referring to him by a racial slur didn’t interfere with his educational experience at Georgia?
Long story short: Fields has a good chance of playing for Ohio State in 2019. But that didn’t bother Martell, at least not initially.
“Why would I leave for somebody that hasn’t put a single second into this program yet?” Martell said ahead of Ohio State’s appearance in the Rose Bowl. “I’ve put two years of literally working my ass off into something I’ve been working for and a dream I’ve had my whole life.
“To just run away from somebody that hasn’t even put a single second into winter workouts and doesn’t know what the program is all about, there’s not a chance.”
Fast forward a couple weeks and, yeah, Martell left for somebody that hadn’t put a single second into that program yet.
right back like we never left…
I’M A HURRICANE! 🙌🏼🌴 pic.twitter.com/6Dh0gu4fxD
— TATE MARTELL (@TheTateMartell) January 16, 2019
Martell would also like the NCAA to grant him a waiver to play in 2019. What’s his argument, you ask?
According to an interview his attorney Travis Leach did with the Toledo Blade, it’s a coaching change.
“There were some things that happened at Ohio State that we can potentially get some relief from the NCAA, and we’re going to try it that way,” Leach told the paper. “The coaching staff turnover is an issue. There are a few things. There’s no real bright-line test that tells you 100 percent how you can get a waiver. This is a tough one, but there are some good facts on his side.”
The Blade article notes that Ohio State has a different head coach and offensive coordinator than the program did at the time Martell signed, as do thousands — literally, thousands — of Martell’s fellow student-athletes across college football. With the admitted caveat we’re not privy to everything that went on behind the scenes during Martell’s 23 months in Columbus, according to the cards his attorney has publicly laid on the table, there’s nothing at all remarkable about the Tate Martell case.
If Martell plays in 2019, what grounds would the NCAA have to prevent any transfer from being immediately eligible for any reason?
Let’s look back at the NCAA waiver, which permits immediate eligibility 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.”
Does the retirement of Urban Meyer, the promotion of Ryan Day and the arrival of Justin Fields meet a reasonable person’s definition of directly impacting Martell’s “well-being” as a student-athlete at Ohio State?
I’m not a lawyer and I’m not employed by the NCAA to evaluate transfer waivers, so I can’t definitely answer that question. But what I can do is consult with an important witness in this case. That person is Tate Martell.
“I have no issue competing with whoever,” Martell said on National Signing Day of 2017. “To make it in the NFL, you have to compete against the best anyway. This is not where I want to stop. I want to play in the NFL, so this isn’t going to be the last time I have to compete against the best guy out there.”