April 14 update:The Big 12 has now rescinded its rule requiring a year-in-residence for all intra-conference transfers, according to multiplereports, following the NCAA granting all D1 athletes a 1-time waiver to transfer and play immediately. If and when the change becomes official, Morris will be eligible to play for TCU in 2021. Or perhaps not. Stay tuned.
It began as a fairly innocuous question.
Meeting with the media ahead of his Horned Frogs' spring practice season, Gary Patterson was asked about his quarterback room when he dropped, if not a bomb then a grenade on his northern neighbors:
"We don’t know yet on Chandler, it looks like rules are going to change here real quickly," Patterson said. "He still hasn’t been released by Oklahoma.”
The Chandler in question is Chandler Morris. The son of the former SMU and Arkansas head coach signed with Oklahoma as a 3-star recruit out of powerhouse Highland Park High School in the class of 2020.
Morris played sparingly in his true freshman season, tossing five passes while garnering a goal line and short yardage rushing package (five rushes for 44 yards and two touchdowns) in five appearances. All in all, Chandler's usage was similar to Kyler Murray's in his season as Baker Mayfield's backup in 2017, a year that saw him total 35 passes/rushes in seven games before winning the Heisman Trophy in 2018.
The difference there is Mayfield was a fifth-year senior in 2017, while Spencer Rattler started for Oklahoma as a redshirt freshman in 2020. Not only that, Rattler was named CBS Sports's Freshman of the Year and, thanks to the NCAA pausing eligibility clocks for 2020, Rattler could technically have OU's QB1 job on lock all the way through 2024. And if all that wasn't enough, Oklahoma signed the No. 1 QB in the class of 2021, Washington DC's Caleb Williams.
Given all the talent ahead and behind him on the depth chart, Morris made the difficult, if not obvious, business decision to leave.
That brought us to Monday, where Patterson announced Morris is not eligible to compete for the TCU quarterback job.
On Wednesday, Lincoln Riley confirmed the story -- that Morris was not eligible, because Riley chose not to make him eligible. Riley said it wasn't personal, he just has a personal belief against intra-conference transfers playing immediately.
Big 12 recent historians will recall Riley initially blocked Austin Kendall, another former OU QB, from immediate eligibility at West Virginia in 2019, but eventually relented because Kendall was a graduate transfer.
“I was always going to let him go to West Virginia. That was no issue. That’s part of these new rules is we can’t restrict them from going anywhere,” Riley said at the time. “My contention was I had a concern about a player being able to transfer and be immediately eligible the very next year in our league. I don’t think that’s healthy for the league.”
While the circumstances were different, the principle was the same. Kendall knew Riley's playbook -- he'd actually spent three years in Riley's offense, compared to Morris's one -- and transferred to a Big 12 rival. And Riley has no power to prevent Kendall, Morris or any other player from theoretically sharing the goods on OU with his new coaches and teammates, he just has the power to stop Morris from playing in 2021. At least for now, until the NCAA passes its 1-time waiver.
Kendall played against Oklahoma in 2019. He went 15-of-31 for 182 yards. Oklahoma won the game, 52-14.
For an even more recent example, Jay Boulware left Oklahoma after seven seasons to coach at Texas in 2020. Boulware coached in the Red River Shootout, and Oklahoma won it anyway.
As a counterpoint, Oklahoma can argue Mayfield sat out the 2014 season after leaving Texas Tech in 2013. But the counterpoint to that counterpoint is Oklahoma pushed the Big 12 to change its rules on intra-conference transfers, otherwise Mayfield could've played his fifth-year senior season of 2017 at a college program outside the Big 12.
"I appreciate the Big 12 faculty athletics representatives spending more time studying the important issue of walk-on transfers and am pleased by the result of today's Big 12 vote -- not just because it potentially impacts Baker Mayfield, but because it was the right thing to do," then-OU head coach Bob Stoops said at the time.
Riley can believe what he wants but, given the rapidly changing landscape in college athletics, it's hard to imagine this saga ending any other way. The Baker Mayfield case caused the Big 12 to change its rules on intra-conference walk-on transfers, and it will be a surprise if Chandler Morris doesn't cause the Big 12 to change its rules on intra-conference undergraduate transfers.
And if that doesn't happen, it's likely because the NCAA and/or the federal government beats them to the punch.