No matter what he does or does not accomplish on the field, Tate Martell’s career will be remembered long after he hangs up his Hurricanes* helmet for the final time as perhaps the perfect emblem for this moment in college football history.
* Subject to further change
After starting for Poway High School in the San Diego area as a freshman, Martell, already a Washington commit at the time, transferred to powerhouse Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, a move that allowed his recruiting profile to blossom. Martell later de-committed from Washington and committed to Texas A&M, only to de-commit from Texas A&M and sign with Ohio State in 2017.
Martell redshirted in 2017, then played sparingly as Dwayne Haskins’ backup in 2018. With Haskins off to the NFL, the job was apparently Martell’s — until Justin Fields showed up. Rumors of Fields’, the No. 2 overall recruit of 2018, apparent interest in becoming a Buckeye made it to Pasadena when Ohio State was in town for the Rose Bowl, where Martell essentially dared Fields to try to beat him out.
“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.
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“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.”
Fields called Martell’s bet and, instead of challenging Fields to a duel on the practice field, he transferred to Miami.
right back like we never left…
I’M A HURRICANE! 🙌🏼🌴 pic.twitter.com/6Dh0gu4fxD
— TATE MARTELL (@TheTateMartell) January 16, 2019
Fields believed he would be granted a waiver to play immediately at Ohio State, arguing that a September episode when a Georgia baseball player used the N-word in reference to him interfered with his educational experience as a Bulldog.
As we know, Martell didn’t wait around to find out if Fields’ waiver was approved (spoiler: it was), and instead bet the fastest path to the playing field in 2019 was through getting his own waiver.
To put it bluntly: No one lobbed a racial slur at Martell in Columbus. The argument for Martell’s transfer, at least publicly, was that Ohio State had a coaching change — as do dozens of schools every single year.
“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,” Martell’s lawyer told the Toledo Blade in January. “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.”
I argued at the time that an approval of Martell’s waiver would be a white flag moment, thereby opening the floodgates to full-on free agency in major college football — for better or for worse.
Two major developments have happened since the publication in that column. We’ll work in reverse order.
On Tuesday, Miami announced Martell’s waiver has been approved. He will be a Hurricane in 2019.
“We are pleased with this ruling and appreciate the NCAA recognizing that this waiver met the criteria under the membership established guidelines,” Miami AD Blake James said. “We would like to thank the NCAA, as well as Ohio State University, for their assistance and support throughout the waiver process. We look forward to seeing Tate compete for the Hurricanes this season.”
Miami head coach Manny Diaz offered his own comment in gif form.
— Manny Diaz (@Coach_MannyDiaz) March 19, 2019
The other major development: the Powers That Be apparently read our column.
The NCAA on Valentine’s Day announced its Committee for Legislative Relief had begun a “holistic” review of the new transfer guidelines, which passed last April.
Included in that announcement were two points, one a sentence and another a quote, that seemingly run in opposition of each other. First, the quote, from Lafayette deputy AD Kaity McKittrick.
“The Committee for Legislative Relief is reviewing current transfer waiver guidelines to make sure they are in line with the membership’s expectations. We do believe attention on a small number of high-profile requests can skew perceptions of the scope of staff and committee review. Each waiver request is reviewed individually, as they each present a unique fact pattern and almost always confidential information of the student. Our committee and the staff operate with the membership’s guidelines in mind, and are not driven by a specific approval percentage.”
Second, the sentence:
Since that action, the Transfer Working Group and other membership groups have expressed a desire to re-examine the waiver guidelines.
While it’s impossible to know what the Transfer Working Group and Committee for Legislative Relief will ultimately decide, it always seemed unlikely that ADs and coaches would tolerate such a massive downward shift in power lying down.
And perhaps it took Tate Martell’s saga to push the situation to its breaking point.