Justin Fields and Tate Martell each walked into a full quarterback room.
Martell, a freshman at Ohio State, walked into a room inhabiting three starting quarterbacks: J.T. Barrett, Dwayne Haskins and Joe Burrow, who transferred and eventually started at LSU.
Fields walked into the quarterback room at Georgia as one of three five-star quarterbacks, joining Jake Fromm and Jacob Easton, who transferred to Washington prior to the 2018 season.
But both Fields and Martell had something else in common: Both thought they had a legitimate shot at the starting quarterback job at their respective schools. And both, having each spent a year of eligibility, were proved otherwise.
After the 2018 season, both Fields and Martell decided to leave their initial colleges when Fields’ decision to transfer to Ohio State led to Martell’s eventual transfer to the University of Miami.
But for both Fields and Martell, the NCAA transfer rules remain the same: The player will have to sit out one season at the institution they transfer to in order to serve an academic year in residence.
However, the institutions that Fields and Martell transferred to — Ohio State and Miami, respectively — can apply for a waiver that would make the athlete immediately eligible.
“It has become much more common now than it once was,” William Brooks, a partner of Lightfoot Law who specializes in NCAA compliance and investigations, said. “Over the last year or two, you have seen more and more of these requests granted than not, easily more than a majority are granted.”
Brooks said there are a number of grounds the student can assert, but that it does have to be a stated reason that does not involve the student-athlete wanting to play next season.
Fields had a different reason in mind when he came to Ohio State.
During Georgia’s 38-12 win against Tennessee on Sept. 29, Adam Sasser, a former first baseman on the Volunteers’ baseball, team yelled racial slurs toward Fields on the sideline.
“I don’t know whether it was Jake Fromm had a bad series or something, but this guy was really drunk, and he decides to yell out, ‘Put the N-expletive in the game. Put the N in the game,’” Michael Hebert, the football beat reporter for the Red and Black, Georgia’s student newspaper, said.
Sasser, who never denied the incident and later sent out an apology, was kicked off the baseball team on Oct. 3.
“It seemed like it was just an unfortunate incident that wasn’t going to affect anything,” Hebert said.
However, Fields will use this incident, according to reports, as a means to gain immediate eligibility in his first season at Ohio State, teaming up with Tom Mars, the attorney who helped former Ole Miss players, including Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson, gain immediate eligibility for the 2018 season after their transfers.
Brooks said the incident involving Sasser already has an important element that could contribute to Fields’ eligibility.
“The incident that occurred was documented. We know that it happened, so it seems like he has satisfied that part,” Brooks said. “The second part is that it has to directly impact his health, safety or well-being, and that’s what the ultimate decision will be.”
But Herbert believes there is really no hard feelings between Fields and Georgia that led to his transfer.
“I don’t really see Fields having animosity towards anyone,” Herbert said. “It really had a lot to do with the football decision and wanting to be at a place where he feels he could be better.”
Coming into the 2017 season as the No. 2 recruit in the class, Fields had extremely high expectations, despite the level of talent Georgia already had at the quarterback position.
However, throughout the season, Georgia head coach Kirby Smart would bring Fields in for an occasional running play and take him back out.
“Everyone was kind of confused as to what was going on with the plan there,” Herbert said. “Kirby Smart said there was no plan.”
After Georgia’s 41-17 win against South Carolina on Sept. 8, Fields was filmed walking off the field telling a teammate, “I didn’t do s***. I just handed the ball off, and it was good as f***.” Fields completed one pass for eight yards and recorded one rush for three yards in the victory.
Without a direct path to playing time with Fromm firmly holding the starting quarterback job, rumors about Fields possibly transferring swirled around the freshman throughout the 2018 season.
After the 2018 SEC Championship, Jake Reuse, a recruiting writer for UGASports.com, said Fields was “noncommittal” when asked about the transfer rumors, saying he was focused on Georgia at that point in time.
But Reuse felt a transfer was in Fields’ future.
“I think that people left that interview and left that SEC Championship game feeling like it was moving away from rumor and probably more into fact sooner rather than later,” Reuse said.
Fields will not be the only one trying to play next season.
According to a report from 247Sports, Martell will be trying to gain immediate eligibility as well, citing the head coaching change — with Urban Meyer announcing his retirement prior to the Rose Bowl and offensive coordinator Ryan Day taking over as head coach — as his grounds to play for the Hurricanes next season.
Brooks said the standard to gain immediate eligibility is that the circumstance is “a documented, mitigating circumstance outside of the student-athlete’s control.”
Prior to Fields’ transfer to Ohio State, Martell said he was ready to earn the starting quarterback job under Day.
“I feel like it’s my turn to go out there and do my thing. I feel like I’ve earned that,” Martell said. “I’ve worked extremely hard to get to the point where I am, and each year, I keep climbing and getting better.”
Due to the increasing trend of granted requests for immediate eligibility, Fields at Ohio State and Martell at Miami could both have a chance to prove their ability within their new programs starting as soon as the 2019 season.