While Ryan Day puts together his first Ohio State football coaching staff, another questions hangs over the program.
Will Justin Fields be eligible to play this fall?
A lawyer for the Georgia transfer told The Columbus Dispatch he expects Fields’ appeal for immediate playing time will be successful.
“I’m very confident that the NCAA will grant Justin a waiver so he can play next season, but not just for the reasons people have speculated about on social media,” attorney Tom Mars told the newspaper. “There’s more to it than that.”
Though he did not elaborate on what the latter might entail, the “speculation” he referred to revolves around an incident last fall in which a Georgia baseball player publicly referred to Fields using a racial slur during a Bulldogs football game.
The player, Adam Sasser, apologized, was kicked off the baseball team.
A university spokesman stated, “We do not condone discriminatory behavior,” but the incident could fall under a clause in NCAA guidelines that allows for immediate eligibility if a player 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.”
In a separate story, Mars told The Toledo Blade that Fields' case "is a high priority for Coach Day, and it’s my top priority at the moment. I’m confident the process will move quickly and that the NCAA will be able to make a decision on OSU’s waiver request much sooner than most people might think.”
Although expedience is rarely something anyone associates with NCAA decisions anyway, Mars was referring to the case of Shea Patterson, a quarterback who transferred from Mississippi to Michigan last year.
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Patterson, who was represented by Mars, sought and got immediate eligibility after arguing Mississippi representatives misled him about the potential for serious NCAA sanctions to be levied as a result of violations committed by the former coaching staff and school boosters.
His case was not finalized until late April 2018, but Mars told The Blade a decision in the Fields case could be rendered in February.
Even if Fields is ruled eligible, he will have to beat out sophomore Tate Martell for the starting quarterback job vacated when Dwayne Haskins declared for the NFL draft Monday.
Matthew Baldwin, a redshirt freshman from Texas, and Chris Chugunov, a senior who transferred from West Virginia last year, also figure to be in the mix.