SoCon's unique transfer rule sidelines Chattanooga's Honor Huff after he followed his old coach to new school

SoCon’s unique transfer rule sidelines Chattanooga’s Honor Huff after he followed his old coach to new school

In April, train Campbell guard Messiah Thompson went public with his dispute regarding the Big South’s bylaw that restricted him from transferring to a school within the conference unless he sat out a redshirt season.

The tactic half-worked. The Big South, which was one of two leagues upholding the out-of-step rule, eventually reversed its policy later in the year. The bad part: It took the conference much longer than Thompson was comfortable waiting, so instead of playing at fellow Big South school Radford, Thompson was induced to decide on a hastier timeline to ensure he’d be eligible for 2022-23. He’s currently on scholarship at Alabama A&M.

With the Big South no longer having the intraconference redshirt transfer rule in place, the Southern Conference is the lone Division I league remaining that prohibits immediate eligibility for intraconference transfers in all sports.

That brings us to Honor Huff. The 5-foot-10 sophomore point guard from Brooklyn, New York, had ONE Division I offer coming out of high school. That school was VMI. Huff spent last season at VMI and was a refreshingly productive player and high-level teammate. VMI’s coach was Dan Earl. In March, Earl was hired by Chattanooga, which like VMI, plays in the SoCon.

Huff, who knew the SoCon’s rule when he made his decision in the spring, decided to follow the only coach who gave him a chance to play DI basketball. Huff was a member of the SoCon All-Freshman Team last season, having started 18 games and averaged 10.0 points and shot 37.7% from beyond the arc. He was an immediate factor on VMI’s winningest team since 2013-14. Ironically enough, his best game came against Chattanooga when he scored a career-best 22 points on the road.

For the past four months, Chattanooga has been appealing to SoCon commissioner Jim Schaus and the league’s presidents to reverse its stance. The issue might come to a head this week. SoCon presidents are meeting Thursday, Schaus told CBS Sports, but added there is no guarantee Huff’s eligibility case/this conference rule will be adjudicated on by week’s end.

“We’ve had discussions about the topic — I can’t say for sure that [on Thursday] the conference’s position is finalized,” Schaus said. “It’s not to say there couldn’t be some further questions or follow-ups on some things.”

Schaus noted the SoCon is the only conference that has public universities, private colleges and military academies that comprehend representation in multiple scholarship sports for men and women. Its blueprint stands apart from the rest of the NCAA. The league has also successfully fended off raid attempts from other conferences and maintained the same 10-school, five-state membership since 2014. That amounts to the longest period without interruption to conference membership for the SoCon since the late 1980s.

“This conference is really, really unique in that they value camaraderie and collegiality like no place I’ve ever been,” Schaus said. “Publics and privates. This group is really tight-knit. … There is a bigger picture that our conference has about things, and not just this.”

The question is whether or not the league’s presidents will want to remain on an island on this issue — potentially alienating their programs in the process in an era of more transferring than ever before — or reverse course and allow Huff to suit up for the Mocs in November. Schaus said a special session is not needed and that the 10 presidents have the autonomy to reverse this rule or grant an exception at their discretion.

“The hardest part right now is not knowing what’s going to happen,” Huff told CBS Sports. “It’s taken away from my game a little bit, the uncertainty of everything has gotten to me.”

A source said VMI has been, at the very least, understanding of Huff’s situation as this saga has dragged on. It would surely be a good bout of publicity for Schaus and the SoCon if it allowed Huff to play. If not, the conference would invite a wave of criticism at a time when player empowerment in college basketball has never been greater.

“He (Earl) was the only one who pulled the trigger and gave me an opportunity, then he gave me another opportunity as a freshman,” Huff said. “I really enjoy the coaching staff and it was an easy decision to make the move. It’s a conference I’m familiar with, having played in it for a year. It’s a good mid-major conference. I wasn’t really considering any other schools heavily.”

Huff said that even though knew about the rule when he transferred, he presumed it was much more commonplace across Division I. Upon learning that the SoCon was the last league to have such a rule for intraconference transfers — and given how waivers have been cleared for multi-time transfers across the country — he doesn’t believe he should have to sit.

“It feels unfair and unjust that the only person that’s in this situation and has to sit is me, and I don’t think I did anything any egregious or did anything wrong,” Huff said. “It’s a mental battle now, just dealing with that. We did think of it as a good opportunity, but knowing it’s the only conference [with this rule] it’s not a good feeling, not a good thing to look forward to at this point.”

Schaus has been a moderator more than an instigator on this, according to sources, but to hear him tell it, the conference has been slow to change this rule because the league has held a peculiar stance. It doesn’t want to restrict intraconference transfers, but also wants to ward off tampering by not immediately allowing for eligibility for in-league transfers.

Huff’s situation doesn’t apply to that standard, however. His coach was allowed to switch jobs in the SoCon without restriction. It makes sense that Huff would want to continue to play for Earl. This isn’t a case of tampering whatsoever.

If anything, the SoCon could choose to keep the rule but allow for waivers in rare situations like this one. It doesn’t seem that complicated. Yet here we are, into October, and Huff still doesn’t know if he’ll be allowed to compete this season.

“It’s also hard going on my phone, on Twitter, this person gets a waiver, this player gets a waiver, two-time transfers, three-times transfers,” he said. “I’m a first-time transfer doing the thing I thought was the best fit for myself. I hope everything with the SoCon comes to light and they make the decision together as a conference to help out my situation.”

Chattanooga will open its season Nov. 7 at Charleston.

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