LITTLE ROCK — Despite an NCAA about-face that closed an avenue for a student-athlete’s transfer, a Nevada-Las Vegas offensive lineman is at Arkansas because of the UA’s aggressive pursuit of the young man.
Originally, Cameron Jefferson was Fayetteville-bound under Section E of NCAA bylaw 14.7.2 because somebody in the Arkansas football program was knowledgeable about the seldom-used section and up to date on Academic Progress Rate news around the country.
In April, when UNLV confirmed that the football team had lost its appeal of an NCAA ban on postseason play this year, the headlines focused on how coach Bobby Hauck had the Rebels headed in the right direction with their first bowl game in 13 years and how the ban was a setback. After winning two games each of Hauck’s first three years, UNLV won seven last year and Hauck was rewarded with a contract extension and a raise.
The only obvious Arkansas angle was that UNLV’s last bowl game prior to the Heart of Dallas Bowl was 31-14 over the Razorbacks in the Las Vegas Bowl Dec. 21, 2000. Nowhere did I read about UNLV players being eligible to transfer and play immediately because of the ban.
In a story last month by Mark Anderson of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, a review of public records obtained by the newspaper showed that UNLV officials knew last July that the football program was shy of the minimum APR and tried to avoid a bowl ban. The NCAA said the self-imposed penalties did not go far enough and denied UNLV’s final appeal on April 10.
Arkansas seized the moment, contacting UNLV about Jefferson, a 6-foot-6, 305-pound senior. Six weeks later, the Razorbacks said Jefferson would transfer to Fayetteville.
One of the key clauses in Section E is that an athlete can transfer if a postseason ban based on academic performance covers “all of the remaining seasons of the student-athlete’s eligibility …” The same rule was in play two years ago when UConn basketball was banned from the postseason and 6-foot-9 Alex Oriakhi transferred to Missouri to play his final year.
Late this week, the NCAA lifted UNLV’s postseason ban after scores of about a half-dozen athletes were reviewed and the school’s APR score was adjusted.
But, Jefferson’s transfer to Arkansas is intact because he completed his degree at UNLV in recent days and is eligible to play immediately under the graduate-transfer rule. If not for the early contact, the Razorbacks might not be adding a player who has started 33 games.
Although he played three positions in the offensive line during his first three years, all 13 starts last year were at left guard, a position that is unsettled at Arkansas.
Mitch Smothers, Luke Charpentier, Cordale Boyd and Grady Ollison took snaps with the Razorbacks’ first-team offense during the spring. In the Red-White game, Charpentier worked with the starters, but Bielema said later that Ollison was No. 1 at guard.
There is no way to know how an honorable mention pick in the Mountain West Conference will compete in the SEC, but Arkansas’ run-first offense starts with the offensive line and it is relevant that UNLV ran the ball 507 times last year. Also noteworthy is that Jefferson’s dad, William, played two years in the NFL and that the young man didn’t play football until the 11th grade.
At the very least, Jefferson’s presence improves Arkansas’ standing among SEC teams with experienced offensive lines.
Phil Steele, whose preseason football magazine is loaded with stats, calculated number of starts by returning offensive linemen in the league and had Arkansas No. 12. With Jefferson, the number jumps from 51 to 84, good for fourth in the league. Only Auburn and South Carolina, each with 113, and Texas A&M with 89 are ahead of the Razorbacks. Eight teams have linemen who have started less than 80 games and nowhere is experience more important than in the offensive line.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.