The ball is now in Malik Zaire’s court.
The presidents and chancellors of the 14 SEC schools voted Friday to alter the conference’s graduate transfer rule, which previously prevented schools that had grad transfers who did not earn all their APR points from accepting more transfers for a three-year period.
Friday’s vote reduced the ban to one year, a proposal by the athletic directors at SEC spring meetings in Destin, Fla. The Florida Gators were penalized last year after Mason Halter and Anthony Harrell failed to meet their academic requirements in 2015.
With the rule change, the Gators can now take Zaire as a graduate transfer. The former Notre Dame quarterback — who is reportedly decided on Florida — left the Irish in late November, but delayed his decision to see if Florida would become an option.
Florida’s Jim McElwain was one of several SEC coaches this week who made the case for changing the graduate transfer rule.
“If we have rules in the SEC that are different than the [conferences] that we are playing against, I don’t know what we’re trying to prove,” McElwain said Tuesday.
The next enrollment period at Florida is June 26 for the Summer B semester. If Zaire chooses the Gators, he would have 10 weeks to learn Florida’s offense, compete for the starting job and get ready for the season opener against Michigan on Sept. 2 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Competition awaits Malik Zaire
Zaire would have to battle redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks and redshirt junior Luke Del Rio, who went 5-1 as the 2016 starter before his season-ending shoulder injury that required surgery this spring. Del Rio should be healed for the fall, but Franks heads into training camp with the edge in the QB competition.
Florida added Austin Appleby as a graduate transfer quarterback last year, though Zaire is considered a more talented player. Appleby struggled in the majority of his seven starts, but finished with a 4-3 record and helped the Gators repeat as SEC East champions with an upset win at LSU.
“We did it a year ago with Austin and he came in and ended up helping our program,” McElwain said Tuesday. “What you are constantly trying to do is enhance each position group no matter what that is. Competition breeds quality.”
Zaire had 816 career passing yards at Notre Dame with 6 touchdowns and zero interceptions, completing 59 percent of his pass attempts in 17 games played. He was 3-0 as a starter —including wins over LSU and Texas — before breaking his right ankle in the second game of 2015 and spending last season as the backup to DeShone Kizer, a second-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
This week Zaire told ESPN his announcement will come “as soon as possible.”
“I want to get in before fall camp and before school starts so I can be around the guys and get rolling on those relationships,” Zaire said. “I’m going in to win a championship. That’s the whole goal.”