This is the second of five stories in the Michael-Birdsong-transferring-from-JMU series. It’s another story I broke. It’s about JMU coach Everett Withers blocking where Birdsong can transfer. The story ran April 17, 20014
HARRISONBURG, Va. — Michael Birdsong says he has no problem with a restriction that forbids him from transferring to another Colonial Athletic Association school, but the James Madison quarterback plans to appeal what he called “ridiculous” limits on his freedom to perhaps play football at one of four non-conference colleges.
Birdsong said Thursday that new JMU coach Everett Withers is preventing him from transferring to Appalachian State, Charlotte, Liberty or Old Dominion as part of the release the university is granting him.
“I think that’s ridiculous, you know?” Birdsong said in a telephone interview.
Birdsong said he agreed to the CAA ban Monday in a meeting with Withers, but he knew nothing about the other schools until receiving an email later in the day.
“We had the agreement: No CAA schools. And that’s, like I said, that was completely understandable,” Birdsong said, referring to Withers. “… When you go back on it and then say ODU and Charlotte and some of these other schools — you gave your word. You’re supposed to be a man and stick to your word. But then, when that doesn’t happen, now we’ve got to deal with this mess, and it’s just frustrating. And hopefully, we can get it cleared up, and hopefully, I can win this thing and be able to talk to whoever I want to, like I was supposed to be able to.”
He said he found out about the additional blocked schools in an email from the compliance department not long after his meeting with Withers. Birdsong said he has not spoken to Withers since that Monday meeting.
Through a spokesman, Withers refused an interview request.
The 20-year-old Birdsong — who has two years of eligibility remaining, plus a redshirt to burn — said he has an appeal scheduled with JMU for 1:45 p.m. Tuesday.
According to NCAA transfer rules, a panel of non-athletics university personnel must conduct appeals hearings. At Madison, it will be a committee of faculty chaired by a non-athletics administrator, JMU athletic director Jeff Bourne said in an email Thursday night while attending a sports banquet.
Bourne did not respond to an earlier Thursday to messages seeking Madison’s response to Birdsong ‘s comments.
For a player to transfer, a university must release that player and give him permission to contact another school. That’s how Withers is able to dictate where Birdsong goes, and it’s not an unusual practice in Division I athletics.
In 2012, Wisconsin men’s basketball coach Bo Ryan refused to release Jarrod Uthoff, barring him, notably, from the entire Big Ten and the entire Atlantic Coast Conference. Uthoff later won an appeal and transferred to Big Ten rival Iowa.
Birdsong, JMU’s 2013 starting quarterback, said he has little interest in a CAA school and said he hopes to transfer up to a Division I-A program. His grievance is with Withers, who Birdsong maintains didn’t hold up his end of the agreement by tacking on more schools later.
“The meeting went well,” Birdsong said. “It was short and sweet. He told me I couldn’t go to any CAA school, which was understandable. But then, three hours go by and the whole thing comes crashing down a little bit. … When I try to get released to ODU and Charlotte and some of these other schools, they denied ODU and Charlotte and a few others, and I just don’t understand why they’re doing that.”
Among the schools Birdsong said he’s been given the OK by JMU to transfer to are Virginia, East Carolina and Marshall and two I-AA programs: Coastal Carolina and VMI. Birdsong said Marshall — Thundering Herd assistant coach J.C. Price recruited Birdsong when Price was a JMU assistant — is his favorite right now, but he wants more options.
App State, Charlotte and ODU are in I-A conferences that Madison might be interested in joining. Liberty also has been exploring I-A options.
Birdsong said he asked Withers, who replaced the fired Mickey Matthews, for his release Monday and informed the coach of his intention to transfer. Birdsong said he is transferring because he didn’t think he would play after JMU added Georgia Tech transfer Vad Lee in January.
Although Birdsong said he welcomed a quarterback competition with Lee and acknowledged that JMU needed quarterback depth, he didn’t feel he got a fair shot to keep his starting job.
“No doubt. [Competition is] what everybody looks for who plays a sport,” Birdsong said. “But when you’re told you’re going to be having an equal opportunity to compete — and I think deserve an equal opportunity to compete after the things I’ve done — and you don’t get that opportunity, that’s just a slap in the face.”
JMU had an 8-6 record with Birdsong starting at quarterback the past two seasons, including 6-6 last season. The Dukes missed the playoffs in 2012 and 2013. Last year, Birdsong had the best passing season in JMU history. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Matoaca native threw for a single-season school-record 2,728 yards.
Birdsong said he first considered transferring when Matthews was fired in November. He said he made his final decision after spring practice when, to him, it seemed apparent that Lee would be the starter.
“I’ve been [sitting] on this decision for quite [some] time – at least a month or two,” Birdsong said. “And for days, I’d be flipping back and forth and then, eventually, when I got to spring ball, about the last two weeks of spring ball, I kind of knew it was my time to go. It was tough ’cause this is a great school. It’s a great university. I’ve had great times here as any other person would and should. But the guys on the team, those are probably the best friends I’ve ever made in my life. And I’ve got my girlfriend here. I’ve been dating her for a year and a half. … But I’ve got to do what’s best for me and chase down my dreams, and my dream is to play football at the next level.”