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Francis Bernard, Joe Tukuafu can grow from paying the price, too

SALT LAKE CITY — Well, this is awkward.

Apparently Francis Bernard, the star BYU linebacker, is considering a transfer to Utah. Initially the school announced he was sitting out this season for “personal reasons.”

Interesting choice of words, because when it comes to transfers, it’s always personal.

Once again, a local college football player’s potential move will get more attention than it deserves. That’s because it’s football, and it’s August, when people have too much free time on their hands. The awkwardness isn’t merely because Bernard reportedly wants to go to Utah. It’s whether coach Kalani Sitake would sign a release. Bernard would still have to sit out this season under transfer rules, but could immediately receive financial aid and support from his new team.

Or Sitake could release Bernard to transfer only to certain schools, i.e. anyone except Utah.

Sitake’s take has been that he wouldn’t impede a player who wants to leave. But that might be a different story if the destination is Utah. The Cougars haven’t defeated Utah since 2009. Not only would a Bernard transfer improve the Utes’ linebacker depth, it might even help their instate recruiting.

Sitake seemed to hedge on his permission policy when addressing the media on Monday, noting that a player who leaves on an LDS Church mission immediately after high school, then transfers upon his return, is different than one engrained in a program. Bernard has played the last two seasons for the Cougars.

Sometimes lost in these arguments is that nobody can stop anyone from transferring. Sitake has no choice but to let Bernard go. A National Letter of Intent isn’t an ankle monitor. Transferring simply comes at a cost.

Changing your mind on almost anything in life can be messy.

The NCAA initiated the transfer rule to discourage players from signing with a school and then backing out. But coaches can do the same thing by switching schools — Urban Meyer and Bronco Mendenhall, for instance — without penalty.

In reality, there is a penalty for coaches. It’s called a buyout clause.

Coaches don’t have to sit out a year, but it costs money to leave. They abide by the conditions of their contracts, too.

Transfer news has dominated football talk in Utah this month. It’s a good thing the games start this week. People will finally have something else to get emotional about. A few weeks ago, the family of Utah State tight end Joe Tukuafu went public with its complaint that the Aggies wouldn’t release him from his National Letter of Intent so he could play this fall at BYU, following his LDS Church mission.

But it’s not as though USU coach Matt Wells is locking Tukuafu in a room. The player can transfer to BYU, Oklahoma or Novosibirsk State University if he wants. All it requires is that he wait a year. That is in accordance with both USU and NCAA rules.

Understandably, Tukuafu, who has NFL aspirations, doesn’t want the delay.

The differences between these two transfer cases is that Bernard is a working cog in the BYU program, while Tukuafu’s career at USU hadn’t begun. Last week BYU announced Bernard would redshirt this year for “personal reasons.”

Bernard started 12 games last year after switching from running back. He was third on the team with 80 tackles and second in interceptions. Against Utah he had eight tackles, an interception and a forced fumble.

No wonder Sitake is taking his time — and keeping quiet — on this.

This wouldn’t be the first time a high-profile player has transferred between rivals. Harvey Langi came off a mission in 2014, after spending his freshman year at Utah, and switched to BYU. Langi was eligible to transfer without penalty because he graduated early from high school and enrolled at Utah, but never signed a letter of intent.

If Langi had signed an NLI, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said he wouldn’t have released him.

BYU officials say no decision has been made by Bernard. The NCAA’s transfer rule might seem unfair and restrictive to players, but allowing them to transfer easily and quickly is equally unfair to their coaches and fans. The practice of circumventing the rule by obtaining a release has become almost routine.

All coaches claim they want “what’s best for the student-athletes.” But sometimes that might not include signing their release. Life’s choices nearly always come with attachments. There is growth in those experiences, too.