Somewhat to my skeptical surprise,
General Zod Mike Slive rolled the likes of Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier yesterday. SEC coaches had taken a unanimous position against lowering the class signing limit from 28 to 25, yet their presidents, following Slive’s lead, took a unanimous position mandating just that.
Clearly, Slive won on the optics. The message has been sent that the presidents aren’t beholden to their head coaches. The question is, what exactly have the presidents accomplished with their vote? The answer to that isn’t as clear.
Here’s a summary of what passed:
(1) Eliminated the one-year graduate student exception adopted just last year. A student-athlete who transfers in to have two years of eligibility remaining in order to participate in athletics. However, this won’t be implemented the 2012 season.
(2) Will not permit an SEC institution to sign a prospect to a financial aid agreement until that prospect is enrolled and is a full-time student attending classes. It applies to a prospect who intends to enroll prior to the projected high school graduation date (aka early enrollment).
(3) Established legislation specifying that the conference office will oversee the administration of medical scholarship exemptions. The SEC will have a role in reviewing and deciding the outcome of each medically-related exemption.
(4) Reduced the permissible number of signees from 28 to 25 and moves back the start date for the window for counting date back to Dec. 1. Allow signees to be exempt from the 25 limit if they can be counted as an initial counter in the current year. Establish an oversight process involving a review of roster management issues by the conference office and the presidents and by the ADs. It will require written reports from all 12 institutions. In addition going to propose this legislation nationally. Will write to Dr. Emmert in the next few weeks to advise him that the conference has submitted this proposal we have adopted and we have an expectation that the NCAA should and will adopt the same proposal. It’s in the best interest of prospects, not only here but in the nation.
(5) A prospective student-athlete who attends summer school will count against that year’s scholarship total.
While there’s no question the new rules have tightened what coaches can do, there are still plenty of areas where the coaches maintain a fair degree of flexibility in managing their rosters. For example, the new rules say nothing at all about grayshirting. And, as Chris Low explains, a certain amount of back-counting is still possible:
… So if a school signs 25 players one year and four of those players fail to qualify academically, you could hypothetically place those four players in prep school for the fall, get them back in January and still sign 25 other players in that February class.
When you add it all up, the total number of new players joining the team that August would be 29. The catch is that the four enrollees from prep school in this particular scenario would count against the previous class.
There’s also the talk you’ve likely heard about hard caps and soft caps. Again Low explains:
Here’s the other thing: If a school only has 18 scholarships to give that February, what’s keeping it from signing 22 or 23 players?
That’s still oversigning. It’s just not signing more than what is now the maximum number of 25.
The Big Ten has a hard cap, meaning schools can sign no more than three players over the 85-scholarship limit.
The SEC’s new policy is more of a soft cap.
Is that a big deal? Eh, I’m not sure it’s as big as some make it out to be, at least in a conference where roster evaluations like the one we recently saw take place at Arkansas are part and parcel of how some coaches clear space for new recruits. What a hard cap accomplishes with that sort of roster pruning is to accelerate the timing of the cuts, but the cuts could come all the same. If you want to insure that coaches can’t act with impunity in running off kids, the only way I know of to prevent that would be to convert the athletic scholarship into a four-year commitment. I don’t see that happening any time soon.
That’s not to say the new rules are toothless. It’s good that the conference will attempt to enforce a more uniform standard when it comes to medical scholarships. And preventing recruits from signing financial aid agreements (which has the result of locking the kid away from any other SEC program which might be interested in signing him) until they’re enrolled full-time and actually attending class is the best proposal adopted in terms of doing something for the kids.
Still, Low’s sense of things in the aftermath of the vote is that this isn’t as earth-shattering a development as some would have us believe.
After talking with several coaches and administrators in the league following the presidents’ vote, the general feeling is that this new legislation doesn’t have quite the bite that maybe some have portrayed it as having.
I have the same general feeling. The rules will have an impact in a couple of ways, mainly having to do with how coaches assess the chances of the academically marginal, and we can expect that the upper tier of class size will shrink from the low thirties to the upper twenties, but I don’t see Nick Saban slitting his wrists over this.
And contrary to the back patting – “No one, no one wants to win more than I do,” Slive said, “but we don’t want to win at the expense of young people. We want to win for them.” – I don’t see this as being as big a win for recruits as Slive and his presidents do. As I mentioned before, they took a pass on grayshirting; a rule prohibiting the practice shortly before national signing day or after a recruit has committed to a program wouldn’t be hard to implement and would stop the unfortunate stuff we saw at South Carolina this year.
As a result, it comes off more as a feel-good move, tempered by concerns about competitive advantage, than it does about stopping abuse of recruits and student-athletes. It’s admittedly more than window dressing, which before the meetings is all I thought we’d see, but they’re kidding themselves if they think the coaches won’t largely be able to pursue their vision of roster management as they have. The means will change, that’s all.
To be fair, the one proposal of Slive’s which didn’t pass isn’t being flushed down the toilet completely. It’s being sent on to the NCAA:
… Presidents did not adopt, but instead are sponsoring NCAA legislation making football signees who attend summer school on athletic aid before the fall semester count against a school’s scholarship numbers for that academic year.
Slive said that wasn’t adopted by the conference because of a new rule that will require players to pass nine hours of academic credit in the fall to be eligible the following year. Players who don’t earn nine credits would be suspended for four games the next season unless the player earns 27 credit hours during the first year enrolled.
I’m not sure how they’re going to resolve that one. The plus in Slive’s proposal is that it would stop some late grayshirting because a kid in summer school would have to count against the class he came in with. To preserve a coach’s roster flexibility, that would likely result in some signees being steered away from enrolling for the summer. But with the new credit hours requirement, programs probably feel like they need every opportunity to give their less academically talented student-athletes a chance to succeed, which would make summer enrollment almost a necessity. Tough call there.
Actually, if you’re cynical enough, you know how they’re going to resolve that one.