Butch Jones’ recruiting loophole

Butch Jones once said this about Alabama:  “The one thing they can say about their program is it is what we are building here at Tennessee.”

When it comes to recruiting, it’s starting to look like Butch is a chip off the old block.  You may not have noticed, but Tennessee is well on its way to a monster-sized recruiting class, well over the scholarship limit.  How can Jones do that?  Well, much of that will come down to the traditional way more aggressive programs have gone about their oversigning business:  some combination of countbacks to the 2013 class, grayshirting, weeding out some kids on the current 85-man roster and pushing some current commits to the side to take higher rated ones.  It’s a frothy mixture that no doubt will be tolerated by the Vol faithful, but it’s nothing new.

What is new is this.

As Tennessee’s list of verbal commitments continues to grow (it should be up to 34 if lineman Charles Mosley commits on Friday as expected), the Vols are contending with two limits.

One is the NCAA-imposed limit on scholarships. The other is the conference-imposed limit on signees.

There’s no loophole on NCAA scholarship limits. Teams can have only 85 total scholarship players, of whom no more than 25 can be “initial counters” in any given year. (There are some strategies to minimize the impact of the NCAA limits, which I discussed here. More on that in a second).

But is it possible that Tennessee’s staff has stumbled upon a loophole that would effectively allow the Vols to “over-sign” in a way that was common a few years ago but has largely been eliminated because of new rules?

Take a look at the text of the SEC rule limiting signees that went into effect Aug. 1, 2011 (emphasis added):

13.9.1 Letter of Intent – Limitation. Each SEC member institution is limited to signing 25 football prospective student-athletes to a National Letter of Intent, Conference financial aid agreement and/or institutional offer of athletics financial aid from December 1 through May 31st of each year. [Adopted 5/29/09; effective immediately; revised 6/3/11; effective August 1, 2011]

(Here’s a .pdf link if you want to peruse the SEC rules yourself.)

The dates are critical, because the SEC bylaw collides with a new NCAA rules interpretation that impacted this recruiting cycle. Academically eligible student-athletes who plan to enroll early (in January) are now allowed to sign aid agreements with universities as early as Aug. 1.

Tennessee had a flood of players sign aid agreements last month — perhaps a half-dozen players or more. Why is this significant? By the letter of the law, those players wouldn’t count against the SEC’s signing limit. They’re freebies, if you will.

I’m not exactly sure I’d call that a freebie, or even a loophole.  It’s more like buying something on credit – at some time you’ve still got to pay the bill, so to speak.  It’s a semi-loophole, at best.

Signees and scholarships (i.e., initial counters) are two different things.

SEC rules limit signees; NCAA rules limit overall scholarships and initial counters.

The possible loophole I described is for the former; there is no loophole for the latter.

At the end of the day, the Vols — like any other team — can give no more than 25 initial counters in any year and have no more than 85 scholarship players overall. 

Under the hypothetical theory I floated in the story, the Vols could sign 35 players, but they would still have to cross the scholarship hurdle.

In the end, Jones will have to get his roster numbers down to the same level that every other program does.  It’s the process of getting there that’s going to be revealing.  As Woodbury puts it, “Signees are a January/February issue. Scholarships are a May/June/July issue.”  In other words, get ’em in the door and let God sort out the rest.  At least the kids who signed financial aid agreements won’t be coming out of pocket.

The other thing that will be worth watching is as Jones’ strategy comes more into focus is the reaction from other coaches.  Do they scream or do they copy?  Hey, it’s the SEC, who am I kidding?  They’ll do both.


Filed under Because Nothing Sucks Like A Big Orange, Recruiting

60 responses to “Butch Jones’ recruiting loophole

  1. Scorpio Jones, III

    What do you figger the cumulative “catch up with Vandy” numbers for UT would be…two years? Three? With Georgia-5 and a coaching change?
    With Bama (and Awbun..tee hee) 10 years, two coaching changes and a partridge in a pear tree?

  2. Scorpio Jones, III

    So maybe one of SOD’s problems was that he did not know how to cheat?
    and no developmental studies program?

  3. Bulldawg165

    Meanwhile, UGA has 16 commitments so we can offer another dozen scholarships to walk-ons (who probably already have the HOPE scholarship) and then complain about not having enough depth at certain positions.

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe in oversigning, but we at least need to fill up our roster with good players and try to limit the extent to which the deck is stacked in our rivals’ favor.

    • mp

      Estimates are that UGA has room for 22 signees (which revokes any outstanding walk on scholarships)…so what should their goal be today? Have 22 commitments today so they have no room left for those deciding on signing day? Have 19 so they have room? Sign 25 and kick 3 kids off like Bama would? They had 17 up until a couple days ago. Just curious what you think they should plan for.

      • Bulldawg165

        Where are these estimates at? And do you really think we’re going to get 6 commitments on signing day and then have zero issues this offseason?

        • RandallPinkFloyd

          Those estimates are on every recruiting site you can find. He’s not saying we’re going to get 6 on signing day. He’s saying we have room for a few more between now and signing day, plus leaving a few openings for guys that will wait until NSD to make a decision. Do you really want to take a 3 start today and not have room for Lorenzo Carter should he decide on UGA? Richt’s philosophies are what they are at this point, to expect him to start bending the rules/telling kids he doesn’t have room is wishful thinking.

          • Bulldawg165

            “to expect him to start bending the rules/telling kids he doesn’t have room is wishful thinking.”

            And suggesting that we use up our entire 85 scholarships on legitimate athletes is doing that how, exactly?

            • RandallPinkFloyd

              I’m fairly certain that’s what the attempt to sign 33 kids last year was. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s no exact science. You have to leave room for the 5 stars that tell you that you’re in the running and then when you don’t get them on NSD, you have to scramble to fill those out (see Gates, Ken). Richt isn’t going to oversign/greyshirt/turn a kid away. You might as well just live with it as long as he’s the guy in charge.

              • Bulldawg165

                “Richt isn’t going to oversign/greyshirt/turn a kid away. You might as well just live with it as long as he’s the guy in charge.”

                Again, at what point have I advocated this? I’m simply saying that it’s ridiculous that we have so many scholarships available year after year. It’s not just one or two that we leave on the table, it’s often very close to the double digits.

                • RocketDawg

                  Wrong. Two years ago we had less than 85 due to massive attrition and the fact that the staff planned to sign a huge class last year due to the amount of in state talent.

                  I am sure that if you feel like you could do a better job Greg McGarity would love to hear from you.

      • Just me personally, and I know “oversigning” is a dirty word, but I think the smart thing to do is to plan to oversign by 2-3 players every year (in relation to the overall cap of 85), as long as at least a couple of the players have been told up front that grayshirting is a possibility. In reality though, offseason turnover of 2-3 players is completely normal, with no shady stuff from the coaching staff needed. Either discipline, guys wanting to go somewhere else for more playing time, academic casualties among the current roster, commits not qualifying academically, etc. I just think it would be extremely rare that you would get caught having to actually grayshirt someone if you are only oversigning by 2 or 3. But again, as long as a couple of the recruits were told up front that grayshirting was possible if there was no offseason turnover, I don’t see anything unethical about that.

        So if you’ve got 22 spots available, and you think you might be able to land 2 or 3 of those big names who wait until signing day (it’s very rare to land more than 2 or 3 of those guys), I’d like to see us sitting at 22 already going into signing day. Again, with the understanding that at least a couple of the current commits understand the possibility that grayshirting could come into the equation.

        Easier said than done, that’s what I would like to see though.

        • Skeptic Dawg

          Winner winner! ^^This! The poor roster management, failure to routinely sign a full class (or greater than a full class) is the reason the Dawgs were so young on D this year, in addition to the decline this program went through in recent years. Among other major shortcomings, this could be Richt’s most glaring weakness.

          • Debby Balcer

            Richt on the hot seat hurt our recruiting big time so we can thank ourselves for a part of that problem.

            • Bulldawg165

              When you put up a 6-7 record at the flagship university of a state that produces the fourth most football talent in the country you deserve to be on the hotseat, so he can thank himself for that😉

              • Skeptic Dawg

                Bingo! You beat me to the punch.

              • Dawgfan Will

                I agree with you, but it’s foolish to ignore the impact that fans are having on athletes through social media. A couple years ago, you could legitimately say that fans on blogs were just blowing hot air into the wind. More recently, though, it has become obvious that even if coaches seem oblivious to fan opinions on the internet, athletes on Facebook and Twitter are most certainly not. The bloviations (to borrow a term from the good Senator) of fan “experts” who attack coaches AND athletes who are struggling may be seen as attempts to stimulate upward trajectory in the eyes of said fans, but they only cast a negative light on the program to the recruits who the same struggling coaches and athletes are trying to lure onto campus. I believe this was Debbie’s point.

                And let me reiterate: I do think that Richt’s own stubbornness was the biggest problem. However, he has shown the ability to adapt (glacial though it may seem to some) that gives me faith that his approach is working. We could probably argue all day whether he adapts quickly enough.

          • RocketDawg

            The only place we were unusually young on defense this year was in the secondary. Jr’s and a Sr on the D-line, 2 Jr’s and a Soph (one true frosh LB because he beat out an upperclassman) in the LB corps. The secondary was thin due to kids being kicked off the team for stealing, grades and misses in talent evaluation.

        • JRod1229

          Richt is never going to offer a Greyshirt. It won’t happen. So move on.

        • Keese

          Kinda like UGA overselling student tickets to young alumni I guess.

  4. Not saying it isn’t shady, but I think he sees this as kind of a one time opportunity to really jumpstart things. Like you said, it’s kinda like buying on credit, so this tactic isn’t something you can do year in and year out. But I think he knows several things:

    1. There will be de-commitments between now and signing day in his class. That is inevitable. Even if he tries to sign 35, he’s probably going to end up at 32 or 33, which is exactly what happened to us last year when we had room to sign 35 (though at least our was more above board).

    2. With that many signees, at least one or two aren’t going to qualify academically.

    3. There’s gonna be at least one or two transfers, people kicked off the team due to discipline, etc.

    Combine #1 and #2, and there really probably won’t be an issue of having to squeeze 5 people in as described in the article, or dropping lower rated recruits for higher rated ones. The one thing not really addressed in the article is where UT is in relation to the overall cap of 85. As long as they don’t have to run off a bunch of current players to get under 85 (#3 above will help, there’s always legitimate transfers and/or people kicked off of teams due to discipline), I don’t have a huge problem with what Butch is doing this year.

    Again, I agree that the front end is kinda shady (using the semantics of the dates and so forth), but I don’t see it likely becoming a major “roster management” issue, where he has to run kids off even though they’ve done nothing wrong. I don’t think this is something that can be done on a regular basis by a program without getting into some of the really bad roster management issues, but as a one time thing, it doesn’t irk me too badly.

    • Bulldog Joe

      1. There will be de-commitments between now and signing day in his class. True. But not all the decommit decisions will be made by the player. Some athletic scholarships will be withheld a semester or longer. Some will get Tennessee Hope scholarships instead. Some will be encouraged to transfer after signing day.

      2. With that many signees, at least one or two aren’t going to qualify academically. At least. Coincidentally, these will be the students who didn’t perform as well on the field or in workouts. This is true for students on the current roster as well.

      3. There’s gonna be at least one or two transfers, people kicked off the team due to discipline not performing as well on the field or in workouts. FIFY. This is true for students on the current roster as well.

      4. Also, there will be new and nagging injuries to pop-up in the off-season. Coincidentally, these medical redshirts will be given to players who didn’t perform as well on the field or in workouts.

  5. Nate Dawg

    These are the things that make me worry. They cheat, we don’t. We get passed by. Right?

  6. Normaltown Mike

    Well if this isn’t proof that Butch has reached out to Phil, I don’t know what is.

    Recall that in their 1990’s run, UT was the only SEC school that allowed players to withdraw from a full time class schedule to part-time student while remaining on the football squad.

    • Scorpio Jones, III

      Yep, and that’s not the only “academic hurdle” that was reconstituted for the football program…then there was tutor-gate, etc.

    • Macallanlover

      That may be more of a university issue than a Foolmer issue, unless the rule has changed since my time (very possible). Not carrying the minimum class load for students makes you ineligible by NCAA guidelines, but schools determine how late you can go through the drop/add process. Players should receive a failing grade for not attending/participating in a class but remaining enrolled in it for NCAA purposes. Could be they did something administratively to accommodate them, like an incomplete.

      • Scorpio Jones, III

        My memory is a little cloudy on these academic things re: UT, but I do remember that one of the complaints by the leather-elbow-patch brigade in Knoxville (and they do have them) was that Phil did not graduate many football players, so maybe incompletes were the tool.

        The tutoring program that ultimately led to a whistle-blowing professor losing her job originated in the athletic department and led to an NCAA investigation of little consequence….couple scholarships?

        Phil pushed the academic envelope in many ways that would be illegal now.

        But so did everybody.

    • 69Dawg

      A friends son went to UT and the reason the NCAA could not do anything about the championship teams large number of effective academic non-qualifiers was that the withdrawal rule was a school rule and any student had until the final exam to drop a class and receive a no grade incomplete. Georgia and most other schools that actually GAS about academics have a short drop/add period but after that period a pass/fail is attached to the withdrawal. I think UT’s rule required the student to retake the class in some time period but how do you not end up with a 4.0 average if you can drop without any grade point effect? Seems UT likes making money on retakes more than academic integrity.

  7. Bulldog Joe

    Looks like some tUTors will be failing the finals of a significant number of backups this month.

  8. Bryant Denny

    “Frothy mixture?” LOL.

    The lead in for this post is disingenuous. “Oversigning,” “roster management,” or whatever buzzword you want to attach isn’t illegal, immoral or unethical.

    Backcounting, greyshirts, medical hardships – all are legal.

    The problem with these things comes when coaches aren’t up front and above board with the players. Some coaches are and some aren’t, but most of us have no idea if they are or not.

    I’ve always said the market will correct these things. If coaches lie, they ultimately will not have success on the recruiting trail. The market is also bringing to forth multi-year scholarships.

    I hope UT stays down forever. But it was evident their roster cannot compete in the SEC. Did coaches recruit bad players? Are the coaches not developing players? Or maybe some of the players can’t compete in this league?

    I’m guessing that Jones issued a set of expectations for the players when he arrived. He’s now seen a spring and full season of how the players responded. If he doesn’t renew a scholarship at this point, I think he probably has a good reason not to. (I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on that for now.)

    Hope y’all have a good day,


    • “Oversigning,” “roster management,” or whatever buzzword you want to attach isn’t illegal, immoral or unethical.

      Where did I say it was?

      As for the rest of your point, I think that’s what I meant by watching to see how things play out.

    • Mayor of Dawgtown

      I also hope UT stays down forever. FWIW if a player doesn’t live up to expectations he SHOULD be shown the door IMHO. I know for a fact that when SOS took over at South Carolina he did just that–booted guys from the team that he decided couldn’t cut it. What are we at Georgia teaching kids by having this “scholly for life as long as you don’t break the rules” practice? You’re teaching them to be mediocre, that’s what. Do just the minimum–be just good enough to get by. That, in a nutshell, is the fundamental difference between CMR and Saban. Saban demands excellence–or you are gone. It makes the kids work to excel.

  9. Bryant Denny

    Well, I think describing this as a frothy mixture that the Vols will tolerate doesn’t have positive implications.🙂

    Forgive me, I’m still a bit jumpy.


    • Gigadawg

      It’s not illegal. But if it isn’t immoral, it’s somewhere in the vicinity. Oversigning by a player or two by design is one thing, where you’re expecting attrition with each class. But to do it in bunches like the Sabanites — that’s at least amoral, by my definition of the word. Like lawyers who operate fully within the law, but somewhere under the sleaze line.

      • Bryant Denny

        My line is when a player or recruit is lied to.

        What would you say defines too much attrition?


        • I agree. As long as the recruit is making an informed decision and no NCAA rules are being broken, I don’t see what’s wrong.

          • Midtown Dawg

            So you are advocating for it at UGA?

            • Does it sound like I am? Anyway, it’s not my place to set school recruiting policy.

              Besides, Georgia had a healthy share of signbacks with this last class, so it’s not like Richt isn’t already doing some of it.

              • Skeptic Dawg

                There is a huge, ocean-wide gap between signing a full class, over signing to better handle attrition that happens routinely and having to makeup for the previous years under signing. That is what 2013 was. Let’s not try to put lipstick on that pig.

                • What is with people reading more into what I write than what I said? I wasn’t dressing up any pigs, I was simply describing a practice Richt engaged in with this last signing class. Do you disagree with my facts, or are you just wanting to spin for the hell of it?

                  Do I need to make a reading comprehension test a requirement to comment here? I’m starting to wonder.

    • AusDawg85

      Now wait just one second, BD…

      (too soon?)

      BTW, I’m really starting to blame everything Auburn on you guys. Look what we’ve done to our in-state rival. Why can’t you obliterate those idiots? RUN YOUR DAMN STATE MAN!

  10. 69Dawg

    As I stated above UT does not GAS. Win by any means necessary. SOD had some ethics Jones is their guy. UT will graduate as many players as they need to maintain their APR for bowl and schollies. The Big Orange will be back shortly.