John Adams: Do changes hurt SEC's advantage?

Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley stands with the team before the Vols had their team picture taken at Neyland Stadium on Aug. 15, 2010.

Photo by Saul Young

Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley stands with the team before the Vols had their team picture taken at Neyland Stadium on Aug. 15, 2010.

DESTIN, Fla. - The SEC presidents sent a message to their conference football coaches Friday.

Allow me to paraphrase: "Thanks for the five consecutive national championships; now, give us those scholarships back."

That's my best interpretation of the attempt by the conference higher-ups to tackle the oversigning issue at this week's spring meetings.

For legislative purposes, the league presidents categorized it as "roster management" and formulated a five-proposal package, which they will send along to the NCAA.

If the rest of the college football world is on board with the plan, there's no problem. But if it doesn't go along, the conference has put itself at a competitive disadvantage.

I can hear Alabama coach Nick Saban's teeth gnashing from here. If you say "competitive disadvantage" to his face, you better duck.

You could argue that the coaches brought this on themselves by circumventing the current rule - passed last year by the SEC and NCAA - that allowed schools to sign as many as 28 student-athletes in a year.

The SEC presidents have now responded by reducing the yearly scholarship limit to 25. Take that, coaches.

Don't the presidents understand that getting around rules is as much a part of coaching as getting a fast wide receiver isolated on a slower defender?

That's why "grayshirting" has become part of our football lexicon. A coach can sign a player in February but not put him on scholarship until the following January. So the scholarship won't count against the class, or the overall limit of 85 until the following year.

I can understand the presidents' intent. They're ostensibly looking out for the student-athlete.

That student-athlete could have his scholarship postponed until January. Or in a worst-case scenario, he could be cut loose in August if a coach misjudged the attrition of his signing class.

There's another side to the scholarship reduction, though.

What about the high school player who wants nothing more than to play football at Tennessee?

He knows he's a borderline prospect. He knows he might not make the final cut or might have to pay his own way until January. Yet he's willing to take the chance.

Fewer chances will be available under the new rule.

Maybe the presidents think, "What's the big deal? We're only talking about three fewer scholarships."

But what if one of those lost scholarships cost you a Cam Newton or a Nick Fairley, or any other player who could make the difference in a good season and a great one, as those guys did at Auburn last season?

While I understand the presidents' reasoning behind the reduction, I'm baffled by another one of their proposals related to roster management.

In the past, the conference has allowed an exception to the league rule requiring transfers to have at least two years of eligibility remaining. If a student-athlete has graduated, he can transfer to an SEC school, enroll in graduate school and play right away - even if he has just one year of eligibility remaining.

The new proposals eliminate that exception, which begs the question: "How does that help the student-athlete?"

My guess is the decision stems from all the negative publicity the conference received when Ole Miss signed quarterback Jeremiah Masoli last year. Although Masoli had graduated from Oregon, he also had been dismissed from his team after multiple off-the-field incidents.

You might contend this rule rarely will come up.

It only has to come up once to make a difference if other NCAA schools aren't playing by the same rule.

Remember Ryan Smith? He was a starting cornerback on Florida's 2006 national championship team. He transferred to Florida and enrolled in graduate school after graduating from Utah.

A couple of SEC schools could benefit from graduate transfers this season. Fortunately for them, the proposal won't go into effect until October 1.

Linebacker Brandon Maye, a three-year starter for Clemson, already has enrolled in Mississippi State's graduate school and likely will be able to play this fall.

Also, there has been speculation former N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson, who has graduated and is currently playing minor league baseball, is interested in playing one more year of college football - possibly at Auburn.

Imagine how different Auburn's offense would look with Wilson, who passed for 3,663 yards last season, than with Barrett Trotter, who has never started a college game.

But he's just one player, right?

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj@knoxnews.com.

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Comments » 14

gohawks1 writes:

Valid concerns... can't see this as anything but a disadvantage for the SEC unless all conferences adhere to the same policy.

tvol71 writes:

I generally agree with the 25 per year limit, but i could also see each school being allowed 27 or 28 once every 3 or 4 years as a catch up provision for occasional problems that arise. I also do not understand the graduate student rule, when the person has graduated he should be able to go anywhere he wants and should be able to play if he is still eligible.

HallowedHill writes:

Slive is gambling that he will look like an innovator when the other divisions adopt this rule. Instead, his lasting legacy may be the guy that crippled the SEC. As a pencil pusher, I doubt he'll really care either way.

murrayvol writes:

Hard and fast rules with zero tolerance seldom work in the real world. We'll see how this one works out when mitigating circumstances enter the conversation.

cloudodust writes:

Isn't it weird that a game that began for fun has gotten so convoluted...

OrangePride writes:

Not for either of these proposals for just the point that Adams makes...it puts the SEC at a disadvantage to other schools across the country who do not abide by the same rules and standards. I guess its a done deal, but I'm not sure how it is that the coaches bought into these changes.

VolinCalif writes:

I kind'a like the existing eligibility rules. Most of these sports are schooling for a career so why punish the kids let them prepare just like any other subject. The major issue is that they must keep up the general ed. GPA. Why? Because they are in college and there are requirements they should meet and not be allowed to just take up room. If the Public wants to help those that are not capable of meeting those standards then start some minor leagues (Trade Schools) for those kids to train within. Those kids are looking for a way to make a living, not very many are going to get rich neither did most of us, so we should just help them train. So don't limit the kids and don't handicap the SEC with those rules that others don't have to follow. John has it right!

civilianvol_formerly_marinevol writes:

I don't understand why they stopped there. Why not set a 250 lb. weight limit for SEC offensive linemen? How about making SEC teams only put 10 men on the field against nonconference opponents, and use styrofoam footballs when kicking field goals? Surely this is just the beginning. Surely they don't think they have exhausted all the ways they can kill SEC football. Seriously, what they did was the equivalent of the NCAA imposing sanctions, via scholarship limitations, on all 12 SEC schools. Way to go guys.

JWilly writes:

It seems to me that as long as the coaches are being honest and upfront with players and not booting veteran players for no good reason, that oversigning is nothing except a problem contrived by the media. We can be certain now that some deserving "students" will not get an opportunity to go to college because of this. This approach will create more of an issue for those being recruited by Western Kentucky, Austin Peay and Samford than for UT, Bama, etc. To me, this is rule by a bunch of misguided, holier than thou whiners. The SEC rules in FB because it has better athletes and coaches. Long term, that ain't changing

BigOrangeSmoker writes:

adams your out of your mind,you know nothing about UT Football much less the sec...remember you love usc and lameass kitten

VolunteerLifer writes:

The numbers are pretty clear. At 25 max per year, an SEC school can sign 100 over a four year period, yet it must maintain an 85 max scholarship limit. That means it has to have an attrition rate of 4 per year minimum to avoid grayshirting and 4 per year maximum to avoid being under 85. These numbers would seem to require a program to be running smoothly to keep 85 on the roster. If coaching changes happen, of course there will be more than 4 players per year lost, and programs that go through coaching changes will take more years to catch up to the others. This is a bad deal for SEC teams.

crockett1836 writes:

in response to gohawks1:

Valid concerns... can't see this as anything but a disadvantage for the SEC unless all conferences adhere to the same policy.

thanks, i already read that part though.

The_Real_Orange writes:

in response to VolunteerLifer:

The numbers are pretty clear. At 25 max per year, an SEC school can sign 100 over a four year period, yet it must maintain an 85 max scholarship limit. That means it has to have an attrition rate of 4 per year minimum to avoid grayshirting and 4 per year maximum to avoid being under 85. These numbers would seem to require a program to be running smoothly to keep 85 on the roster. If coaching changes happen, of course there will be more than 4 players per year lost, and programs that go through coaching changes will take more years to catch up to the others. This is a bad deal for SEC teams.

What about adding in the 10 players that every school averages redshirting every year?

The_Real_Orange writes:

in response to VolunteerLifer:

The numbers are pretty clear. At 25 max per year, an SEC school can sign 100 over a four year period, yet it must maintain an 85 max scholarship limit. That means it has to have an attrition rate of 4 per year minimum to avoid grayshirting and 4 per year maximum to avoid being under 85. These numbers would seem to require a program to be running smoothly to keep 85 on the roster. If coaching changes happen, of course there will be more than 4 players per year lost, and programs that go through coaching changes will take more years to catch up to the others. This is a bad deal for SEC teams.

Its not really that big of a deal. The last player that gray-shirted that ending up making a major impact at his school was? Gray-shirting is just a way to avoid the rules in place already. Coaches never want any limits put on them....most of them complained when the 25/85 rule was put in. Most schools already don't sign 25 every year.....just penalizes more when players transfer now.

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