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 firstname.lastname@example.org.