SEC cracks down on oversigning

Presidents limit scholarships to 25, OK one division

DESTIN, Fla. - When the SEC's football coaches departed from the Sandestin Hilton beach resort Wednesday, they left in unanimous support of the current 28-signee cap that was instituted just two years ago at these same spring meetings.

On Friday, the league's presidents and chancellors unanimously agreed to ignore them.

Under a broad umbrella tagged as "roster management," the SEC's presidents agreed on a number of changes and restrictions to how the league's football coaches craft and manage the makeup of their teams while adhering to the NCAA's maximum of 85 scholarship players. Most notably, teams can now sign just 25 players in a calendar year, a move that will, in theory, force coaches to be choosier with whom they recruit to represent their respective universities.

The SEC, which hosted NCAA president Mark Emmert and other top executives throughout the week, has passed on the policies to college sports' governing body and hopes to have them instituted on a national level.

"I don't think there's any conference in the country that's looking at the whole picture in the way we are," said Florida president Bernie Machen, who has spearheaded the movement against "oversigning" in recent years.

"This is not a quick fix. This is not a one-size-fits-all model here. I think it gives us assurances that we're treating our student-athletes as close to the way we would treat our students in other parts of our university."

On a day when SEC commissioner Mike Slive led a celebration for a record $220 million in revenue distribution, three other major changes that will directly affect how coaches craft their 2012 signing classes and beyond were instituted.

The graduate-student exception that allowed Oregon transfer Jeremiah Masoli to play at Ole Miss last season, and the one that could potentially land former North Carolina State quarterback Russell Wilson at Auburn, will no longer exist as of Oct. 1. Slive and SEC associate director of compliance Greg Sankey stressed that the league has always had rules in place that prevent transfers who have fewer than two years of remaining eligibility.

Now, the loophole that allowed schools to bring in players who graduated from their previous institution and play right away at a new school - rather than sit out a season because of NCAA transfer rules - is gone.

"It's an old rule and it's always been grounded in the concept that we are interested in having our prospects that are transfers on the basis that they be here for two years, get grounded, get an education," Slive said. "Clearly, as we've learned, the exception is not providing the kind of incentive that we want our kids to have when they transfer in and want to play for us."

The recruiting calendar also will undergo a makeover. The beginning date is now Dec. 1 instead of whenever National Signing Day falls in a given year. Teams still have the ability to "back-count" recruits - a practice that coaches used to balloon signing class totals - but only if they signed below the 25 cap in the previous season.

In the past, schools could back-count based on how many players enrolled the previous season. Now, even if a school enrolls just 23 of its 25 signees in the previous year, it will no longer be able to back-count.

The calendar shift also will prevent rival institutions from recruiting a player who plans to enter as a mid-term enrollee in between December and the beginning of spring semester, Sankey said.

In response to the perceived abuse of medical hardship waivers, which are given to players who are deemed as no longer physically capable of performing, the SEC will now "have a role in reviewing and deciding the outcome of each medically related scholarship exemption," Slive said.

The coaches did win one battle with the league presidents and chancellors, as summer enrollees can still be counted back toward the previous class.

The compromise was levied in response to a new NCAA rule that requires football players to pass nine credit hours in the fall or potentially be suspended up to four games in the following season.

Under that new rule, a player who fails to pass the nine credit hours can have that suspension eliminated one time if he is able to pass 27 credit hours by the next summer.

Sankey hinted that the SEC could adopt legislation that would count summer enrollees toward the following signing class once a consensus among other BCS conferences is reached.

Though the 28-signee cap, which was instituted in response to schools stockpiling as many as 37 signees on National Signing Day, had only been in place for two full recruiting seasons, Slive said he and the league's executives had seen enough manipulating and exploiting of the rule's inherent philosophy.

Tennessee, Arkansas, Georgia, Ole Miss and South Carolina all signed more than 25 players in 2011. In 2010, Auburn signed 32 players and went on to win the national championship in the following season.

Alabama coach Nick Saban and Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt were among the coaches adamantly opposed to the proposal earlier in the week. Saban blamed the media for making the "oversigning" debate a national story, while Nutt repeatedly lamented about the number of opportunities that will be lost for players because of the new restrictions.

"I think they don't agree with everything, but I think there are some (decisions) with which they do agree," Slive said. "They obviously have their own interests to pursue … All in all, the proposals as they came forth represent as close to a full consensus as we can get.

"Obviously, some of the coaches would rather have 28 instead of 25. I understand that."

On Tuesday, UT coach Derek Dooley wouldn't go as far to say that the league's proposals would hinder its competitiveness, but said that teams are "always operating at two or three less than what you can," and could potentially lose out on future all-conference players because of the restrictions.

As was displayed Friday, the SEC's presidents and chancellors didn't see it that way and acted on it.

"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."

Andrew Gribble may be reached at 865-342-6327. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Andrew_Gribble and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/gribble

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Comments » 4

newtonrail writes:

Nuts!

DutchOrangeVolsOrange writes:

I know that over signing thing bugs some People around the Country on these talk shows. When You hear some People express their opinions about this, it is usually directed in some negative way against the SEC. There is much gnashing of teeth about the SEC anyway around the country. I guess 5 straight National championships gets People out of the South in that Civil war mentality again. A Sixth National championship will send these People up like a farkin rocket and trust me here, there is a very good chance that another SEC school winning the National championship is very possible.

The_Real_Orange writes:

The teams that will be affected most by this are the teams that get hit with scholarship sanctions and any teams that normally sign JC players. Coaches will always be against any limitations that are put on the amount of players they can sign. It shouldn't be a big deal.......you only need 44 players to be 2 deep at every position :)

Tnjim writes:

2 deep come on you never want to start season with one anything! One pratice injury & your flip ing players . Thats not always good for the player or school. Just a knee jerk reaction for other conference's crying!

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