Drama and National Signing Day go hand in hand.
Players who announce their decision on a day that's easily become college football's version of Christmas have gone to new levels to one-up each other. Simply picking a hat out of a lineup is so 2007.
When he picked Georgia over Auburn last year, five-star running back Isaiah Crowell did so by plucking a tiny bulldog puppy from underneath the table. (Thankfully, Crowell wasn't choosing between Auburn and Florida. That would have been dangerous.)
It's become must-see-TV that manages to suck in everybody, especially the coaches whose job security feasibly hinges on the decisions of these 17- and 18-year-olds. In 2010, a picture out of Auburn leaked to the media, showing the entire Tigers coaching staff, most notably Trooper Taylor and his backward hat, literally jumping for joy in front of a TV as stud defensive end Corey Lemonier announced that he'd be attending Auburn.
There's a reason why photos of the coaches who came up short with a prospect don't see the light of day. There's a lot at stake and a lot to lose, especially with the new number restrictions in the SEC this year.
No matter how good he is, one recruit doesn't make or break an entire signing class. Filling the important void that was specifically reserved for a player who ultimately goes elsewhere, though, is a challenge that became even tougher when the SEC instituted a 25-player cap on annual signing classes.
A refresher: Despite outcry from a number of the league's top coaches, the SEC's presidents and chancellors unanimously passed legislation that prevented programs from signing more than 25 players in a given year. Twenty-five isn't a number grabbed from thin air. It's the maximum number of players the NCAA allows to be signed to scholarships per year.
A few years back, there was no such limit on the number of players SEC schools could sign, just so long as they whittled the number down to 25 by the time fall classes began. In 2009, Houston Nutt infamously signed 37 players at Ole Miss. One year later, the SEC instituted a cap of 28, which basically gave coaches a three-player margin of error.
Bad situations still arose — offensive lineman Elliot Porter already had moved in to his dorm last year at LSU before he was told to grayshirt — and garnered enough negative headlines for the presidents to step in and make drastic changes.
Now, in theory, coaches can't miss on a player if they want their class to be at full capacity.
Which brings us back to all the drama on National Signing Day.
Unless they want to be the first to have an awkward meeting with SEC commissioner Mike Slive, schools who have prospective players announcing their decisions on National Signing Day simply have to leave at least one of their 25 spots open. There are always backup plans, of course, but the pressure has increased for those kinds of fringe players to get their signature into a school before their spot is gone.
Tennessee could very well face this kind of situation. The Vols currently have 21 commitments — 22 when you count Tino Thomas, a grayshirt from last year who has already enrolled in classes — and a number of targets who may or may not help them fill out their class to its maximum capacity.
Wide receivers Cordarrelle Patterson (Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College) and Quinshad Davis (Gaffney, S.C.) both have UT in their final group of schools. Defensive tackle Korren Kirven (Lynchburg, Va.) will decide between UT and Virginia Tech. Marshall commitment Amos Leggett, a four-star cornerback from Miami, was a surprise visitor on campus this weekend. Miami commitment Jacoby Briscoe (Lafayette, La.) is still being courted by UT coaches.
Sure, if UT somehow gets all of the above to sign with it, there's a problem, one that would have to be remedied by rescinding a longtime commitment's offer at the last second — an absolute public relations nightmare.
But you can also say there's a problem if UT doesn't get at least three players from that group, considering that six players have de-committed from the Vols throughout the recruiting process, the majority of whom were directly or indirectly told to look elsewhere because of a potential numbers crunch.
A full 25-man signing class would put the Vols two over the NCAA-mandated 85 scholarship limit. It's a rarity in the SEC to have an entire signing class qualify and attrition on the current roster from now until August is inevitable. There are always opportunities to sign players after National Signing Day, like when the Vols brought in Malik Jackson in 2010, but they're not commonplace.
Simply put, it would be a massive surprise if the Vols have to worry about exceeding that maximum of 85.
Essentially, every spot the Vols leave unfilled in this year's signing class will represent one less scholarship player on the roster. In a conference as ridiculously competitive as the SEC, that's meaningful and worthy of all the drama.