On the surface, the SEC coaches lost the oversigning battle on Friday.
Their presidents and chancellors voted unanimously at the spring meetings in Destin, Fla., to cut the number of scholarship players a school could sign each year from 28 to 25.
The SEC league office will also oversee the medical redshirt process, which creates additional scholarship room when players are injured and can no longer play.
There’s no doubt that SEC coaches aren’t giddy about this legislation. After all, they voted unanimously earlier this week to keep the number of scholarship players a school could sign at 28, which they say gives them more flexibility to manage their rosters.
But guess what?
These new rules, which the SEC will propose at the NCAA level, still aren’t going to completely end oversigning.
Loopholes remain, and you can bet coaches will find them.
For instance, there’s nothing in this new legislation that says you can no longer back-count players.
So if a school signs 25 players one year and four of those players fail to qualify academically, you could hypothetically place those four players in prep school for the fall, get them back in January and still sign 25 other players in that February class.
When you add it all up, the total number of new players joining the team that August would be 29. The catch is that the four enrollees from prep school in this particular scenario would count against the previous class.
SEC associate commissioner Greg Sankey confirmed Friday that players enrolling in January could conceivably be back-counted.
“It depends on what the institution has available,” Sankey said.
In other words, a school can still do so if there’s room.
Here’s the other thing: If a school only has 18 scholarships to give that February, what’s keeping it from signing 22 or 23 players?
That’s still oversigning. It’s just not signing more than what is now the maximum number of 25.
The Big Ten has a hard cap, meaning schools can sign no more than three players over the 85-scholarship limit.
The SEC’s new policy is more of a soft cap.
Equally noteworthy is that the SEC did not eliminate the practice of grayshirting, which drew national scorn this past year.
The league proposed a national rule that would count summer enrollees on that year’s scholarship total, but didn’t pass any legislation that would ban the practice of a player coming in the summer on scholarship, taking a few classes and then deferring enrollment until that next January.
SEC commissioner Mike Slive played a lead role in adopting this legislation and called it the most comprehensive roster management policy in the country.
“I believe the coaches can manage this way and still have the flexibility to do all of the things they need to do,” Slive said.
The questions that fans have: How does this impact SEC schools’ ability to bring in great players, and how does it affect them on the field?
After talking with several coaches and administrators in the league following the presidents’ vote, the general feeling is that this new legislation doesn’t have quite the bite that maybe some have portrayed it as having.
The intent is clearly to make sure kids aren’t getting squeezed out and/or being forced out to clear up scholarship room, and that's a good thing.
The onus will be on coaches to better manage their scholarship numbers on the front end, and there’s probably going to be fewer opportunities for academic at-risk players. That's not a good thing.
But as Steve Spurrier said earlier this week, “We’ll keep playing anyway. They’re not going to cancel football.”