NCAA targets multiple agreements

INDIANAPOLIS -- NCAA officials on Tuesday said they believe a solution has been implemented to stop elite football prospects from signing scholarship agreements with more than one school.

The problem surfaced this year as a result of an October legislative interpretation that permitted mid-year enrolling freshmen to sign financial-aid paperwork with college programs after July 31 of their senior years.

The documents differ from national letters of intent in that they serve as binding for the school but not the prospect.

The changes benefit schools by removing many recruiting restrictions. Once a prospect has signed an agreement with a school, it may publicize his signing and communicate, free of normal NCAA-imposed limitations, with the prospect outside of a dead period.

However, only the program that a prospect signed with first is allowed such privileges.

These financial-aid agreements, according to Jen Roe and Jamie Israel, associate directors of the NCAA's academic and membership affairs staff, became hot topics for the organization after several top recruits signed with multiple programs last fall:

Josh Malone, the No. 7-ranked receiver prospect nationally out of Gallatin, Tenn., signed agreements with Clemson, Florida State, Georgia and Tennessee before pledging to the Volunteers.

• No. 3-ranked running back Dalvin Cook of Miami signed with Miami, Florida State and Florida. He settled on FSU.

• Safety Laurence Jones of Monroe, La., rated No. 3 at his position, signed with LSU and Alabama. Jones then committed to the Crimson Tide.

Their actions raised eyebrows across the coaching community.

"That's what you call the law of unintended consequences," Duke coach David Cutcliffe said.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney described it as "troubling" to watch prospects sign with multiple programs.

"When we were introduced to it, we didn't know you could sign multiple places," Ole Miss linebackers coach Tom Allen said. "We had one young man who did it. I don't think that was the spirit of what was intended. It was abused. It got kind of crazy."

The agreements should be binding for the players, too, Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett said.

"That's how it should be," Bennett said, "or don't sign any of them."

The NCAA's answer was explained in a ruling issued on Dec. 19 and presented Tuesday by Roe and Israel to coaches at the AFCA convention.

The NCAA officials said their organization has no power to limit the number of agreements a prospect can sign, because financial-aid documents -- unlike letters of intent -- fall outside of NCAA jurisdiction.

All of this points toward an early signing period for letters of intent. Roe said she thought an early date was "getting closer" but that the NCAA could not introduce it. That must come from the Conference Commissioners Association.

"It's a tough spot," Israel said, "because we're trying to be more inclusive and give students different ways to be committed to schools."

How will the NCAA determine which school signed a prospect first?

Roe said the media's coverage of recruiting, in addition to social media and signing announcements made by schools, should make that clear.

If all else fails, she told the coaches Tuesday, "ask the kid."

The changes apply only to players who enroll mid-year. Traditional spring high school graduates are not impacted.

Coaches said that, moving forward, they would encourage prospects to avoid signing multiple agreements.

"If you're recruiting the right kind of people," Cutcliffe said, "that's not going to happen."

At the request of a conference that Roe and Israel declined to identify, the legislation will be reviewed in April to determine if a prospect who signs an agreement with a school but does not enroll could constitute an NCAA violation.