Signing Day is fast approaching and thoughts inevitably turn towards recruiting numbers, the SEC and how their signing cap is affecting recruiting. How can Texas A&M accommodate thirty-two commits and still be pushing for more, for instance?
Who Enrolls and Roster Management
The SEC's rule - implemented with last year's signing class - limits schools to signing 25 players a year whether they enroll in the school or not. The new rule is focused on who signs, not on who enrolls. It effectively forces schools to determine who will academically qualify and for coaches to make some roster management choices prior to Signing Day. The rule is designed to eliminate the absurd stock-piling of prospects and the Les Miles - Elliot Porter scenarios. Nick Saban's machinations were the subject of annual analysis and jokes.
Schools still must keep to the NCAA limit of eighty-five scholarships per program. Coaches now must decide prior to Signing Day how many prospects to accept. Do you sign a class that will in combination with the previous class give you over fifty underclassmen with only thirty-five upperclassmen?
In the past, SEC schools would sign players and grayshirt a number of them just prior to fall enrollment. How many grayshirts signed with SEC schools, never saw their practice field and were unable to get an education at their chosen school, we may never know. That practice allowed coaches to fill out their rosters with the best players among those bound by their Letter of Intent. But it clearly hurt the players who committed to the school, had scholarship offers from other schools and then were told they had no scholarship just prior to school starting in the fall - but had to sit out a year if they went elsewhere.
Exemptions, "Counting Backwards" and "Counters"
The SEC rule, which is the same as the new NCAA rule to be implemented next year, does allow an exemption for more than twenty-five signees - or "counters". But the prospects above twenty-five limit would "count back" for the previous year's class, if that class had room below the twenty-five limit. Welcome to the NCAA, SEC.
How much of a role the current NCAA President - and former LSU chancellor, Dr. Mark Emmert - will only remain speculation. The SEC coaches were unanimous in voting against lowering the limit from twenty-eight to twenty-five with the enrollee stipulation. The SEC Presidents were unanimous in "overruling" their coaches. Saban was angry. Five of the last six National Champions have come from the SEC West.
In retrospect, only Spurrier's South Carolina and all six teams in the SEC West averaged more than twenty-five signees a year over the last four years. So, this rule helps level the playing field in terms of recruiting numbers for the SEC East and the rest of the NCAA.
Looking ahead, the number of signees for a class will count in consideration for any possible "count backs" in next year's class whether they are still enrolled or not. A maximum of twenty-five in a class will leave no room in next year's class for countbacks.
Those with low class numbers can expand their numbers with the following year's class. However, countbacks are limited to five per class if space is available in the prior class. When Texas A&M signed only nineteen for a class transitioning between head coaches, five from this year's class may qualify as countbacks, although eight have enrolled early.
Here's the current verbal commitment status for 2013 for SEC schools with the previous year's signings in parentheses:
*New Coaches in 2013 (and 2012)
It's clear from the numbers that a new coaching hire both in this year, so far, and last year with the attendant transitions impacts total numbers of commitments. All but one of the seven schools that hired new coaches over the last two years signed less than twenty prospects in their coach's first year.
The Numbers Game - How Coaches are Coping
The teams from South Carolina on down (see link above) should not be worried about keeping below the limit of twenty-five. Florida, Georgia and Alabama have some wiggle room, but will be selective for their final recruits.
LSU, Mississippi St and A&M will probably need to pare down to get under the limit. For any prospect verbally committed to those schools - especially if the school is still actively recruiting their last few recruits - should start to consider their plan Bs.
With progress and success on the field, any of the schools from Kentucky on down (above), could bring their coaches an advantage in recruiting numbers next year - and also provide them room in next year's class for any transfers or any grayshirts previously recruited under the old rule. Most of those teams are transitioning to new coaches like Sumlin, Franklin and Freeze last year.
Kevin Sumlin's (A&M) and James Franklin's (Vanderbilt) successes in their first year are reflected in recruiting success with the commitments in this year's class. But they may be taking different paths in recruiting.
Franklin's recruiting may reflect Vanderbilt's academic standards and is closer to the Big Ten philosophy of replacing students leaving the program. Franklin seems to be limiting underclassmen to about forty-five leaving forty upperclassmen on scholarship.
Texas A&M, the Class of 2013, and the Eighty-Five Scholarship Limit
Sumlin seems to be loading up with this year's class - and still recruiting four and five star prospects. Sumlin may be recruiting players for his system. The newest commitment of Sebastian LaRue brings A&M's WR/TE haul in the 2013 class to eight with fourteen WRs on the roster. Some may switch to different positions and may be similar to Brian Kelly's philosophy of recruiting for Skill, Big Skill and Big players.
With A&M reaching their limit of five countbacks, they would seem to have twenty-seven counting towards the class of 2013. Despite the difficulty in determining how many players are on the A&M roster, another clause in the SEC rule may apply here.
If a team has less than eighty-five players on their roster, the school may recruit to eighty-five, but the players would count towards next year's class.
With the 2013 so far, I think A&M is at eighty-five with twenty-seven counters for 2013, meaning two of their class would count towards 2014.
Their total numbers for this class - thirty-two - did not change with LaRue's commitment. Curious. As Sumlin pursues more four star players like Torrodney Prevot, and/or Isaac Savaiinaea and gets their commitments, who gets a call from the A&M coach? Does this indicate a lesser chance that they end up at A&M? Does A&M's total indicate that some players could be considered academic causalities? At least those who a coach determines are too injured to play, will be notified prior to signing. Those type of decisions will have to be made prior to Signing Day now.
So, this rule helps give more opportunities to the student-athlete and to level the playing field in terms of recruiting numbers for the SEC East and the rest of the NCAA. No wonder the SEC coaches were unanimous in their opposition. Everyone wins - except those used to oversigning.