A look at the SEC’s response to recruiting ‘loophole’ theory

Tennessee coach Butch Jones (photos by Evan Woodbery)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Last week I explored a hypothetical method by which Tennessee could sign as many as 35 players in this recruiting cycle.

As I tried to emphasize, the ploy wouldn’t be as radical as it sounds on the surface, because the Vols would still have to overcome the NCAA’s limitation on initial counters (25 per year) and scholarships (85 overall), which is a separate issue.

But by using a new NCAA rules interpretation to get a handful of players to sign aid agreements before Dec. 1, the Vols might be able to effectively “over-sign” in a way that would otherwise be prohibited.

This is all complicated stuff, of course, but the SEC did offer a statement in response to a blog by the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

“It has been, and remains, permissible for mid-year enrollees to be included in the initial counter limits for the current academic year when a football team does not use the permitted 25 initial counters for fall enrollees.

“Institutional financial aid agreements signed prior to the December 1 are not binding upon the prospective student-athlete. Thus, until the prospective student-athlete enrolls and becomes an initial counter, the individual is able to determine the institution he wishes to attend or to sign institutional financial aid agreements with multiple universities.

“The numerical limits on football signees is now an NCAA Bylaw and, should the existing policy require modification, the SEC will work cooperatively with the NCAA national office to achieve the appropriate outcome.”

The SEC raises an issue that I should have included in my original blog. The NCAA has changed its “over-signing” bylaw, so that the SEC and NCAA now have identical rules. It’s no longer a conference-by-conference rule. That’s an important distinction that I should have noted.

But you’ll notice that the relevant NCAA bylaw provides the same “loophole” as the SEC one.

13.9.2.3 Limitation on Number of National Letter of Intent/Offer of Financial Aid Signings—Bowl Subdivision Football. In bowl subdivision football, there shall be an annual limit of 25 on the number of prospective student-athletes who may sign a National Letter of Intent or an institutional offer of financial aid from December 1 through May 31. [D] (Adopted: 1/16/10 effective 8/1/10, Revised: 1/14/12 effective 8/1/12)
13.9.2.3.1 Exception—Counter During Same Academic Year. [FBS] A prospective student-athlete who signs a National Letter of Intent or an institutional offer of financial aid and becomes an initial counter for the same academic year in which the signing occurred (e.g., midyear enrollee) shall not count toward the annual limit on signings. (Adopted: 1/14/12 effective 8/1/12)

For the purposes of the signing limit, those prospects who signed aid agreements in November still won’t count against the signee ceiling. That means the Vols can, in fact, sign more players in February than they would have been allowed without the early aid agreements. As always, remember that signees and scholarships are separate issues. The Vols still cannot go over the annual or overall scholarship limit, and they will have to use several strategies this summer to get to the desired numbers.

Meanwhile, the Vols added another brick this week.