We think Tennessee has 31 scholarships to give — here’s how we came up with that number

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KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — In all the talk about Tennessee’s numbers crunch, there’s one question we don’t know with absolute certainty.

Just how many scholarships does Tennessee have to offer in this recruiting cycle?

For competitive reasons, most teams like to keep that exact number under wraps.

Tennessee, like all teams, can offer no more than 25 initial scholarships in any given year. But they can “count back” some scholarships against the previous class, provided the prospects enroll early and there is space available.

One problem in determining the back-counted scholarships is that back-counting seemingly can go on in perpetuity.

Also, there’s no way of knowing for certain which players arrive with a scholarship and which are walk-ons. That distinction may become even more confusing in this recruiting cycle.

But we can make some educated guesses. And I feel fairly confident in saying that 31 is as good a “magic number” as any this year. Thanks to colleague Daniel Lewis, who helped me hash out some of the details during a math-heavy instant-message conversation. The result was this tabulation that I transferred to a spreadsheet above.

If you just want to trust me on 31 scholarships and skip this part, I don’t blame you. But here’s the nitty-gritty:

The Vols had 22 scholarship players in the 2013 cycle (after subtracting Jabo Lee and adding late signees Johnathon Johnson and Kendal Vickers).

They were able to count three of those back to 2012. The 2012 class had 23 scholarship players (including the gray-shirted Tino Thomas), and was able to count one against 2011.

This is where it becomes confusing, and this is where I think UT’s 2014 maximum grew from 30 to 31. Thomas was gray-shirted and pushed into the 2012 class because Derek Dooley didn’t think there would be room in the 2011 class. As it turns out, however, some very late academic casualties opened up a couple more slots that would have allowed Thomas to enroll. So after back-counting two early enrollees to 2010, UT had only 24 initial scholarships in 2011, allowing the Vols to count back one scholarship from 2012.

The trickle-down effect of that academic casualty in the summer of 2011 action may have led to an extra scholarship in 2014.

Of course, Tennessee may sign more than 31 on Wednesday. But that’s another story.