Tag Archives: oversigning

National Signing Day will answer some questions about Vols’ numbers crunch — but not all of them

Butch Jones (photo by Evan Woodbery)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — If you like a good mystery, the growth of Tennessee’s 2014 class has been fun to attempt to unravel.

We think — unofficially — that the Vols have scholarships available for 31 in this recruiting cycle. That’s the NCAA maximum 25 in 2014, plus six counted back against the smaller 2013 class.

Beyond that, we’ve engaged in a lot of speculation about Butch Jones and the Vols’ number-crunching strategies.

As of today, the Vols have 34 verbal commitments. Michael Sawyers, visiting this weekend, would be No. 35 if he chooses to commit to Tennessee ahead of Ole Miss and Georgia Tech.

So how does 35 become 31 in a climate in which once-routine “over-signing” has essentially been legislated out of existence?

We might get some clues about the answer to that question on Wednesday, even if the final resolution doesn’t come until this summer.

News Sentinel subscribers can check out a long story I wrote on that subject in Sunday’s paper.

In a nutshell, the Vols have a few options:

1. Pare down the current class to 31 (remember that 14 have already enrolled) by slicing off players who might have academic troubles and asking them to sit tight for the moment. If they qualify, offer them a grayshirt opportunity in 2015. If they find another home in the meantime, wish them well.

Advantages: Avoids negative “over-signing’ publicity.

Disadvantages: Might lose borderline academic cases.

2. Go full steam ahead with the so-called “loophole” strategy. In this case, Tennessee could sign 34 or 35 (or perhaps even more) and then worry about paring down the class later.

Advantages: By signing borderline players, UT would be in a better position to push them toward gray-shirting opportunities in 2015.

Disadvantages: Negative attention from alleged “over-signing” might not be worth the advantages of hanging on to only a couple of players.

3. A mixed strategy: This is what I think UT might pursue and I think it will leave the most unanswered questions. Let’s assume that UT wants to hold on to more than 31 of its commitments AND avoid “over-signing” in a way that will attract negative scrutiny. There has to be some way to let those 32nd, 33rd or 34th players feel like a part of the class without actually signing them to National Letters of Intent. How will that be done? I’m not exactly sure. Perhaps one or two will blue-shirt or others will gray-shirt. Academic risks could be held in wait-and-see mode.

So Wednesday might come down to semantics. A blue-shirting player can’t sign a Letter of Intent or an aid agreement. So could Jones comment about him publicly? Could he be mentioned in the UT press release? I’m not entirely sure.

Some of this is uncharted territory, which is why I think we’ll get at least a hint of clarity on Wednesday.

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.

On signees and scholarships: Important point to highlight from my earlier recruiting post

I’ve received a lot of feedback about my post on the Vols’ 2014 class, so I want to highlight something that I wrote in the story but apparently didn’t emphasize enough:

Signees and scholarships (i.e., initial counters) are two different things.

SEC rules limit signees; NCAA rules limit overall scholarships and initial counters.

The possible loophole I described is for the former; there is no loophole for the latter.

At the end of the day, the Vols — like any other team — can give no more than 25 initial counters in any year and have no more than 85 scholarship players overall. 

Under the hypothetical theory I floated in the story, the Vols could sign 35 players, but they would still have to cross the scholarship hurdle. (I outlined gray-shirting and blue-shirting as possibilities).

However, under this hypothetical scheme, coaches would have all summer to figure this out. They have the luxury of time to see who qualifies, who’s ready to play, who isn’t, etc. The best signees go on scholarship immediately. The rest can be gray-shirted (or whatever plan they have to push them onto the 2015 class).

Long story short: Signees are a January/February issue. Scholarships are a May/June/July issue.

Has Butch Jones found a recruiting loophole? Vols could use complex strategies to manage brimming class

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — When Butch Jones met with the Knoxville Quarterback Club last week, he dropped a nugget of recruiting information that most wrote off as hyperbole.

“If we can find a way to sign 35, we’ll sign 35,” he said.

Was he exaggerating for effect?

Perhaps.

Or perhaps not.

As Tennessee’s list of verbal commitments continues to grow (it should be up to 34 if lineman Charles Mosley commits on Friday as expected), the Vols are contending with two limits.

One is the NCAA-imposed limit on scholarships. The other is the conference-imposed limit on signees.

There’s no loophole on NCAA scholarship limits. Teams can have only 85 total scholarship players, of whom no more than 25 can be “initial counters” in any given year. (There are some strategies to minimize the impact of the NCAA limits, which I discussed here. More on that in a second).

But is it possible that Tennessee’s staff has stumbled upon a loophole that would effectively allow the Vols to “over-sign” in a way that was common a few years ago but has largely been eliminated because of new rules?

Take a look at the text of the SEC rule limiting signees that went into effect Aug. 1, 2011 (emphasis added):

13.9.1 Letter of Intent – Limitation. Each SEC member institution is limited to signing 25 football prospective student-athletes to a National Letter of Intent, Conference financial aid agreement and/or institutional offer of athletics financial aid from December 1 through May 31st of each year. [Adopted 5/29/09; effective immediately; revised 6/3/11; effective August 1, 2011]

(Here’s a .pdf link if you want to peruse the SEC rules yourself.)

The dates are critical, because the SEC bylaw collides with a new NCAA rules interpretation that impacted this recruiting cycle. Academically eligible student-athletes who plan to enroll early (in January) are now allowed to sign aid agreements with universities as early as Aug. 1.

Tennessee had a flood of players sign aid agreements last month — perhaps a half-dozen players or more. Why is this significant? By the letter of the law, those players wouldn’t count against the SEC’s signing limit. They’re freebies, if you will.

Now, make no mistake: This loophole, if it’s real, doesn’t affect the scholarship limitations. But it would give Tennessee more flexibility than teams that haven’t yet discovered the loophole.

For example, let’s say five players sign aid agreements before Dec. 1, 2013, and enroll at UT in January.

UT can count back at least five scholarships against 2013 because that year’s class was under the 25-man limit. So that’s now 10 that wouldn’t count against the SEC signing limit.

Jones has said he wants to welcome 14 mid-year enrollees in January. If the Vols were able take 10 of those players “off the books” for the purposes of the SEC signing rule, they could sign another 21 players to traditional Letters of Intent in February.

Grand total? 35.

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