Over the past month, we’ve had a few folks ask us about our SEC Commitment Comparators. “How do some SEC teams have more than 25 commitments when there’s a 25-man cap on signees?” Well, since the day the SEC implemented its new cap on football signees we at MrSEC.com have referred to it as a “soft” cap. That’s because it’s not quite the hard and fast rule the league made it out to be.
When league presidents voted in the new regulation in 2011 — ignoring a unanimous “don’t do it” vote from their own football coaches — they did not snuff out the practice of back-counting early enrollees. And back-counting allows schools to count this year’s signees against the previous year’s class.
The NCAA allows each school to provide 85 scholarships to football players. Each school can award 25 new scholarships per year. There’s obviously some natural attrition built into that formula because 25 scholarships over four years would equal 100 scholarships total.
For the sake of example let’s take School X and assume their program has 85 scholarship players at the end of a season. Now let’s say that 20 players exhaust their eligibility or leave after graduating. School X would then have 65 players on scholarship heading into signing day. But in January, School X loses five juniors who depart early for the NFL. That drops the school’s number of total returning scholarship players to 60.
To max out at the NCAA-mandated 85 scholarships, School X should only be able to sign 25 new athletes on signing day, which is the supposed max anyway. But. If School X signed just 20 players the previous year it can still back-count five of this year’s signees against last year’s tally if those extra signees enroll early. (On the positive side, this does reward student-athletes who have the grades to graduate high school/prep school/junior college early and enroll at School X at mid-year.)
So, let’s say School X signs 30 players this February instead of the 25 allowed by the SEC’s “soft” cap. Five of those players — if they enroll early — can be counted toward the 2012 number instead of the 2013 number.
That’s back-counting. And that’s how some SEC schools have more than 25 committed players heading into signing day. If you’re wondering how School X could get from 90 scholarships back down to the 85 allowed by the NCAA, there are a whole lot of ways to run folks off. “Son, you’re not going to get any playing time here,” is a big one. The idea that that doesn’t go on and doesn’t lead to transfers is ridiculous. If you pay attention, you’ll also note that schools often announce in December and January — before signing day — that certain players won’t return due to academic issues, disciplinary issues and the like. Those departures clear space on the roster and free up scholarships.
Fans of other leagues often deride the SEC for its stance on oversigning and we at MrSEC.com agree with them to an extent. We don’t believe oversigning is the sole reason for Southeastern Conference success as some claim. People looking for reasons to discredit a winning team or a winning coach or a winning league will often make more of an “advantage” than should be made. (Examples: Bountygate “won” the Super Bowl for the Saints. Spygate “won” Super Bowls for the Patriots. Stealing signs “won” a World Series for the Phillies. Etc, etc.)
That said, SEC schools and fans shouldn’t complain when oversigning is brought up. Year-in and year-out Southeastern Conference schools are among the worst when it comes to oversigning/back-counting/early-enrolling. That does provide some amount of advantage. But having a deeper talent pool in the South, having the highest-paid (best) coaches in the country, and having the biggest athletic budgets in the nation are even bigger advantages.
In fairness, the SEC’s new “soft” cap did cut down on the number of oversignees in 2012 and coaches are now having to manage their numbers even more carefully. But early enrollees and back-counting still give those men options.
Oversigning isn’t the only reason the SEC wins BCS championships as SEC-haters suggest. But it’s not the non-factor SEC-lovers say, either. It’s part of the equation. If league presidents don’t like it being part of the equation they can change it at this year’s spring meetings. And if they don’t, they’ll continue to hear people debate the importance of back-counting, early enrollees, and oversigning when it comes to SEC football success.
SIDENOTE — One extra tidbit for you. Let’s say School Y signed 20 players in 2012. That would mean that School Y could sign 30 in 2013 — 25 for 2013 and five early enrollees to back-count to 2012. But, how many players from School Y’s 20-player 2012 class were back-counted to 2011? Let’s say three. Then in effect School Y only had a 17-man signing class in 2012 which would give the school the ability to sign 33 players in 2013… if eight of them early enroll and are back-counted to 2012. Clear as mud, right?