Signing limit will hurt some programs

Published 6:59 pm Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Surprisingly, the Southeastern Conference’s rule limiting football programs to a maximum of 28 signees a year hasn’t become big news. Anything to do with college football usually dominates newspaper headlines and talk radio airwaves this time of year as fans eagerly anticipate the beginning of fall practice. But top running back Lache Seastrunk’s calling out of Alabama coach Nick Saban during a visit to Auburn and new Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin’s calling out of everyone he can think of (and Florida coach Urban Meyer and South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier responding in kind) have given fans plenty to talk about besides boring rules.

This rule, however, will be more significant than most people realize. Before, teams could sign as many prospects as they wished as long as no more than 25 were eventually counted toward that year’s class. Some prospects enrolled early and could be counted toward the previous year’s class, and other prospects failed to qualify academically and thus didn’t count toward any class until they satisfied their requirements at, for example, a junior college. In February, Ole Miss signed 37 players based on the assumption that many wouldn’t qualify.

No more. SEC officials apparently didn’t like the negative attention Ole Miss, and others, received and decided to stop the practice. The idea behind the decision is that powerful programs shouldn’t be able to hoard players that might otherwise sign with a less recognized program.

The UABs and Troys of the world will no doubt benefit, but the rule could have an unanticipated effect. Oversigning has been used as a way for floundering programs to catch up with the elite in the conference (e.g. Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt trying to improve his team’s talent to the level of Alabama and LSU). Coaches could feed unqualified players to select JUCOs, building relationships with those coaches and stocking talent for coming years.

Instead, the underdogs might now find it a little more difficult to compete.