By NCAA rule, each school is allowed to bring in a maximum of 25 new football players every year. You would think that limits each program to 25 signees. You would be wrong.
It has become routine to play fast and loose with the numbers. Bernie Madoff would’ve made one heck of a recruiting coordinator. Last year, 23 of the 123 FBS programs exceeded the alleged ceiling of 25 signees. Tennessee topped the chart with 32.
National signing day has become national over-signing day. Of the top 15 programs in the current recruiting rankings by Rivals.com, four have more than 25 commitments. Spoiler alert: All four are SEC schools — Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina and Mississippi State.
Is anybody surprised? The SEC leads the nation in pushing the envelope, whether it’s coaching staff salaries or recruiting overkill. Case in point: When Houston Nutt was coach at Ole Miss in 2009, he hit the recruiting home stretch with 37 commitments.
That was considered overly indulgent even by SEC standards. A few months later, the SEC passed a rule that limited each program to 28 signees in a given class. The extra wiggle room was built in to allow for signees who are academic risks or have other issues pending.
Point of order: By rule, the 25-player maximum does not take effect until the start of preseason practice. If you can figure out a way to get your list of newcomers down to 25 by then, you’re in compliance.
There are many ways to massage the numbers. Take UT’s 2014 recruiting class, for example. On signing day last year, Vols coach Butch Jones explained that he was counting some of the signees, who already were enrolled in school, against the previous year’s class, which had totaled 21.
By the time UT started preseason practice, the Vols were under the wire.
Of course, making the numbers add up is bound to create some hard feelings at times. Last week, UT sent word to defensive lineman Marques Ford of Tampa, Fla., that it no longer had room for him in this recruiting class. His coach, Frank LaRosa, said Ford was “definitely a little bit angry” at the development.
Shortly thereafter, John Kelly of Oak Park, Mich., announced he was all Vol. As such, it became clear that Ford was jettisoned to make room for Kelly.
(An aside: When was the last time UT was in position to drop a defensive line commitment who was rated a four-star on Rivals.com’s five-star system? This recruiting class, which includes Kyle Phillips, Kahlil McKenzie, Shy Tuttle and Darrell Taylor, is an embarrassment of riches in the defensive line.)
Recruiting is a two-way street. While coaches often are criticized — correctly — for pulling scholarship offers if a better prospect comes along, recruits can plan some games of their own. It is common for players to renege at the last moment and switch schools.
In short, everyone is looking out for his own best interests. Recruiting at the highest level is not for the faint of heart.
In theory, adding 25 players a year is still over-signing. Why? Because 25 times four equals 100, and the total scholarship limit is 85 per roster.
The reality, of course, is that attrition is as much a part of college football as $100 handshakes from boosters. In general, a given recruiting class will lose one-third of its members over the next three years — sometimes sooner.
Take that overstocked recruiting class at UT from last February. In the period between the end of the regular season and the TaxSlayer Bowl, Jones announced that three freshmen — all of them considered big-time recruits upon arrival — had decided to transfer elsewhere. And there were more where those came from.
It’s a numbers game. And on national signing day, the numbers often don’t add up. Get ready for some creative accounting.