New rule's impact likely not severe
Recruiters praise SEC's reduction of number of players schools can sign to 28
The new rule that limits the number of players a program can sign in a given recruiting cycle to 28 was met with much fanfare, but it will likely have a limited impact on recruiting and several Southeastern Conference recruiters are in favor of it.
The measure was passed unanimously Friday at the conference's annual spring meetings in Destin, Fla.
In the past, while schools could bring in at most 25 players, they often signed more, including players who wouldn't qualify academically, and then just worked down to 25. The issue was brought to the forefront when Ole Miss signed an eye-popping 38 players and Arkansas signed 33 in the 2009 cycle. No other SEC school signed more than 30.
Strong, who is one of the league's top assistant coaches and recruiters, added that it will change the way things are done around the league on the recruiting trail.
"It's going to force coaches to be more selective in who they pick," Strong said. "You are going to have to go out and make sure which kids are going to make it and which kids are not."
The Gators have never signed more than 27 players under current head coach Urban Meyer and signed just 16 in April.
Academics are the driving force behind the rule, but the nature of modern recruiting also impacts the rule.
"Because of media exposure and the Internet, I could see a lot of coaches getting nervous due to the 'put the hat on' signing day surprises that are becoming more and more common these days, especially schools that are recruiting nationally," said Reed Stringer, Mississippi State's director of recruiting operations. "I think we are really going to see the impact of this rule closer to national signing day." Many of those players the Rebels signed in April had no chance to qualify under NCAA standards. Houston Nutt, who did not have a history of oversigning when he was at Arkansas, said he "could have signed 80" because there was no rule against it, but also apologized at the meetings if he caused the league any embarrassment. Nutt said Ole Miss was trying to create some good will with the state's junior college coaches by signing and placing some players with their programs.
Mississippi, along with California, Texas and Kansas, is home to the most heavily recruited junior college football programs in the country. Many coaches will sign a player they know will not qualify and work with local junior colleges to get the player a roster spot. It's a win-win for everyone. The college coach is building relationships with local junior colleges and knows that in two years he'll have the best chance at a much-improved player. The junior college gets good players without having to spend the money on recruiting. The player still gets to put the hat on and have his day on signing day before eventually going to the junior college where he can improve his grades and skills.
"We usually try to oversign a few guys every year in hopes of helping out the junior colleges and to get a good player back in two years, but I would assume all teams will be much more wary about taking numerous academic casualty possibilities," Stringer added.
Another SEC assistant coach who asked not to be identified so he could speak freely on the matter confirmed that the Rebels' high number of signees was the catalyst for the rule being put in place.
"Being honest, the league got upset that Ole Miss took so many kids," he said. "The thing is nowadays you pop so many offers. You may offer 200 kids for 25 slots, but a lot of those are players that are in Alabama that Alabama wants so you are not getting them. Or they are in Florida and Florida wants them so you are not getting them. The numbers almost always work out. So you put them up on the board and they all come falling off eventually.
"I do wish that they would have made it 30 instead of 28, but I don't think it's going to impact us all that much."
JC Shurburtt covers recruiting for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.