SANDESTIN, Fla. – With discussion done and votes taken, UGA president Michael Adams exited the Sandestin Hilton on Friday afternoon with a satisfied smile.
“It’s a good day to be in the SEC,” Adams said. “Everybody did the right thing.”
In actions to curtail the practice of oversigning that the SEC hopes will soon be adopted on a national level, the league’s presidents and chancellors voted Friday to institute four roster-management proposals - the biggest of which was the reduction of a soft signing cap from 28 annual football signees to 25.
The 25-limit proposal was one of the more contentious issues debated on the Gulf Coast this week, with SEC football coaches against the legislation.
However, SEC commissioner Mike Slive said the league’s presidents voted unanimously to approve the move, which is to go into effect Aug. 1 and be in place for 2012 signing classes.
“We have adopted it,” Slive said, “and we have expectation that the NCAA should and will adopt the same proposal. It’s in the best interest of prospects, and it is not only in their best interests here. … No one wants to win more than I do, but we don’t want to win at the expense of young people. We want to win for them.”
In addition to the 25-man limit, the SEC adopted three other roster-management proposals. The exemption allowing graduate school transfers to be eligible immediately has been eliminated in all sports, with Slive saying, “It is not acceptable for us to have a student-athlete transfer in solely for an athletic experience.”
Effective immediately, the conference office now also has oversight over all medical scholarship exceptions in football.
In all sports, mid-year enrollees in the future will have to actually enroll in school before being able to sign a financial aid agreement with that school, and the start date of the counting window for football’s national signing date moves back to Dec. 1 rather than the previous point of February’s National Signing Day.
“This makes the most sense,” Slive said. “There was a lot of discussion and a lot of debate, but in the final analysis this was the most appropriate way for us to continue to make progress in roster management. … We believe that these proposals are thoughtful and important to the extent that we will be aggressively pursuing them on a national level. I’m not aware of other conferences having this kind of roster-management analysis.”
The signing class changes come after lengthy debate and a growing national groundswell to limit oversigning and grayshirting in major college football.
Leaders from schools like Florida and Georgia had spoken out against the practice, and Friday’s actions were hailed by presidents of those two institutions.
“I am delighted with where the conference is today,” UF president Bernie Machen said. “The real change for me conceptually is now we’re thinking about the whole system of roster management, and it is truly a 12-month proposition with all kinds of dimensions. I don’t think there’s any conference in the country that’s looking at the whole picture the way that we are.”
Adams called Friday’s vote “a good high point.”
“Sometimes it takes a while to get to the right decisions,” Adams said. “I think the whole group did really well this time.”
Despite Friday’s actions, one roster management proposal that was discussed at length and not yet adopted was a rule saying a prospect would count against a team’s 85-man scholarship limit upon enrollment (in June, for instance) rather than August.
While the SEC plans to propose that action to the NCAA, it did not adopt it Friday.
“We all reached a consensus that the best way to manage that was to begin some national dialogue rather than us doing it ourselves,” Slive said. “That’s an example of how we were able to reach in certain areas a pretty good accommodation.”
The headlining piece of legislation Friday was the 25-signee soft cap. One significant aspect to the 25-man signing limit is that it doesn’t quite have as much teeth as may be perceived, since teams will still be allowed to back-count early enrolling signees if the 25 limit is not reached in a previous year.
Asked which year an early enrolling signee would count against, SEC associate commissioner Greg Sankey said, “It depends on what an institution has available.”
Nevertheless, the presidents’ unanimous vote was surprising considering how strong the football coaches’ objections were to the issue. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said coaches were unanimously against that proposal.
“You are going to mess up the kids' opportunities by doing what you're doing,” Saban told reporters Wednesday. “You think you're helping them, but you're really going to hurt them. You took one case where somebody didn't give the guy an opportunity, but you need to take the other 100 cases where somebody got an opportunity because of it.”
Asked if the league’s 12 football coaches weighed in on the 25-signee legislation and were on board with the move, Slive replied, “They weighed in on it.”
“They don’t agree with everything, but I think there is some in which they do agree,” Slive said. “Obviously, they have their own interests to pursue. I thought the conversation was helpful. In some of the issues, we were able to accommodate some of their concerns. Some of them, we were not. But I think all in all the proposals as they came forward represent as close to a full consensus as we could get.”