Full Circle


Robert
May 20, 2022
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3 Comments

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I'm going to write a short article this time. No, really, I'm going to do it. The NCAA officially removed the 25-per-class scholarship limit, and I keep seeing tweets like "imagine what Nick Saban can do with unlimited scholarships!", and I've started saying "it's not unlimited scholarships!" out loud, so I'll just calm my brain by writing about it.

The best way to keep this short: stay away from a bunch of links. I could walk you through the whole thing with a link to a story for each twist and turn, but maybe the best way to do this is to just write out where we were and how we got here. It's pretty simple, really. The basics:

  • Schools used to oversign like crazy. You'd have 17 open scholarships, you'd sign 27 players, and you'd take the spring to sort out which 10 players were on their way out the door.
  • Houston Nutt took that to an extreme his first year at Ole Miss, signing 37 players in one class. There's oversigning... and then there's signing 37 players in one class.
  • That brought about what was dubbed the "Houston Nutt Rule" - a cap of 25 players per class. You could sign 28 (in case some don't qualify), but by enrollment, only 25 per class.
  • 10 years after that, the Transfer Portal comes along. The portal significantly increased the number of players leaving every season. But if that left you with 29 open scholarships, you couldn't fill them all because of the cap set at 25 per class.
  • The coaches complained and the NCAA listened. This season, the rule was "you can replace up to 7 players you lose to the portal, so the new cap is 32". During the next cycle, the cap will be lifted. If you have 34 open scholarships because you graduated 19 players and lost 15 to the portal, you can sign 34 players.

The obvious question, then: wouldn't that bring us back to the days of Houston Nutt? Did we just rewind the clock to 2009? Well, kind of. I'll try to explain. Quickly.

The issue with oversigning in the past (and the reason the Nutt Rule was put in place): some SEC school would oversign by nine, tell nine players to take a hike, and those nine players, when they transferred to their next school, would have to sit out a year. Many would transfer down to FCS because that didn't require a sit-out year. So the NCAA put the rule in place to protect the players.

Most conferences also instituted 4-year scholarships as well. If a player wanted to stay, even if he wasn't going to play, he'd have the choice to stay for four years until he had his degree. Players do generally want to play, so yes, there were still honest postseason conversations that led to mutual separations, but if a player absolutely wanted to stay, he had that option once conferences put in the guaranteed 4-year scholarships. As you might recall, part of the Beckman investigation revealed that Nick North wanted to stay and Tim Beckman wanted him to move on.

Again, those postseason conversations are generally in everyone's best interest. I wouldn't want to stay with a team and get up at 5:30 for practice every day knowing I'm fourth on the depth chart and will be behind these two freshmen for the next three years. Every sports team in the history of ever has players leaving to find a better fit. The thing the NCAA was focused on with the Nutt Rule: mass layoffs with 37 new players brought in.

There were consequences to this rule, though. Lovie plays 22 freshmen from his first recruiting class in 2017. After the season, a lot of the Tim Beckman recruits transfer out because the freshmen are already in front of them. Lovie, obviously, wanted to replace them all, but the cap of 25 prevented that from happening. I don't have the numbers in front of me (remember, this is a quick one with no research), but I believe we began the 2018 season with 77 scholarship players. Eight scholarships simply went unused (or were given to walkons for a year) because the Houston Nutt Rule capped each class, including transfers, at 25 new players per season.

The next change that came: the Transfer Portal and the elimination of "every player must sit out a year if he transfers." This allowed players to move around freely. But it also meant that a school could lose 12 guys to the portal, look down at the numbers on their chart, and see that they signed 21 players for their 21 open scholarships but now they can only add 4 for the 12 scholarships that just opened up because they're hitting a hard cap of 25 per class. Why have a rule that forces you to leave eight scholarships unused?

There's other nuances here -- what counts as an "initial" ride, taking early enrollees and "backdating" them to the previous class if you had less than 25, etc. -- but those are the basics. Oversigning was eliminated to protect the player from being forced into a sit-out year when his coach tells him it's not working out. And now that cap is lifted because the sit-out year was eliminated and the players no longer find their movement restricted.

Will teams return to oversigning and trimming the fat? Probably. At the very least there will be Houston Bates scenarios again. Bates, you might remember, was headed to LSU. But he was an oversigning casualty. At the last minute they told him "oh, hey, we ran out of scholarships - would you be interested in being a grayshirt and paying your own way this fall until you can join the team next January?" He was not, so he came to Illinois. (And then he grad-transferred to Louisiana Tech to be close to his girlfriend for his senior year. And then he sacked Reilly O'Toole 4.5 times in the 2014 Heart Of Dallas Bowl. And then he played in 24 games over 2 seasons for the Washington Football Team. Shoutout R-BOB-K.)

All-in-all, this was a necessary change. With the transfer portal in place, when there's a coaching change and there's a dual threat quarterback suddenly playing in a pro scheme, that quarterback can now immediately find a school that fits his playing style. And with this rule now in place, the coaches don't run into a scholarship limit when trying to replace him. Every year they can get back to 85 scholarship players.

See? Quick. I'm super proud of myself. From Houston Nutt to Houston Bates in just under an hour.

It IS possible.

Comments

HNLINI on May 19, 2022 @ 08:30 PM

By short, did you mean the time you took to write this treatise on the history of per class scholarship caps from memory, or the treatise itself.

ktcesw on May 20, 2022 @ 08:15 AM

Excellent article. Something that people can refer to. Thanks!

Taft92 on May 20, 2022 @ 12:25 PM

Houston Bates, Vic Koenning's Rolling Block of Butcher Knives. What a memory! Thanks Robert.

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