Football recruits on SEC radars got another message from Friday’s high-minded vote of league presidents. Don’t be seen as an academic risk, because SEC coaches just lost their margin for error.
That’s the difference between 28 and 25.
SEC presidents overruled their high-paid and outspoken football coaches by voting unanimously to reduce the annual signee cap from 28 to 25.
The measure came amid national media scrutiny paid to the practice of over-signing, and it puts the SEC ahead of the curve in curbing controversial roster-management tactics used by coaches.
Time will tell whether these Wall Street-quality loophole finders audible around the legislation, which still allows back-counting of recruits who enroll early.
But it just got harder to call the SEC the face of eroding ethics in college football, and it just got harder for football recruits with untidy academic qualifications to get scholarship offers from SEC schools.
First, the PR war.
Alabama football coach Nick Saban played the blame-the-media card when it became clear the SEC would adopt the 25-signee cap, but he needs to blame college football for calling so much attention to its unethical underbelly.
Over the past 12 months, the splash of myriad scandals has painted an ugly mural of a game in unabashed pursuit of victories and cash. It’s like college football was trying to write its own version of Billy Joel’s song, “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”
Reggie turns his Heisman in, Cam’s got permagrin, Tressel tries to keep it in as players trade for ink on skin.
Fiesta Bowl campaign cash, BCS counts its stash, government talks antitrust as non-AQs say why not us?
No, the media didn’t start the fire. It’s been burnin’, so the media’s been turnin’ out stories. Amid all of this, questions arose about oversigning. Saban can hardly call the practice his own — all 12 SEC coaches voted for the status quo — but he became its poster child and chief spokesman.
Saban shows some the door, then he signs plenty more, won’t let the press keep score, so what’s this all really for? The fire was set for high-minded people to take high-minded action, and the SEC’s highest-ranking minds acted Friday. The rest of the country can argue about who didn’t light it, but the SEC can say it’s trying to fight it.
The league passed the 25-signee limit and will take it to the NCAA. This came even as Saban, reportedly the most powerful coach in all of sports, warned that the quality of SEC football will suffer.
“No one, no one wants to win more than I do,” SEC commissioner Mike Slive told media in Destin on Friday. “But we don’t want to win at the expense of young people. We want to win for them.”
That’s quite a statement from the lord of the reputed dark knight of conferences.
Is Slive a dreamer for believing the SEC can lead college football to higher ground? We shall see.
Down in the valley, though, recruits should gulp hard at all of this.
The 25-signee limit means SEC coaches just saw their margin for error shrink. They won’t be as willing to chance scholarships on iffy academic qualifiers.
While signees’ scholarships and roster spots might be more protected, they have to get there first.
If the ultimate effect of the SEC’s new signee cap becomes more top high school players take academics seriously, then Slive and the SEC will have scored more than a PR victory.
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @Jomedstar.