College football signature classes are expected to grow in size soon.
NCAA officials are moving closer to an immediate expansion of the 25-person annual signing limit as a way for coaches to replace lost players on the burgeoning transfer portal. The NCAA Division I Soccer Oversight Committee is finalizing a proposal that would change the signature limit for this cycle into what is described as a one-year relief waiver until a permanent policy is created.
Several officials spoke with Illustrated Sports on condition of anonymity given the sensitive nature of the ongoing deliberations on the proposals.
Finally, a compromise is emerging among a group of proposals. Under the plan, schools can sign 25 new players and at the same time earn additional signatory seats for each player who transfers out of their program, up to a certain cap. Additional places would be based on the number of players entering the transfer portal of their own free will and would be limited to one figure, such as seven.
For example, a school that loses five players on the portal can sign 30 new players. A school that loses 10 players on the portal can sign 32 new signatories, if the limit is seven. The replacement cap has not been completed.
In fact, other proposals are also being discussed, including one that simply increases the total signatories to 30, 32 or 35. Another proposal, which is still under scrutiny, would require a school to use its 25 spots on high school players and would give a school an additional five to seven places for transfers.
The impetus for immediate action on the issue is the result of policy changes that are leaving, and will leave, many schools well below the overall 85 scholarship limit. While schools are limited to having 85 scholarship players per year, they are restricted to recruiting 25 players in a single class. The 100 signatories for four years leave a margin of maneuver of 15 players for natural wear and tear.
However, there is more movement in the sport than ever before due to a rule change that gives athletes the right to transfer once without penalty. The increase in transfer combined with name, image and likeness is resulting in another disturbing trend: Coaches are shifting their recruitment away from the high school level towards the portal.
Meanwhile, rosters will have a critical makeover next year, when two classes – up to 40 players – exit due to a COVID-19-inspired rule that grants each athlete an additional year of eligibility.
Officials believe the solution is to offer coaches more spots to sign, in the hope that they will use them both to recruit more to the high school circuit and to consistently stay near the 85 mark.
“We want to maintain the ability to recruit high school players,” says Todd Berry, executive director of the Association of American Football Coaches. “If we don’t have any corrective legislation, people are not going to do that. We’re trying to keep recruiting for the high school and make sure colleges hit hardest by transfer portal losses are doing well. “
The proposals were presented to the Oversight Committee last week and then socialized between conferences this week. The committee meets Thursday to further discuss the issue and possibly approve an immediate measure.
It’s a somewhat surprising turn of events. The exemption would expand the 2022 signature class, which coaches are about to accumulate, four months before the early signing period begins.
But not everyone agrees with the proposals. The annual cap on transfers in football has been a contentious topic for years. It was originally implemented to discourage the tendency for coaches to eliminate or expel scholarship players in an effort to hire players or transfers from high school.
Earlier this year, West Virginia Athletic Director Shane Lyons and other administrators expressed concern that replacing the outings with additional spots for signers “will repeat history.” They believe that coaches will take advantage of the change by pushing players to create an additional place for the most talented athletes, a reason for the cap on replacements.
However, in the compromise proposal, schools can only replace players who go to the transfer portal on their own. Schools couldn’t win additional spots for players fired from a team, expelled by coaches, or those leaving early for the NFL draft.
In a policy proposed by the AFCA, similar to the engagement plan, only those players who enter the transfer portal after the first day of the February signing period can be replaced. Schools would have to replace them when camp begins. They would not go on to the next class.
That moment is still being debated and some of these concepts have come under scrutiny. For example, a sports director asks, who should determine exactly why a player has left? In order to rack up additional spots, will coaches convince retiring players who they have lobbied to lie to compliance staff?
“Is there a possibility of that happening? Yes, ”says Berry,“ but the players who are left out are usually not happy. They will come in and tell the fulfillment ‘I was fired from the team.’
Officials hope the additional positions will result in coaches bringing their recruiting to the high school level. Some coaches have publicly stated that they are holding up to half of their classes for transfers, negatively impacting high school and college recruitment.
“When you start to see where we are going with the transfer portal, there are two ways to look at it,” Minnesota coach PJ Fleck told SI in the spring. “The first day of singing is like the draft. The second part is free agency, and that is the transfer portal. You’ll see fewer and fewer people hiring 25 high school students. “
The portal is packed with players, many of them with nowhere to go. In SI’s research for a story last spring, the average Power 5 program had 8.5 portal scholarship players, while the average Group of 5 team had 6.3.
Searching for portals comes at a cost and hurts the overall numbers. Not only does a transfer punish your own school by leaving an empty scholarship spot, but you’re also using one of the precious 25 signer spots at your new school even though you often don’t have four full years of eligibility left. .
MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said in the spring that the 25-player limit needs a “close look” due to concerns that teams will not consistently fill all 85 scholarship spots given the movement of transfers. That’s a concern of a lot of college sports managers and coaches.
“It’s going to be tough for teams to be 85 when the season starts,” says Pat Chun, Washington State Athletic Director.
More college football coverage:
• Can the new faces keep No. 1 Alabama on top?
• The 25 Most Intriguing Coaches of the 2021 Season
• Forty observations on the CFB 2021 calendar
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.