The SEC is holding its Spring Meeting this week, where SEC presidents, athletics directors, coaches will take part in discussions about the conference's future. Plenty of explosive news is sure to come from the meeting, as the divisive issue of "roster management," which includes oversigning, will be on the agenda. SEC Commissioner Mike Slive is said to be seeking a reform of the league's roster management policies. His proposed legislation includes the following:
► Limiting the size of a football signing class in each academic year to 25, down from the current level of 28. The NCAA adopted that SEC-sponsored legislation put forward in 2009. The 25 limit would cover those who sign from Dec. 1 to August 1. The rule now runs from the February signing day to May 31, which allows schools to exceed 28 by enrolling signees before or after those dates. An exception would be made for mid-year enrollees included in the current academic year’s initial counters.
► Making football signees who attend summer school on athletic aid before the fall semester count against a school’s scholarship numbers for that next academic year.
There currently are no limits on how many can attend summer school, which can leave a recruit already on campus to be asked to delay enrollment until January if there’s no room. The proposal would go into effect in summer 2012.
► Giving the SEC office more oversight in medical scholarship exemptions to review and determine outcome for cases. A team doctor, trainer and athletic director would need to sign off on each case.
► Keeping early enrollees from signing an SEC financial aid agreement until they are enrolled and attend class at the school. Currently, recruits can begin to sign a financial aid agreement after their junior year of high school, which keeps other SEC schools from recruiting them.
These are fairly comprehensive reforms. The first would drastically reduce coaches' latitude to oversign (it would not eliminate oversigning, as it would not prevent schools from signing more players than they can accommodate under the overall scholarship limit of 85, but it would make it more difficult for them to exceed that limit), while the latter three would lend greater transparency to the recruitment process and make it more difficult for programs to exploit potential student athletes.
It seems fairly clear that these reforms are more aimed at student-athlete welfare than at impacting competitive advantage. They seek to make it more difficult for coaches to make roster decisions that harm student athletes while still providing coaches with enough wiggle room to anticipate and compensate for roster attrition. Slive confirmed that this is his agenda today in an interview with CBS's Tony Barnhart, where he said that
Philosophically, we want to make sure that our rules are fair to the student-athlete. That's the context. This isn't about what gives us a competitive advantage with other conferences. We have to be fair to the kids who want to come to our institutions. It will be a good conversation.
This is the right attitude to take. Oversigning and other roster issues are a problem because they negatively impact student-athlete welfare, not because they make it easier for some teams to win than others. Oversigning is not a competitive advantage issue because it is not cheating. It could be considered a brand of bending the rules, but it's not cheating. That means that everyone is playing under the same rules. The Big 10 as a conference and Georgia and Florida as programs have decided of their own accord that they're going to play by more restrictive rules. They're doing this out of noble motives, but it's still their choice. In this sense, they are not laboring under unfair rules. There is, though, an issue or protecting student-athlete welfare. Slive's new regulations, if passed through, will improve things for the student athlete. They won't solve all problems, but their heart is in the right place, and thus they're an excellent start.
You're going to hear lots of criticism of Slive's legislation in the days to come. Oversigning.com, undoubtedly driven by the desire to take the attention away from the sinking ship in Columbus, OH, will be one of the leading voices. When you read these arguments, you'll want to ask yourself what the motivations of these people truly are, and you'll want to beware of those who use the issue of student-athlete welfare as a front for more self-interested motives.