DESTIN, Fla. – There were no lines drawn in the Florida sand on Tuesday, but there were some wagons circling.
The first day of the SEC’s annual spring business meetings was about debate and persuasion, mostly about the practice of “oversigning,” where college football coaches sign more prospects to scholarships in February than the NCAA allows with its mandate of 25 per season.
The reasons for that are numerous, all leading to protection for coaches as they manage their rosters against sometimes unpredictable movements by their signees.
“It’s very difficult to hit a home run and expect 25 signees to be on campus,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said.
But it’s not difficult, some coaches contend, to work with the numbers in such a way that prospective student-athletes know what they’re getting before August when football and classes in new surroundings intersect.
Just last year, the SEC passed legislation limiting football signing classes for its members to 28 recruits.
Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt says he has been portrayed as the “poster boy” for oversigning.
Meanwhile, Georgia coach Mark Richt says he’s been portrayed as the leading voice against it.
Richt offered a more moderate opinion on Tuesday.
“I think everybody has a right to manage their own numbers,” Richt said. “All I’ve said is, if you sign 25 guys and there’s only room for 20 and, after summer, you have to tell two or three of them they have to wait until January and they’re shocked, I don’t think that’s right.”
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said if a 25-signee limit is imposed by SEC presidents later this week that he will “make it work.”
But that won’t be his preference.
“We signed a young man a couple of years ago who is now a very successful pro baseball player. We knew there was a good chance he wasn’t going to come play for us. But it was the opportunity to sign and get a scholarship, have a backup plan if baseball didn’t work out. Well, when you start putting all those limitations on it, that young man might not be able to sign with you now. I think those are the things you have to be very cautious about,” Mullen said.
That was the argument Nutt used two years ago with his 2009 class, a 37-member unit heading into his second season at Ole Miss.
Nutt talked about creating the experience, bonding with recruits and, hopefully, giving his school a leg up in the re-recruiting process.
A more concrete picture of what type of changes regarding oversigning – if any – will occur should begin to emerge later today after a joint meeting of the coaches and athletics directors.
Later this week, the directors will present their plan to the school presidents. Nothing will be finalized until the presidents vote on Friday.
Handing off a plan to the presidents is far from a rubber-stamp process, Ole Miss AD Pete Boone said.
“The presidents, from my understanding, may have some sort of thought process on their own that nobody’s talked about yet. I have not talked to Dan Jones,” he said.
Last year, athletics directors presented a plan for football staff size to the presidents, who rejected it, Boone said.
On Tuesday, most coaches favored a small amount of oversigning. At least one just didn’t talk about it.
“It’s not a policy we have at Florida,” said Will Muschamp, entering his first year as the Gators’ head coach. “We don’t oversign. We’ve been successful. It’s not an issue. I agree with our philosophy. Wouldn’t you?”
Many do not.
“A year ago we put a lot of time and thought into this and came up with 28,” Chizik said. “I doubt we’ve given it enough time.”
If Nutt leads the fight behind closed doors today, the stars may be aligning in his favor, but there’s a long way to go.
“If you say it’s 25, you better be right. You can’t make mistakes, and that makes it even tougher to jump out on that limb with a guy who lacks a little character. ‘He’s not a bad kid, coach.’ We hear that a lot,” Nutt said. “There will be fewer opportunities for the ones who are borderline. That’s the first thing that comes to mind.”
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600
Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal