Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt had spoken out strongly against abolishing the practice that has come to be known as "oversigning." Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, prior to Friday's general business session at the SEC meetings, also spoke in favor of limited and managed oversigning but was less vocal than Nutt.
Oversigning was just a "snapshot" in a much larger picture of roster management, SEC commissioner Mike Slive said.
At these meetings a year ago, the SEC put in place a rule limiting signing classes to 28 members, three above the NCAA limit of 25 scholarships per year.
The wiggle room is necessary, coaches argued, to guard against prospects who accept a scholarship offer then leave it on the table to sign with another school and to help with unexpected attrition.
SEC coaches on Wednesday voted 12-0 to recommend keeping the allowable number of signees at 28.
"The conversation was helpful," Slive said. "On some issues we were able to accommodate their concerns. On some we were not."
The new legislation goes into effect Aug. 1 for the 2012 signing class and does four things:
- It reduces the number of permitted signees from 28 to 25.
- It moves back the date for which signees count against the current limit from Aug. 1 to Dec. 1.
- It allows signees to be exempt from the limit of 25 if they can be counted in the current school year.
- It establishes an oversight process of roster management review by the conference office with input from the presidents and athletics directors. Written reports will be required of each institution.
The second and third items on that list help firm up issues of concern with high school prospects choosing to enroll in spring or summer terms.
"I do not believe this change will in any way have any significant negative impact on our ability to be competitive and to compete for championships. I am pleased with the change of policy that was adopted by the league," MSU president Mark Keenum said.
While the coaches were unanimous in their quest to keep the number of signees at 28, the presidents were unanimous in their vote to reduce it.
The vote did not come without key questions from the Mississippi delegation.
"We all want what's best for the student-athletes," Ole Miss chancellor Dan Jones said. "Clearly this has the potential to provide a disadvantage, a little bit, in smaller states who have a smaller pool of in-state students to recruit from."
Jones indicated that the legislation can be modified if necessary.
"Everyone saw we were trying to get to the right place. All issues can be reconsidered moving on if we didn't find the right place."
A number of presidents formed their opinions on oversigning only after arriving in Destin, Jones said, adding that's important for the SEC to show leadership in this area.
"The opportunity to have this rule put in place at the national level will be enhanced by our support at the conference level," he said.
In other moves the presidents:
- Approved the basketball coaches' recommendation to end the East-West divisional format. That change is effective with the coming season.
- Approved the rule that football players must pass nine academic hours in the fall semester or be suspended for four games the following season.
- Eliminated the exception for graduate students that currently allows them to transfer to an SEC school and become eligible immediately. The SEC has had a rule that incoming transfers must have at least two seasons of eligibility remaining in their sport. This will apply to graduate students effective Oct. 1, 2012.
Had the exception not been granted last year, quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, a transfer from Oregon, would not have played at Ole Miss.
Slive said he does not believe reducing the number of allowable signees will result in a competitive disadvantage for a conference that has won five consecutive football national championships.
"No one wants to win more than I do," he said, "but we don't want to win at the expense of young people. We want to win for them."