published Sunday, May 29th, 2011

SEC to look hard at ‘oversigning’

A year after deciding against membership expansion, the Southeastern Conference is looking to curb expanded signing classes in college football.

SEC commissioner Mike Slive will take a proposal to presidents, chancellors and athletic directors this week at the league’s spring meetings that will address roster management, an issue more commonly called “oversigning.” The league sponsored NCAA legislation in 2009 that limited football programs to 28 signees from February’s national signing day through May 31, with 25 allowed to enroll for fall-semester classes.

That legislation occurred several weeks after Ole Miss had 37 signees in its ’09 class, but there were loopholes that allowed programs to count early enrollees in the previous year’s class or allowed signees to delay enrollment, or “grayshirt.”

“Where we get involved in roster management is looking out for the best interest of the student-athlete,” SEC associate commissioner Charles Bloom said. “There are cases we have heard in the past that make an argument for oversigning. Things happen during the summer prior to practice, or a student-athlete will leave on his own volition, and that will create a gap in the numbers. Oversigning, in that regard, takes care of that.

“What we don’t want to have happen is a student-athlete be displaced against his own choice after signing his letter of intent. There are different issues involved, and the conference has looked at this pretty in depth.”

The SEC spring meetings begin Tuesday and will run through Friday.

Auburn (32) and LSU (29) had more than 28 signees during the 2010 signing period, as did South Carolina (32) and Arkansas (30) this year. Slive has not revealed specifics in his proposal, which could contain a reduction in the signing cap from 28 to 25, but he expects some lively discussion in Destin, Fla.

Alabama’s Nick Saban and South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier are among the coaches more likely to oppose tightening the policy, while Florida’s Will Muschamp and Georgia’s Mark Richt have been outspoken in their disdain for oversigning.

“We like the way the rule is now, because we actually sign four or five who are on the bubble of qualifying or not,” Spurrier said. “We could not sign them all on signing day, which was a little embarrassing to us and them, but sometimes time heals a lot of wounds. With our state and its education, a lot of our kids are borderline of qualifying or not, so it’s helpful for the University of South Carolina to be able to oversign.”

Said Richt: “I think it is an awful thing to do. I think it is the wrong thing to do, and it is nothing that we have ever done at Georgia.”

One item on the discussion agenda this week is addressing scholarships and whether they should cover the full cost of attendance. Earlier this month, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney proposed the addition of $2,000-$5,000 to existing scholarships to cover expenses outside the room-and-board realm.

“I think we’re to a point now in intercollegiate athletics where we have been very fortunate to have developed significant revenue streams,” Slive told the Birmingham News earlier this month. “A lot of our student-athletes have significant needs, and it’s one of those issues whose time has come.”

Bloom said there is no formal proposal yet regarding cost of attendance.

SEC basketball coaches not only will discuss reseeding their tournament based on overall league records but could debate doing away with two divisions. The Mid-American, Sun Belt, Southern and Southland conferences were the only other leagues this past season that employed divisional play.

“We are committed to divisional play in the upcoming academic year, so if we do choose to make a change in that, it would be for the 2012-13 year,” Bloom said. “As far as seeding the basketball tournament, that change could be immediate. The conference office has researched the different format options for the tournament and has given that to the coaches and athletic directors, and these are items that will be thoroughly discussed.”

No future championship sites are at stake in the league’s primary sports, with the football championship set in Atlanta through 2017. The baseball tournament will be in Hoover, Ala., through 2016, while the men’s basketball tournament sites are known through 2016 and the women’s tournament sites through 2014.

And there may not be the need to lecture football coaches about misbehaving. Tennessee’s Lane Kiffin and Florida’s Urban Meyer went round-and-round during the 2009 calendar year, but Kiffin left for Southern Cal after the ’09 season and Meyer retired last season.

“There are several things that the commissioner prides himself on, and one is that student-athletes and their performances on the field should be the dominant source of news,” Bloom said. “The conference has a long history of supporting each other and camaraderie, and anything that takes us away from that is a negative. We’re pretty fortunate in that we seem to be in harmony coming into Destin.”

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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