The third Wednesday in December is a big day for many college football programs around the country and goes largely unnoticed. It is one of two signing days in the entire year as prep school or junior college football players can sign their National Letters of Intent to enroll in the spring semester. This year, Texas A&M can see as many as 6 players sign their Letters of Intent (LOIs). Joining those players in the spring will also be several more high school seniors who decided to graduate early and start their college experience a semester earlier. But how can Texas A&M be bringing in all of these players? Where is the room and how does new SEC rules come into play? Let me try to explain the best way I can.
The first thing you need to know about to understand college football signings and scholarships is the 85 man scholarship limit. At any point in the year, a college program must have no more than 85 players on scholarship. At the beginning of the school year in August, a program must report to the NCAA how many players are on scholarship to ensure they are at or under the 85 man limit. This will be the single most important number to determine if a program can take players at the mid-term.
The second thing you need to know is the idea of an initial counter. An initial counter is a student athlete receiving financial aid for the first time. This can be a high school senior signing on National Signing Day, a junior college or prep school player signing today, or a walk-on player receiving a scholarship they have earned for the first time. A school is given 25 of these per year.
Now that we have those two key facts down, let's get into what is happening at Texas A&M this year. As I said earlier, a school reports how many players they have on scholarship in August at the beginning of the football year. Most schools will have a full 85. Texas A&M this year did not. If you are under the 85 man limit, you can bring in players at the mid-term (or the beginning of the spring semester). Since Texas A&M was so far below the 85 man limit, they can bring in a combination of junior college, prep school, or early graduating high school seniors to fill out the 85 man limit for the spring semester. When I personally counted how many players were on scholarship in July of this past year, I came up with 79. Since that time, players like Brandal Jackson, Hutson Prioleau, and William Randolph have left the program taking the number down even farther. That leaves 9-10 scholarships Texas A&M can use this month to bring in players for the spring semester.
That number makes sense. But the problem is with the initial counters. Remember, all incoming players have to be counted as an initial counter somewhere. So where can these mid-termers count? The NCAA allows mid-termers that are earning an unclaimed scholarship to be back counted towards the initial counters of the previous year. If you remember back to the Class of 2012, Texas A&M only signed 18 players to a national letter of intent. That is 7 unused initial counters there. Also, since players like QB Matt Davis and S Kenneth Marshall joined the team last December, they could be back counted all the way back to 2011. That potentially opens up even more unused initial counters to use making the numbers work for this December.
See how confusing this can get for even the best recruiting experts? The problem is the 85 man limit is never made public, nor how initial counters are being recorded to what exact year. It leaves for a lot of guessing and speculation on your favorite message boards.
What about seniors that graduate in December? Can a mid-termer take over their scholarship? Yes, a mid-termer can replace them for the spring semester. However, how their initial counter is recorded is different than a mid-termer using an unclaimed scholarship. Per NCAA rules, their initial counter must count forward to the new recruiting class, or for this year against the Class of 2013. You can read about this rule as well as go through several different scenarios using this document from our very own compliance department.
That simply leaves those players that sign on National Signing Day in February and join the team during the summer. Nothing new for those players. Texas A&M will sign 25 of them in February. Those initial counters will count towards the limit in 2013. The only requirement is that all 25 players can join and fit under the 85 man limit come August. That shouldn't be a problem.
This is were that "SEC Rule" you hear so much about comes in. The SEC's rule simply states you can only have 25 National Letters of Intent signed on National Signing Day. It doesn't effect those mid-term guys coming in this December. The rule was put in place to stop over-signing in February where teams would sign over 25 players planning to enroll in August, some of them grade risks that weren't expected to make the grades to get in. In some cases, those grade risks did actually make the grade and could enroll, leaving other signees in the class without a scholarship when they arrived on campus in August and are forced to pay their way into school. This is why you see Texas A&M cut ties with potential grade risks before they sign. The SEC rule should not come into play for Texas A&M this year.
With all 25 initial counters being used for 2013, that means no mid-termers next December, no matter who leaves the program between now and next August. Attrition this coming spring will only open up spots in the 85 man limit for the Class of 2014, allowing us to sign more players on National Signing Day in 14 months.
So how does the math come together for this year?
9-10 spots open on the 85 man limit this past August as well as 9-10 initial counter spots left over in the Class of 2012
Normal 25 man signing class on National Signing Day in February
34-35 incoming players in the Class of 2013