SEC presidents over-rule their coaches

semerson@macon.comJune 3, 2011 

DESTIN, Fla. -- Michael Adams didn’t want to say much, but the smile on his face said plenty. As Georgia’s president walked out of the meeting with his peers Friday, Adams kept saying, “It’s a good day for the SEC.”

Some may disagree. But on the contentious issue of over-signing, the SEC meetings revealed this: The conference’s presidents and commissioner still out-rank their high-profile, well-paid head football coaches.

The presidents cracked down on the so-called practice of over-signing, dropping the annual limit on signed recruits from 28 to 25. The coaches voted against that two days before and spoke publicly against it. But two days later, their presidents over-ruled them.

“People did the right thing,” Adams said. “People voted right. This was a good high point for us, I think.”

It will remain to be seen how the measures end up curbing the coaches who had signed an over-abundance of recruits, then run some off. Teams can still back-count recruits who enroll early. And if loop-holes exist in the new legislation, the coaches will find them.

But the SEC appeared to at least have a good day on the public relations front, going further than other conferences on an issue that had moved to the forefront in college athletics.

The conference now plans to send an official request to NCAA president Mark Emmert to have the NCAA adopt a uniform standard. There had been concern about the SEC putting itself in a position of competitive imbalance, but commissioner Mike Slive, whose conference has won the past five BCS championships, was adamant.

“No one, no one wants to win more than I do,” Slive said. “But we don’t want to win at the expense of young people. We want to win for them.”

Slive got his way on a series of proposals on roster management, with the 25-signee limit being the most high-profile. The package also includes:

A stipulation that the conference must approve all requests for medical disqualifications. If necessary, it will seek an outside medical opinion. Some programs had made use of medical disqualifications to force out players and get under the 85-scholarship limit.

The exemption allowing graduate students to transfer to a team and not sit out a year was also eliminated, although it won’t go into effect until October. That means former N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson would still be able to play at an SEC program this year.

The same exemption allowed Mississippi to take starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli before the 2010 season, after he was dismissed from Oregon. The exemption was originally made to encourage players to graduate, but the conference felt it was being exploited.

“We believe this is an important academic rule,” Slive said. “I think it’s fair to say when it became an athletic rule, we’re no longer interested in having the exemption.”

But the main focus of the legislation, at least in terms of debate, was the 25-limit. Coaches complained that the 28-limit, just instituted two years ago, hadn’t had enough time to be evaluated. Coaches like South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier said the academics in their states said over-signing was simply a way of guarding against academic casualties.

The presidents and Slive, however, saw more concern in high-number recruiting classes (South Carolina had 32 this year) and the perception of players being forced off the roster unwillingly.

“They don’t agree with everything, but I think there are some things with which they do agree,” Slive said. “Obviously they had their own interests to pursue. I thought the conversation was helpful. Some of the issues we were able to accommodate their concern; some of them we were not.

“But I think all in all that the proposals as they came forward represent as close to a full consensus as we could get. Now obviously some coaches would rather have 28 than 25. I understand that. But on some of the other pieces (there was agreement.)”

Slive announced the presidents’ vote as being unanimous. Adams and Florida’s Bernie Machen had been the only two to vocally come down for limits on over-signing.

“Obviously this is not a quick fix; this is not a one-size-fits-all model here,” Machen said. “But I think it gives us assurances that we’re treating our student-athletes as close to the way we would take care of other students in our universities.”

Adams was asked if there was any dissension among the presidents before the vote.

“There’s always a lot of discussion,” Adams said. “But sometimes it takes awhile to get to the right decisions. I think the whole group did really well this time.”

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