We have been lax in our football coverage lately because, HEY, we've got some pretty darn good baseball to cover. I promise we'll inundate you with all the recruiting and OTA talk you can handle starting just as soon as LSU's run in the baseball tournament ends, whether it ends triumphantly, in bitter defeat, or in some combination of the two. However, we would be remiss not to give you at least some coverage during the time between games.
In that spirit, we would be remiss if we did not at least mention the Houston Nutt Rule, allowing SEC schools to accept National Letters of Intent from no more than 28 players in given year. A quick look around and an understanding of the rules will show that this is not really a monumental shift in how the conference runs.
First, LSU only signed 24 last year and 26 the year before. The 26 we signed in the 2008 class is actually the most we have signed since Les Miles became a head coach. When Nick Saban was our coach, we signed just a bit more, but only once in the last 7 years have we signed more than the currently allotted 28. The rule is, admittedly, aimed at Ole Miss who signed a mind-boggling 37 players last year in a policy that dates back to the Ed Orgeron days of signing lots of academic risks and placing those who don't make it into friendly junior colleges.
In all, I can identify only 3 SEC institutions that this would really affect: Ole Miss, Alabama, and Auburn, and I don't know if Auburn's sign-and-place policy remains in effect in the new regime there. Alabama will have to make a slight tweak in how it does things, because they came in under the limit last year after signing 32 in 2008.
The new rule means that the "sign and place" is no more. Other than that, it doesn't really mean that much, and here is why:
1. You can only add 25 actual scholarship players in any given year. Let's not forget that in the past, while you could sign as many kids as you liked, you could only actually bring in 25 of them. Now, you can sign 28 and will have to jettison only 3, instead of oh.. 12.
2. The Rule Only Affects Letters of Intent, and Letters of Intent Are Not Mandatory. A little understood fact about recruiting is that a recruit need never sign a letter of intent. He can hold back and hold back and hold back and then just report for the first day of classes if he wants. If the school has a scholarship free, because several of the 28 who signed LOIs didn't make it, they can give one to him.
3. Sign-and-place is merely a symbolic gesture for the player and team. A sign-and-place arrangement carries with it no obligation for either the player, the school, or the junior college. Players with no hope of getting qualified sign letters of intent only to allow the player the experience of being a part of a signing class with no real obligation to ever enroll that player in school if he fails to develop in a JUCO. The kid gets to feel like he belongs to the institution and the school gets some nebulous and difficult to define mental and emotional attachment of the recruit. It is thought that this will make it more likely that the kid will sign with that school again when the time comes. The letter of intent has no actual legal binding effect in these situations, and so can be skipped altogether.
4. As this year taught us all, you don't have to sign on signing day. If you're an academic risk, you can wait until June to sign, when hopefully you will know more about your chances of qualifying than you do in February.
It will mean that teams can't take on as many academic risks as they took on before, but it's not like they can't take on any risks. You can still sign 3 more players than you can actually have room to bring to the team. That means that if you have a full compliment of scholarships to give out (keeping in mind you can only have 85 scholarship players at a time, come August), you can sign up to 6 players who are 50/50 shots at qualifying academically. I fail to see how it is a great hardship to only be able to sign 6 players who aren't reasonably sure bets to make it.
Alright, it bears mentioning that everything I've said that applies to academic risks also applies to those prospects who might get drafted in the Major League Baseball Draft and sign with MLB teams.
All it really means is that teams can do little if any sign-and-place, and will have to be a little careful of academic risks. They may have to tell an academic risk to hold off on signing a letter of intent until the summer to get more information about grades and test scores. This may turn off a prospect and push him to commit to a school that has a slot available for an academic risk.
I doubt its impact is ultimately all that big on the field, though. SEC schools will still place unqualified prospects into friendly Jucos. They will still sign academic risks and baseball risks at nearly the same rate they do now. They may just have to be a little more careful at the margins. I don't see the big deal.