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Peak Perspective: Recruiting changes are positive, but come with a price

What is good, what is not so good, and suggestions to improve it.

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Last week, we discussed the rule changes with conferences and conference championships. That should shape how schedules are made and which teams play in the championship game, which is significant. However, what is arguably more significant are the announced changes to recruiting. The NCAA is has announced a two-year end to the 25 player signee limit for recruiting classes.

This means that schools can now sign more than twenty-five players in each class, although they will still have to comply with the roster limit of 85 scholarship players,

Why is this happening?

The answer is pretty straightforward. It’s been an issue for years, but the transfer portal has accelerated the issue. With the transfer portal, teams often lose more players than they are allowed to gain.

Looking at this in practical terms, Kansas is the example that is mentioned most often when discussing the need to wave the scholarship limit in a class (as this article from the Athletic details). When Charlie Weiss came to the program, he dismissed many players and tried to fill gaps with a plethora of junior college players. As everyone knows, it was nothing short of a disaster and left the program depleted both in quantity and quantity. When David Beaty replaced him in 2015, he inherited a roster that featured 38 scholarship players, which is roughly 45% of a full roster.

Now, seven years later, the Jayhawks still have not gotten back to 85 scholarship players. The high number has been 77 (90.5%) in 2016 but dropped back down to 72 players (85%) in 2018, which was when the article was published (the numbers are different now, but it is unknown where their roster is currently at). Why have they not been able to get back to 85 scholarship players? It is due to the recruiting class limit.

Because a team can only sign a maximum of 25 players in each recruiting class, catching up is next to impossible to achieve.

In a hypothetical scenario, let’s play this out. A team enters the season with 38 scholarship players and seeks to replenish its roster in a hurry. Assuming one adds the maximum allotment of 25 players in each class (which isn’t always a guarantee all 25 arrive on campus) and assuming 15 players leave each year due to graduation, NFL aspirations, or other attrition (which is a conservative estimate), it would basically take five years to fill up the roster. Five years is an eternity in the college football world, especially when coaches are now being fired after two or three seasons. And this is assuming nothing else goes wrong, which rarely occurs. Also, all of this is enough of a headache even before getting to the amount of actual talent entering the fold with these players. Spoiler: the top recruits aren’t necessarily lining up to play for a struggling team with lots of roster issues.

It is safe to say that continually being nowhere close to the roster limit of 85 scholarship players is nothing short of disastrous and can hold a program back for years. If the goal of college football is to put a competitive product on the field, the rules are inhibiting that from happening, and it is not anyone’s fault.

Why this is a positive:

The obvious one is that it allows teams to get their roster to close to or at 85 scholarship players each year. Teams can take more high school/transfer players to fill their needs and replenish depth much quicker. New coaches coming into a school may still lose a decent amount of players to the transfer portal for various reasons, but they can bring in more of their players as soon as possible through high school recruiting,

Also, recruiting can be a much more straightforward process. For those who intensely follow recruiting, you have probably heard of all the shirts. Redshirts are the most common, followed by gray shirts, green shirts, and blue shirts. The latter three are all specifically aimed at manipulating class sizes by counting players towards previous or future classes in attempts to get around the 25-player limit. While those still may happen, they will likely be from legitimate cases rather than finding loopholes.

Other positives:

  • More high school players get scholarships.
  • The transfer portal will declutter now that there will be a better balance between the number of players in the portal and the number of available spots on team rosters.
  • This can potentially increase competitiveness because more teams will be at full strength each year. Or at least not be a major hindrance to being competitive.

Why this is a negative:

With every decision, there is a tradeoff. And although this ruling is beneficial in many ways, there is a considerable tradeoff to removing the recruiting cap class. Unfortunately, it’s something that already happens and now seems destined to increase greatly.

In the land of recruiting and college football in general, new is always better. And the potential of a future player can often seem more appealing than a current player who isn’t immediately great. The obvious tradeoff with allowing teams to recruit as many players as they want is that teams will “over-sign” and have more players than they have roster spots for. This means more players will essentially be cut (or forced to transfer) if they don’t pan out after a year or two.

This already happens but now will occur even more frequently. If a recruit was expected to compete for playing time early in their career or weren’t as good as advertised once they arrive on campus, they may announce their intentions to transfer. Behind the scenes, coaches may have had a conversation with them, either encouraging them or basically forcing them to transfer.

The math is simple; bringing in 25+ players every year is at least 100 players every four years. With teams only allotted 85 scholarships, that means the attrition that already occurs each off-season will only increase. The question will be how much will that increase?

Other negatives:

  • The rich get richer in recruiting, and fewer great recruits will go to non blue-blood teams because they have more spots.
  • The transfer portal will have even more players enter as they get run off by teams.
  • An opportunity for fewer walk-ons to get a scholarship

Future Focus:

Ending the recruiting class cap is a good step in theory but will have unintended and apparent downsides. Regardless, the rule should continue to be a work in progress because it will fix the big issue but will also make secondary issues bigger. However, there is a more straightforward fix that the NCAA should consider two years from now. It involves separating the transfer portal from recruiting.

It’s always seemed odd that high school recruiting and the transfer portal (which is really college recruiting) are bunched together rather than treated as two separate things. In reality, they are two different forms of roster management and should be handled as such, resulting in the following:

  • Keep the 25-player maximum for high school recruiting only. Or 28 or whatever you want the number to be.
  • Have a different model for transfers with its own calendar, limits, and guidelines.

To simplify things, schools can use the 1-for-1 model. For every player they lose to the transfer portal, they can replace them with a player from the transfer portal, and only the transfer portal. Any player who graduated or left for the NFL must be replaced by a high school or junior college player. Also, in an attempt to control shady things, a team can’t gain a commitment before they lose a player. For example, if a team has lost two transfers, they cannot gain three commitments. It would be nice if they couldn’t offer or host more players than they have spots, but that would be extremely hard to regulate.

Will tampering and cutting players still happen? Probably, but it should keep it to a minimum. And if nothing else, coaches have to run players off before they know who they will pick up, rather than accepting players and then deciding who to cut. So at least there is some amount of risk involved.

Along with this, there is talk of reshaping the recruiting calendar in hopes of simplifying it into two periods: active recruiting, where everything is allowed, and a dead period where nothing is allowed. Also, those same discussions also include having times when the transfer portal is open and closed. This would help significantly. Here are some of our thoughts:

  • The transfer portal is closed during the season. It will be open from December through January. This may coincide with a team’s bowl game, but players opt-out of those games to declare for the NFL, so this is similar.
  • The transfer portal will be closed through April and will reopen for the month of May and June. This is after everyone goes through spring practices and gives players time to evaluate where they stand on the depth chart. Players will have to enter the portal by the end of May to retain their eligibility to play the following fall but have to transfer to a new school by the end of June.
  • The portal is closed from July through December.