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January 22, 2011

Seeing the forest through the trees

The NCAA changes its rules all the time. Last week, the most recent rule change occurred, in which the practice of counting initial counters towards the previous year's limit of 25 was not allowed. A few years ago it was allowed so long as the member institution had granted the NCAA maximum of 85 scholarships during the season, and then had players prior to their eligibility being exhausted. About a week ago, however, that may have changed as the NCAA passed Proposition 2010-78 to revive the old practice with some new stipulations.

Confused?

Welcome to the NCAA's 431 page manual of official bylaws that is constantly amended prior to its annual release every summer. In it, you will find a myriad of rules that are often inconsistent with each other. I have written about this ambiguity before, but today we will stick to the topic that peaks every year in January: how to count available scholarship numbers.

I am not going to get into the practice of oversigning as it is being well documented, at long last, by many writers, bloggers, and fans. Unlike oversigning, which has clear rules that can be used in ways that some feel are unethical, the counting of scholarships is a vague and inexact practice.

For instance, UGASports.com has maintained a breakdown of scholarship players based on their eligibility status for years. It is not an automated roster but rather has been updated manually by the site staff since the early 2000s. I jokingly said one day to the chagrin of UGA's sports communications staff while walking into a UGA football practice that we get more information out of the Pentagon than we do the football program--and yes this was post 9/11.

The University of Georgia does not release an official list of who is on scholarship, and, despite numerous attempts to gain this information, media outlets are left to their own devices to get a picture of the current state of the Bulldogs' scholarship numbers. What complicates this practice is that the NCAA allows players five years of eligibility within which they can play in four. Most freshmen do not play their first year and "redshirt", a term that does not exist in the NCAA lexicon. Therefore, when they start playing as a so-called "redshirt freshman", they are sophomores academically.

The practice of redshirting, or sitting out a year for developmental purposes, only clouds the picture of scholarship distribution. Due to this, while we have always thought we had this number nailed on our scholarships page, it came as a surprise when we learned our information differed from what Georgia had listed as their available scholarship numbers for the signing class of 2011.

The difference in the count is three. UGASports.com lists the Bulldogs as having 26 available scholarships (which is what prompted our call in the first place and we will discuss more below) while UGA says they have 23. Without getting too far into the discrepancy, the three might be explained by the fact that UGA counts early enrollees Christian Lemay and Chris Conley, both of whom graduated high school in December and subsequently enrolled at Georgia early. Add to that the fact that Tanner Strickland opted to leave the team early, with eligibility remaining, this week as well, and the variation in the scholarship count may be explained.

I emphasize the word "may" since unlike the Pentagon, this is highly guarded information.

So, in the absence of a leaki site from Scandinavia or clear and concise rules from the NCAA, I present you with Proposition 2010.78 which may explain how the two early enrollees are counted.

The rationale behind the proposal is listed as such: "Currently, a counter who graduates at midyear may be replaced by an initial counter with such aid counting as an initial award for the following academic year. This proposal would allow the initial award to count either for the year in which the aid was awarded or the following year. If a football student-athlete graduates and is replaced at midyear, the institution should be permitted to have the option of counting the initial counter in that year or in the next year, provided the institution has not reached its limit on number of initial counters for the year in which the aid is initially awarded."

What this is saying, basically, is that if a school does not add the maximum of 25 initial counters, meaning the first time a scholarship athlete is added to the roster, the school can choose to add the balance between initial counters and 25 in December/January, so that those players do not count towards the following year's 25 initial counters.

Confused?

Let's put it like this: the Bulldogs added 19 initial counters in 2010, therefore, under the new proposal, the Dawgs could add as many as six signees midyear to bring the 2010 number to the NCAA mandated maximum of 25 players added during this time would not count towards the class UGA will sign in a couple of weeks.

However, UGA brought in only two-LeMay and Conley and missed out on being able to bring in four more players to count towards 2010 (remember, they brought in 19 and the max is 25 leaving six that could have been counted towards 2010).

As it stands now, the Bulldogs can bring in a full class of 25 for the Class of 2011 as LeMay and Conley can now count towards 2010 due to Proposition 2010.78 being passed in just the last several days.

If you take away the two early enrollees, the Bulldogs have 19 verbal commitments and 24 available scholarships.

I realize this column probably only confused you as much as I am confused. I hope I got it right. If I did, they are probably going to have to kill me or zap me with that little pen light from Men in Black.

From the past:

A game of numbers (12/5/2006)
Scholarships & Jerseys, by the numbers (2/14/2004)

Related NCAA columns:

Show Me The Money (8/17/2010)
Socially Unacceptable (8/8/2009)
Professionally Unacceptable (8/11/2009)



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