The NCAA suspends the annual signing class cap for Division I football

As the new one-time transfer rule and ongoing extra year of player eligibility decisions as a result of COVID-19 continue to devastate roster stability for Division I college football programs, the NCAA voted this week to commit to the annual signing and initialization waive meter limits for the academic years 2022-2023 and 2023-2024.

As a result, teams do not have to comply with the rule that limits initial counters in each class to 25 players per year, but allows schools to focus on providing assistance based on the overall limit of 85 FBS football program scholarships and 63 for FCS schools.

Prior to the suspension of first counters, schools could not sign more than 25 players in a recruiting class each year. This became problematic in the current environment, as a program could not adjust its initial counter even if more players left the program than were allowed to sign as substitutes, as happened with Michigan State when it signed the Class of 2021 last year. The NCAA’s temporary solution in 2021 of allowing up to seven additional transfer athletes to supplement the 25-man cap (32 supplements total) wasn’t even enough for the Spartans to fully replace the roster attrition.

According to the Division I Council, this also impacted the ability of incoming recruits to receive offers from programs badly needed to fill gaps in rosters. Last season, South Carolina could only field a roster of 79 grantees, while Kansas was looking at a roster in the low 70s for grantees in the 2022 season due to initial scoring limits.

“Some schools had not awarded all of their scholarships and felt constrained by the annual limit,” Division I Council chair Shane Lyons said in a statement. “This temporary change provides schools with more flexibility and offers new and current student athletes avenues to get help.”

The Football Oversight Committee says it will be monitoring transfer trends over the next two academic years to see how waiver compensation is shaping up for now. Some critics believe head coaches will try to push players away to take advantage of the new rule. The committee will decide what to do with initial counts after the exemption expires.

Separately at this week’s DI Council meeting, the FBS leagues are now allowed to determine the method of identifying participants in their conference championship game. This could see some leagues transition to new schedule formats that reduce the importance of divisions, or end them altogether with a move to a more round-robin or pod-based format.

The Pac-12, for example, has already announced plans to change its conference championship format. Beginning in 2022, the two teams with the highest percentage of conference wins will go head-to-head in championship play, rather than the two division winners battling for the conference crown.

It will be interesting to see if the Big Ten plan any changes for the 2022 season or beyond.

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