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Will Tennessee go after USC's juniors and seniors?

One of the more interesting aspects of yesterday's news that the NCAA sledge-hammered USC was the impact of the post season ban being two years instead of one. From College Football News:

Two years, though, represents another level of book-throwing on the part of the NCAA. This is as severe a punishment as anyone could have expected; in all candor, it likely exceeded the consensus prediction. USC is likely to hemorrhage recruits because NCAA bylaws – as provided by The Bylaw Blog – give athletes more freedom of movement if a school’s period of bowl-game ineligibility is prolonged rather than limited.

Bylaw says the following: "No release needed to contact SAs (student athletes) if school has postseason ban for the rest of their eligibility." Bylaw 14.8.2 says this: "The COI (Committee on Infractions) can recommend a waiver to allow SAs to transfer and play immediately if ban is for the rest of their eligibility."

As you can see, the reality of a two-year bowl ban would naturally have an exponentially greater (negative) effect than a one-year ban. It will possess far more reach than a one-year ban and change the minds of numerous USC football recruits. It’s impossible to think that a substantial player exodus WON’T occur now that the two-year bowl ban has been handed down.

That may actually prove to be first-day, knee-jerk reaction, but it did get Vol fans thinking, didn't it? After all, Tennessee was just getting used to the idea of playing the 2010 season with 75 scholarship players, a more sympathetic result of transitional attrition as opposed to an NCAA banhammering, so the Vols need players. And wouldn't it be oh so sugary sweet to be able to waltz into Ed Orgeron's office to poach his players with the blessing of the NCAA after he tried to poach Tennessee's by breaking the rules?

But will it actually happen?

My initial thought was, "Yes. Absolutely, because Tennessee has room on the roster, and those USC players need a place to play."

My second thought? "Nope. Not gonna happen, because although UT has room on its roster, it doesn't have room in this class due to the blasted rule against oversigning."

My third thought? "I have no idea. Maybe some of those 28 LOIs don't count toward 2010, or maybe there are ways other than LOIs to fill up the roster with blue chips. I need to take my gingko and call Compliance. Do you think they're still there at 9:45 p.m.?"

So let me explain.

REFRESHER ALERT AND PREFATORY DISCLAIMER! I am no NCAA bylaw expert. I've spent no time reading through the NCAA rules and I'm not inclined due to time constraints to do so now. So caveat lector

You may recall that FBS schools can provide scholarships to only 25 new student athletes per year. The problem with only signing 25, though, is that recruits sometimes have a nasty habit of failing to qualify, so coaches took to padding the numbers and rolling the dice that they'd be able to get down to 25 in time for the fall. In 2009, Houston Nutt allowed a staggering 38 prospects to sign letters of intent to Ole Miss.

Well, pigs get fed and hogs get slaughtered, sometimes by association, and the SEC instituted a new rule limiting such oversigning to 28 prospects that June, which really sucks when your program is down by ten scholarships and trying to make up ground. Unintended consequences and all that. Perhaps there's an exemption to this rule for programs that are under the 85 scholarship per year limit, but I'm not aware of one. Shouldn't there be one?

Anyway, no program can award more than 25 scholarships per year, and no SEC program can accept more than 28 letters of intent prior to any season.  (The NCAA has voted to apply the oversigning rule to all FBS institutions, but that rule won't be effective until August 1, 2010. Nice timing, that.)

UT originally had 26 players sign LOIs in its 2010 class, but that doesn't include Darin Gooch and Brent Brewer, who were both added in the last two weeks. The article on Brewer doesn't say anything about him actually signing, just that he and the school intend for him to be on a football scholarship in the fall, but let's assume he's signed. That would put the Vols at the SEC LOI cap of 28.

Maybe. As is usually the case when folks in suits with good intentions start writing rules all willy nilly, the rules themselves actually get quite a bit more complicated, and then it's game on for the lawyers and those who pay them to find and exploit loopholes, as explained by the Bylaw Blog:

Whether and when a player is an initial counter depends on what term he was first given aid, whether he was recruited or not, what year in school he is, and whether he is replacing a midyear graduate. All of these loopholes and exceptions lead to two straight-forward limits of 85 counters and 25 initial counters down some very complicated paths.

. . . .

Note that [the rule limiting LOIs to 28 per year] is just limiting letters of intent. A school can sign more prospects to grant-in-aid agreements, but not to the letter of intent which locks them into the school for a period of time.

So look for compliance offices all over the country to have their noses in rules and fingers on desk calendars trying to figure out whether they can go fishing for blue chips formerly dressed in ketchup and mustard. Whatever UT's compliance office concludes, though, I hope they land a helicopter on top of Heritage Hall and go have a look at Orgeron's recruits, even if it's just to window shop.