NCAA Protecting Wrong Group in Closing Financial Agreement Loophole

Michael FelderNational CFB Lead WriterJanuary 15, 2014

Jan 2, 2014; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Team Nitro running back Dalvin Cook (4) runs with the ball against the Team Highlight during the second half at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The NCAA will be using time this April to close a "loophole" in the grant-in-aid policy, and in doing so, they'll again toe the line of the coaches, not the athletes. In fall of 2013, the decision to allow athletes to sign a financial-aid agreement was viewed as a major win for college football, as CBS Sports reported:

Effective immediately, a prospective student-athlete with plans to enroll at an institution in January of their senior year may sign a financial aid agreement with a school as early as August 1. The rule applies to all sports, but will have the greatest impact on football; where coaches can get early enrollees involved in spring practice to advance their development.

A plus for coaches. A plus for kids. Winners all around for the small group of players who enroll early.

Well, until players realized they could sign multiple agreements, and a handful, three high-profile guys as reported by ESPN, took advantage. Josh Malone, a 4-star recruit and the No. 6 wide receiver nationally, Dalvin Cook, a 5-star prospect and the No. 2 running back overall and Laurence Jones, a 4-star player and the nation's No. 9 safety, were the players referenced as gaming the system.

Coaches, who did not realize multiple signings were possible, got upset that, in the grand scheme of things, nothing changed. Despite the athletes holding a spot at a respective school, being able to sign more than one agreement meant coaches had to continue to recruit until the guys hit campus.

Now, the NCAA is expected to come running to the coaches' rescue because of the hurt feelings. Rescue them from having to continue to do their job. Rescue them from the big bad players. Rescue them from the handful of early enrollees who are uncertain as to where they want to play football.

Keep in mind, this is not a signing-day switch. This is not an eleventh-hour ditching of a program, leaving them with an empty spot in the class on national signing day. No, this is one, of very few, players who is deciding between a small handful of schools before enrolling a month before signing day.

A small handful and enrolling early are the key points here. Indiana had no issues getting its six financial-aid signees to stick with the Hoosiers, as reported. Brandon Harris, at LSU, inked his papers and is currently sitting in school, while Jones elected to go to Alabama ahead over the Bayou Bengals.

It is not an epidemic. It is not going to grow into a widespread problem across the board that shakes college football to its core. It is not even something that stops the coaches from filling a position of need in a class.

Most early enrollees do not flip at the last minute. Most early enrollees are kids who graduate early, have a plan and a reason for getting to a specific campus in January, and the decision is related more to the school and coach than it is to the mere opportunity.

The plan to react to the coaches' panic includes a measure to explore if the signing of a financial-aid agreement, without enrollment, could constitute an NCAA violation. A move to penalize the player for securing two spots offered to him, over a month out from signing day and making a final decision.

Of course the complaining ignores the fact that coaches are not offering these agreements to everyone. Rather, the coaches are using them as a tool to recruit the players at the tops of their boards. The kids who they are begging to get on campus. The kids who they want to rope into the binding agreement because they are valuable assets coveted by other schools as well. They see forcing a kid like Dalvin Cook or Josh Malone to sign a binding agreement as a quick fix for the coaches.

It's not.

It just means the kids will not sign it.

This will force the coaches to keep recruiting them into December and until they get to campus in January. And trust, given the high-level talent involved, the coaches will simply continue to try and work the recruiting magic to get the players in the boat.

It's the same process that was taking place with Malone, Cook and Jones this season. It's also the same thing that has been taking place since kids started enrolling early and making decisions later in December and into January.

Saban recruits until they get to campus
Saban recruits until they get to campusKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The school is obligated to pay, but the kid is allowed to keep his options open. If he enrolls, the school makes good on the offer. If he does not, the school pursues another player. It is the same as it ever was on the recruiting landscape. At least it is for good recruiters who never stop the process.

Coaches thought they were getting a reprieve. For the most part, they certainly did, as most kids who signed grant-in-aid forms stuck with one and are now on that campus. In the case of the few stud athletes who signed multiple agreements, the game remained exactly as it was a season ago.

The coaches do not need protection, they do not need help. They get paid to do the job; they simply need to keep doing the job. The push to lock kids into just one agreement will not be the answer to the coaches' nightmares—it will simply scare kids from putting pen to paper.

All rankings are courtesy 247Sports.