The SEC has appealed a provision to the rule allowing certain high school seniors, provided they are on track to graduate by the midyear point, to sign a non-binding financial-aid agreement with a college university, according to Michael Carvell of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The rule binds a university to a student before national signing day but is different from a National Letter of Intent because it does not bind the student to the university. However, it does allow the school unlimited access to the student where it otherwise would not have been permitted, along with the ability to comment publicly on him.
This interpretation of the rule reached a head when 4-star receiver Josh Malone, who eventually signed with Tennessee, signed four financial-aid agreements—also with Georgia, Clemson and Florida State—this past recruiting cycle.
According to Carvell, it was then that the SEC stepped in:
So what’s new? It was learned earlier this month that the NCAA issued a new interpretation: If a senior signed more than one financial aid agreement beginning Aug. 1 of senior year, only the first college he signed with would have the benefits of unlimited contact and publicity.
However, a top NCAA official told the AJC that the new interpretation has been appealed by the SEC since then. The NCAA’s Div. I Legislative Council will review the matter in an April 15 session.
The NCAA’s Managing Director of Academic and Membership Affairs, Steve Mallonee, elaborated on some of the SEC's concerns:
If an institution is going to sign a kid, they would need to make sure he hasn’t signed with anybody else if they are going to engage in unlimited access. The issue becomes if the kid already signed with school A, and school B, C and D also signs him.
B, C and D don’t get the unlimited access. And if they engage in that, they would be engaging in NCAA violations. It becomes the responsibility of each institution to make that determination, and there’s some who don’t feel like that’s the appropriate stance.
That’s the concern because A, B, C, and D don’t have to share that (information with each other). So B may not let D know. You’re basically taking the word of the kid. That’s part of the issue.
Therein lies the real issue with this rule, which is why the SEC's appeal makes sense. Unlike a National Letter of Intent, the financial-aid agreements are not public information. They are shared between just the school and the recruit.
Under this new provision, the second, third or fourth school that signed an agreement with the player would be committing a violation by enjoying the unlimited access to him. That right has now been granted to only the first school.
However, all of those schools might technically think themselves the first school to sign him. Were that the case, they would be committing the violation inadvertently. That hardly seems fair.
If the universities could be more forthright with each other, it would seem an easy fix to the problem. In Carvell's piece, though, he says the Atlanta Journal-Constitution put in a request for such information with SEC and ACC schools in 2013, but it was "protected as if it’s secrets to building a nuclear bomb."
We'll know more once the appeal is reviewed in mid-April.