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June 4, 2009
COLUMBIA, S.C. - Two weeks ago, there was no limit to the number of prospects South Carolina could sign every year.
But that changed last week when the 12 school presidents of the Southeastern Conference met in Destin, Fla., and approved a new rule capping the number of annual football signees for each school at 28.
In doing so, the SEC joined the Big Ten in establishing a limit.
Will the new standard make much of a difference to South Carolina?
Gamecocks recruiting coordinator Shane Beamer doesn't think so.
"I think 28 is a reasonable number. It will force you to be a little more thorough with guys regarding where they stand academically," Beamer said. "In the past, we'll say let's sign 29 or 30 knowing that a couple of them may not qualify. But those days are probably over now. The 25 guys you sign, you'd better make sure they're going to qualify. But I don't think it's going to have a major effect on many teams."
South Carolina signed 29 players on National Signing Day in February. Between a small senior class and the usual attrition, Beamer expects the Gamecocks to ink no more than 25 players in the Class of 2010.
"You might see us go to 26 or 27, but I don't anticipate reaching 28 at all," Beamer said. "The number is constantly fluctuating and depends on a number of factors."
Support for restricting the number of players SEC schools could sign started to build shortly after Ole Miss signed 37 prospects in February, 12 more than a school is allowed to enroll. Arkansas, meanwhile, signed 31 players, another high number.
That's why the new rule is mockingly referred to in the media as the "Houston Nutt Rule."
"A school may sign a player on Signing Day just for the hoopla and excitement even though the coaches know he's not going to qualify," Beamer said. "They would still sign him just to get that little extra boost on Signing Day. I think you'd see that stop if they've already hit 28."
Nutt, entering his second season as coach of the Rebels, reportedly apologized to his fellow coaches when they met in Destin last week but contended he had a valid reason for signing so many players - currying favor with the numerous junior colleges throughout the Magnolia State. Beamer, a former assistant at Mississippi State, understands why Nutt did it.
"It was obviously a high number and it was odd. You normally don't see teams go that high," Beamer said. "I'm not going to question what their motives or reasons were. I've coached in that state and I know the importance of the junior colleges in that state. So I understand if he wanted to gain some favor with the junior colleges."
South Carolina offensive line coach and running game coordinator Eric Wolford coached in the Big Ten for two years at Illinois and quickly turned into one of the Illini's top recruiters. He said the new rule could result in even more parity within a conference known for its intense competition.
"I think it levels the playing field," Wolford said. "Certain schools make deals with junior colleges and tell them we'll oversign and place four or five guys with you. Some schools have been doing that for a long time. Also, by oversigning you can prevent a player from signing with another school. Now, teams are going to be a lot more accountable. You're going to have to do a better job of projecting guys and their grades. You won't be able to just go out and sign guys who don't have the grades. If you do that now, you're wasting a scholarship."
While he doesn't believe the new limit will hurt South Carolina, Beamer says the vote to pass the rule did catch him by surprise a little bit.
"It went from something that wasn't even being discussed based on my conversations to a rule being passed that's effective immediately," Beamer said. "So that was a little bit of a surprise. But it's not a major change that causes you to scrap everything you're doing. They did it eight months before Signing Day. I don't think anybody in the conference has 28 commitments right now, so nobody is going to have to backtrack on what they've done."