LSU gets hammered by SEC for recruiting violation

LSU's Les Miles (AP)

LSU’s Les Miles (AP)

I asked UGA’s Mark Richt last week about this: What happened to all the fuss from college coaches about kids signing early financial-aid agreements (FAA) with multiple schools?

It one of the recruiting’s hottest topics back in 2014 for reasons I’ll mention later, but you barely heard a peep about it this past year.

“Yeah, you didn’t hear much about that, and I don’t know if it will become a big issue again or not,” Richt said.

“I think part of what slowed it down a little bit this year (was the NCAA’s warning last April) — that if a kid signs with four schools, he can only go to one; and then the other three are supposedly on the hook for some kind of violation because the kid didn’t go there.”

Mark Richt (AJC file)

Mark Richt (AJC file)

Richt didn’t know what the NCAA’s penalty could be for that type of situation. And I wondered if there would even be a true punishment after the NCAA failed to address specific penalties in its press release last April. Because the NCAA was so unclear, it sort of left everybody guessing.

Well, there’s no more guessing after Thursday.

On Thursday, LSU got hammered after a 2015 recruit signed the FAA with the Tigers but ultimately decided to go elsewhere.

The SEC (not the NCAA) banned LSU for two years from signing kids that enroll early to the FAA, along with stripping the Tigers of 10 percent of their evaluation days in 2015 (21 of 210 days), per’s Ross Dellenger.

In my opinion, it’s a harsh penalty for a confusing rule that is applied retroactively (and in most situations, committed by colleges without knowledge that the violation is occurring).

In an effort to make this easier to understand, let’s start from the beginning: The two most important documents that recruits sign with colleges are the national letter of intent or NLI (which binds the kid to the college) and the FAA or scholarship papers (which binds the college to the kid).

In October 2013, a new NCAA interpretation allowed recruits who were approved to enroll early in college to sign the FAA beginning on Aug. 1 of their senior year of high school.

Why was that a big deal to colleges? Because it allowed the colleges to basically have “unlimited contact,” including text messages and in-person contact, with the prospect until they enrolled early or signed an NLI. It also allowed the college coaches to speak publicly on the prospect.

Why would a recruit want to sign the FAA? What’s the benefit? Because the agreement obligated the university to honor the recruit’s scholarship.

Things really got confusing in 2013 when several elite prospects, including receiver Josh Malone, signed the FAA with multiple colleges. Malone signed with Tennessee, UGA, Clemson and Florida State – and the head coaches of all four schools each spoke publicly about Malone in press conferences before he started classes with the Volunteers in January 2014.

Some coaches worried that this was going to turn into a circus, while more coaches worried about being able to maintain the pace of “unlimited contact” vs. the competition — especially since almost all of it would take place during the football season due to the fact that the eligible signees were early enrollees. For example, UGA had 13 early enrollees in its 2013 class.

Last April, the NCAA issued a new interpretation: If a senior signed more than one FAA, only the first college he signed with would have the benefits of unlimited contact and publicity. But if the senior signed the FAA with a college that he did not enroll in, then that particular college would be “considered in violation of recruiting rules.”

Initially, that sounded like a good idea to address concerns but – as we pointed out at the timeit also created more problems than it solved. Unlike the NLI program, which is supervised by the NCAA, the FAA is shared only between the recruit and the respective college. For example, Tennessee will not disclose to UGA, Clemson and Florida State if a future Josh Malone (a) has signed a financial aid agreement with Tennessee or (b) the date of signed agreement.

This is why the SEC had planned to appeal that interpretation last summer.

Sound confusing? It is. How are UGA, Clemson and Florida State supposed to know if a future Josh Malone has signed the FAA with Tennessee? Who knows? The documents aren’t shared between the colleges. So if UGA, Clemson and Florida State sign a Josh Malone to the FAA after Tennessee, then they would only find out if they’re in violation of the rules AFTER the fact.

Too bad for LSU that it was the one that had to be sacrificed to make an example of in this confusing situation. Somebody had to be first to get penalized, right?

Thursday’s harsh penalties will surely make many colleges hesitate before handing out the FAA to 2016 recruits who are approved to enroll early.

What’s your opinion? Please post below.

In some of the comments, I see that kids are being blamed for signing the FAA with multiple colleges. I couldn’t disagree more with that charge. It’s the colleges, not the kids, who issue the FAA. It’s the colleges, not the kids, who pressure the kids into signing the FAA so they can “gain a recruiting advantage” with unlimited contact, etc. If the college wants to avoid the possibility of getting slapped around like LSU did, then the solution is simple – the colleges should avoid sending the kids the FAA to sign.

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