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Florida State football recruiting: The National Signing Day numbers game

Many recruits want to sign on with Florida State
Many recruits want to sign on with Florida State
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

I understand that this might be over the heads of some of our readership, but another portion has been clamoring for this, so I'll try to make it both simple and comprehensively responsive.

Most recruiting websites currently list Florida State as having 28 verbal commitments from recruits. In reality, that number is closer to 26, because three-star receiver JoJo Robinson is really not being recruited right now by Florida State, isn't taking an official visit to Tallahassee, and is expected by almost everyone to flip elsewhere.

Even with 26 current commitments, FSU is still actively pursuing about eight prospects.

The maximum number of new players FSU can enroll in school in time for football season is 30. Why 30? Every school can enroll 25 players in the fall semester each year. The extra five come from players who enrolled for the spring semester who can be counted back against the previous year's limit if a school had a shortage (FSU did.)


-5 signees (Dalvin Cook, Trey Marshall, Kain Daub, Kareem Are, Steven Gabbard) enrolled in January and count against the 2013 recruiting class

-25 signees will enroll in the fall and will fill up the 25 cap for 2014.

Can FSU sign more than 30?

Yes. There is a lot of misinformation about this floating around. The number of players a team can enroll is controlled by the NCAA. The number of players a team may sign is controlled by the conference. While the SEC does have a rule limiting signees (because some of its schools were really outside the spirit of the system), the ACC does not have such a rule, nor does it need one.

There is certainty in FSU's class right now in that it will end up being an excellent class. But there is a lot of uncertainty as to who will end up in the class. Four of Florida State's current 26 are still talking with other teams, which means they are not 100-percent committed. Another six are players who may have issues qualifying academically.

If FSU keeps its current 26, and five more players want to sign on National Signing Day, FSU can absolutely sign 31.

The best way to do so is via a "grayshirt." A grayshirt is when a player signs, but delays his enrollment until the spring semester, counting not against the cap of 25 coming in for the current year (here, 2014), but against the cap for the following year (2015).

Grayshirting often gets a bad name in the media. But there are good grayshirts and bad grayshirts. When Florida's president Bernie Machen spoke out against grayshirting, he was referring to the bad type of grayshirt (though I cannot be sure that he was aware of the nuances).

Imagine the feeling if the student finds out, literally a few months before enrolling, that the institution is backing out of the contract. It is too late in the summer to go back to one's second choice. The student is told he will have to wait until next year. Sorry, but no acceptance, no scholarship. That's it.

In Division I college football this practice is known as "grayshirting" and, unfortunately, there are universities that sanction this activity. The universities, with full knowledge of what they are doing, extend more athletic scholarships than they have. These schools play roulette with the lives of talented young people. If they run out of scholarships, too bad. The letter-of-intent signed by the university the previous February is voided. Technically, it's legal to do this. Morally, it is reprehensible.

I am in lockstep with Machen as it concerns grayshirts of a surprise nature after a prospect has signed.

That is not what I am referring to. I'm talking about grayshirting with notice. Nick Saban addressed this after Machen spoke out. I cannot speak to Saban's truthfulness, but his theory is absolutely correct.

"We have never grayshirted a guy here who when he decided to come here didn't know the circumstances that we were going to take him at the University of Alabama," Saban said. "The reason is sometimes academic, the reason is sometimes physical development and maturity, but never has a player not known (he might be grayshirted). We have never not done it up front, so the player comes here with the idea that ‘I'm going to start school in January.'"

In that year, some of Saban's players agreed to such an offer with advance notice, but another did not, instead electing to switch to another school that offered him fall enrollment.

Who would be likely to accept such a grayshirt? Players who are unlikely to make contributions during their freshman years, and specifically, players with whom a school has some leverage.

And right now as the National Champions, FSU has a lot of leverage. Players want to be a part of the program. It could, if it wants to sign more than 30, tell some of the players who are not guaranteed to be academically qualified that it would like them to consider delaying their enrollment by a semester.

But Not every player will take that deal. Some will elect to take offers from lesser programs who have space for fall enrollment. That's the potential downside for FSU. Of course, even broaching the subject of potentially grayshirting with a prospect is a potentially touchy subject that could anger the recruit, so the school must be careful about selecting who it wants to grayshirt, if anyone.

The key is that this sort of arrangement must be made with proper notice.

Springing this sort of thing on a player after he has signed his letter of intent is unfair and probably unethical, though not actually against any rule of which I am aware.

But notice is key. If a player has notice that he may be grayshirted before he signs his NLOI, then the signing signifies that he is willing to potentially give up fall enrollment for a chance to eventually be a part of the program -- a chance he may not have otherwise had if he didn't agree to such a possibility.

Note: I use "possibility" because even players who have agreed to the possibility of grayshirting might not have to end up grayshirting if others in the class slated to enroll in fall fail to qualify, this creating open spots for fall enrollment.

Notice also gives a player time to look around and consider his options, take visits to other schools, etc. It ensures that he is making an informed decision.

When dealing with such a large signing class as a result of space being created by sending so many players to the NFL over the last two cycles, grayshirting is a practical, effective, and if executed with proper notice, ethical way to manage numbers in such a class.