This week, the NCAA Division I, one of the main governing bodies of college football, lifted a pair of longstanding restrictions that will no doubt affect college football for years to come.
Let’s take a look at these two new policy changes and how they affect the Wisconsin Badgers.
Remove the 25-person contract limit
One of the most important rule shifts involves recruitment, an area of the sport that has changed significantly with the development of the NIL and transfer portals.
To give teams and coaches more flexibility in roster building, the NCAA lifted the rule that restricted teams from signing more than 25 players (high school prospects and transfers) in a class. The cap of 85 scholarship players still applies.
Shane Lyons, Chair of the First Council, had this to say about the change:
“Some schools are not disbursing all scholarships and feel constrained by the annual limit. This temporary change provides schools with more flexibility and increased access to aid for incoming and current student-athletes.”
The new rules apply for the next two hiring cycles as teams are still trying to manage greater volatility in the COVID-19 waiver and transfer portal. Assuming no major unintended consequences, though, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this rule continue into the long-term future.
In terms of implications for Wisconsin, the shift could be good for the Badgers as early as this year.
Wisconsin currently has 18 scholarship recipients. Given normal roster churn, the Badgers could be on the market for 18 to 25 players from high school or transfer portals.
While I think the final total number of signatures will likely be closer to under 20, if there is a large number of departures in the transfer portal, they have the potential to exceed 25.
Given the way Wisconsin relied on development and redshirts early in its career, the 25-player limit was little concern under Paul Crist. However, with the transfer portal constantly changing, it’s hard to know what next winter will look like.
Wisconsin, for example, uncharacteristically saw 11 players leave the program last season due to the transfer portal or being fired. While that number is high for Wisconsin’s standards, it’s relatively modest compared to many schools across the country.
Even if those numbers drop next season, the departure of eight players could lead the Badgers to flirt with more than 25 signings. If the number of players exiting the program is in double digits again, I think 25 or more is very realistic.
As mentioned, I don’t necessarily think the rule change will affect the Badgers most years. Under Paul Chryst’s leadership, Wisconsin has an average of about 21 signatories a year, and his staff is very focused on developing high school prospects.
However, the new policy change is designed to give the team more flexibility, and as it stands, I think it should allow the Badgers to do that for the next two years.
The update will also allow other teams the opportunity to sign more than 25 players, which could have implications for Wisconsin.
Some of the country’s top programs typically push the 25-player threshold by the end of high school classes because of transfers and their own NFL draft announcements, meaning those teams can have more room for players to sign.
With programs like Alabama and Ohio State so focused on maximizing their overall results, those teams may look to add more players, which could have a trickle-down effect on teams like Wisconsin.
There could also be higher team churns now, especially in the blue bloods program, knowing they can replace them. How does this affect the college football ecosystem? Does it lead to more transfer movements to lower levels?
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The NCAA Oversight Committee has vowed to watch for trends and monitor team behavior, but it will be interesting to see how teams creatively use this to their advantage.
FBS Meetings Can Now Determine Championship Participation
Another major announcement from the poll revolves around conference tournaments.
Sessions now have full control over the structure of their title game, allowing for greater flexibility in scheduling.
Under the previous rules, conferences of 12 or more teams had to have divisions, and the winners of each division had to meet in the championship game.
However, with that provision lifted, it offers the Conference to explore the possibility of dismantling the existing division and instead pits the top two teams for the conference title.
The Big 12 Conference has taken a similar approach. All ten teams play each other during the year, with the top two teams meeting in the season-ending championship game.
The Pac-12 conference quickly enacted similar changes for the 2022 season after the ruling. The two teams with the highest winning percentages in the league will meet in next season’s Pac-12 title race.
The Big Ten has yet to make any sweeping changes, but removing the division would have a big impact on Wisconsin.
The Badgers have been successful in the Big Ten Western Conference, winning their fourth division in the past eight seasons. However, they have yet to win a conference title in that time.
Given the unbalanced nature of the Eastern Big Ten and Western Big Ten, I think it’s only a matter of time before the conference lifts the divide, although the exact model B1G will use is unclear.
There has been talk of protecting competition to keep things going, such as Wisconsin’s games against Minnesota and Iowa, but if the schedule changes, the Badgers’ overall path to Indianapolis will be very different.
The rule change won’t immediately affect Wisconsin’s 2022 season, but the atmosphere in college football has changed and the Big Ten will likely follow suit.
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