New year, new rules for college football – Bring On The Cats

On Friday, the NCAA Division I Council adopted some major new changes to rules regarding D-I football. These rules, billed as major improvements for current and future student-athletes, include changes to number of coaches, recruiting periods, camps, and eliminate two-a-day practices in the fall.

So what does this all mean for Kansas State and Bill Snyder’s football program?

Recruiting

Lets hit on the topic most fans will see, recruiting. SB Nation colleague Bud Elliot mentioned there will be winners and losers in these changes, both schools and student-athletes, as these changes could significantly impact the way schools recruit and offer scholarships.

Quite possibly the biggest change is the change to the recruiting calendar that will allow the Conference Commissioners Association, which oversees the NLI program and actually sets when recruits can sign them, to approve an early signing period for high school athletes that would coincide with the early date available for JUCO transfers. The current date in February would remain, but there is now a possibility for high school athletes to be able to sign NLIs and basically be done with recruiting before Christmas.

Like Bud said, there will be winners and losers here. K-State will likely be a winner in this scenario. First, kids like Zach Shackleford, a late riser and early enrollee that the Cats lost to Texas really late in the 2015 recruiting class, would sign in December instead of getting poached in late January when a bigger school comes calling to fill out their class. If K-State offers and the kid doesn’t sign, then the staff can move on with a full month to work instead of just a few days.

The opposite will also be a win for K-State. The big schools will likely have more of their classes filled by December, meaning there will be more late risers available to schools who prefer to take longer with evaluations to fill out classes. Also, if a prospect doesn’t get an NLI from their preferred school in December, they are potentially going to be open to moving on from their first choice to schools with open scholarships still available.

It also clears up the confusing process for early enrollees, who commit, graduate high school, then sign financial aid paperwork and start school, but don’t actually “sign” with the school until that first week of February, usually several weeks after they’ve already been a student. Those guys will sign in December, and there will be no “well officially” nonsense regarding their status.

There are some other big notes, mostly affecting northern schools but with some impact to K-State as well. Camps will no longer be able to be held off of campus or at facilities the school does not use regularly. For example, K-State could not hold a camp in Wichita or Dallas. B1G schools were getting pretty aggressive about holding camps in the southeast US to reach deep into the fertile recruiting grounds of that region, they are now officially barred from that activity. As a concession, an official visit period has been added for junior-year prospects to allow them to come on visits from April 1st into late June before the start of their senior seasons. This gives those northern schools a chance to show themselves off during the warmer months, instead of having those kids in late fall and winter.

On Campus

There are several rules here that affect the program and players already on campus, so we’ll stick them under one umbrella.

First, effective Jan. 9th, 2018, NCAA D-I FBS schools will be allowed to hire a 10th on-field coach. This is not to be confused will the litany of “advisers” and “analysts” that some of the biggest schools have added to their staffs in recent years; this will be an actual assistant coach position that will be on the sideline (or maybe in the booth) and coaching. Schools may choose to fill this in any number of ways. A lot will likely add a full-time special teams coach position (yes, not everyone has one of those, surprisingly) or a break-out position coach. Bill Snyder has generally split his coaches evenly, with four on each side of the ball, and the ninth being the special teams coach. There’s no telling how Snyder’s eventual replacement will use that spot, but if the Hall of Fame coach is still around in 2018, there are really four options plausible. One, he adds a full-time TE coach; two, he splits the DB’s and has a safety and a cornerback coach; three, he divides the special teams duties, like coverage and returns. Or he could have a true coordinator above all the position coaches on one side of the ball (probably defense in this scenario). But then again, that may be Jim Leavitt’s the next coach’s problem.

Regarding those “advisers” and “analysts”, a school is now prohibited from hiring “people close to a prospective student-athlete [i.e., a high school coach] for a two-year period before and after the student’s anticipated and actual enrollment at the school”. They can be hired to be a full-time assistant coach (one of the 9), but cannot be just a “part of the program”. Basketball adopted this rule way back in 2010, but football is just now getting around to adding it.

The council also voted to eliminate two-a-day practices in fall camp. This doesn’t mean that players can’t have a full day of practice, it means that they now can have only one practice in pads per day. Coaches can replace the other “padded” practice with a walk-through, no helmets, pads, or contact, and no conditioning activities. And there must be a continuous three-hour “recovery” break between them. That break can be filled with film study, medical treatment, and meals, but not physical activity (no weights/running). This is another attempt to help reduce concussions and prolong the football life-span of players by allowing for “appropriate recovery time to prevent both heat illness and overuse injuries”.

One more touch that was buried amid the the more noticeable rules was a slight change to scholarships. Schools are still limited to 25 new scholarships per year, 85 overall, and those 25 do not include players that have been in the program two years (the 85 does), but they have added a clause for current student-athletes who suffer an incapacitating injury to be excluded. This means that a kid who gets hurt playing football, and then can no longer play again ever, can still be on scholarship without it affecting the program’s overall scholarship count. This is a huge win for student-athletes, as schools no longer will need to cut those guys off to keep scholarships open.

Overall

These rules changes are generally a good thing for K-State overall. They don’t stop anything K-State was already doing (i.e. Snyder wasn’t sending camps across the country), and they encourage the type of behavior that K-State is already known for (like honoring scholarships of hurt players). The recruiting rules will help provide even more parity, and should help the smaller schools as they can lock-up their known guys early before needing to chase some to fill out their classes without worrying their best guys will get poached. Smaller schools are going to have trouble with the 10th coaching position, as schools not named Texas, Alabama, and Ohio State already have trouble supporting salaries of staff outside the current 10 coaching positions (HC + 9 assistants). An ancillary position or two may need to be absorbed to support that 11th position (if added), but a school with the right donor base should be able to add without too much concern.

Overall, most of these rules favor smaller schools (and the student-athletes). The only rule that really doesn’t is the coaching change rule. But a school like K-State, and a coach like Bill Snyder, will find a way to turn that into a net-positive regardless.