Roster sizes, the future of walk-ons and other topics on minds of SEC's football coaches

Tue, May 28, 2024
NCAAF News (AP)

Roster sizes, the future of walk-ons and other topics on minds of SEC's football coaches

DESTIN, Fla. (AP) - Southeastern Conference football coaches are bracing for the impact of a potential downsizing of rosters around the NCAA.

The coaches convened Tuesday for the league's spring meetings with potential roster issues among the questions on their minds following a settlement agreement involving the NCAA and the five biggest conferences. How that ultimately shakes out won't be clear for months, but Texas A&M coach Mike Elko was especially adamant against the prospect of football rosters being limited to as few as 85 players.

Elko argued that an 85-player limit, which would essentially eliminate walk-ons, would be "something that's really bad for the sport."

"I'm strongly against it," the Aggies' first-year coach said. "I think it's absolutely against college football, what it stands for and what it's about."

Scholarship limits could be lifted in some sports but even deep-pocketed schools will have to make choices when it comes to fully or even partially funding their sports programs. Currently, Bowl Subdivision football programs are allowed to award 85 full scholarships but with the potential for more spending there is speculation that some sort of cap could help in terms of competitive balance - perhaps at the risk of more litigation.

That means roster size is a hot-button issue for football coaches around the country, even if far from the biggest with direct payments from schools to players on the table if a federal judge approves that nearly $2.8 billion settlement.

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SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said his advice when hearing from league coaches in recent weeks was to slow down.

"I know other conferences discussed it. Then coaches texted our coaches. They get fired up," Sankey said. "And we said, just wait. We're going to have a conversation. That's where it is. It's a concept."

That was just one topic as coaches, presidents, athletic directors and other officials convened for three days of meetings with so much up in the air within college athletics, from realignment to athlete compensation and transfers.

"There's so many things that are going on right now. There's not one thing dominating," Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. "It's probably, in the nine years that I've been part of this, the most anticipated meetings because there's so much left not for us to decide for but to have input on. Some of it is beyond our decision-making. So there's a lot there."

Smart noted that he doesn't "know anybody that would be against having walk-ons." He pointed out that coaches like Clemson's Dabo Swinney and former Florida and South Carolina coach Will Muschamp were college walk-ons.

A handful of coaches worried about the future of walk-ons and about potential practice changes if they have fewer players. Texas coach Steve Sarkisian, prepping for the Longhorns' debut season in the SEC, doesn't want to lose those non-scholarship players. His son, Brady, is among the Longhorns' 35 walk-ons.

"I'm hopeful that we can find a common ground on something that is a reasonable number," Sarkisian said. "Change is going to happen. But hopefully we can find a reasonable number to where we still feel like we can operate at a high level as coaches and for our players."

New Alabama coach Kalen DeBoer publicly took a more go-with-the-flow approach than his outspoken predecessor, Nick Saban, even if it that would eventually mean adapting to an 85-man roster.

"There's obviously always a way," DeBoer said. "Would it be a much different look than what we do as far as coaches and executing our practice plans? Absolutely. But I guess I've always been one to adjust with the times and you have to do what you have to do."

Vanderbilt coach Clark Lea also isn't ready to get "fired up," as Sankey put it, about any changes to roster size on the horizon.

"What I've heard is that everything I've heard is not to be trusted," Lea said. "All that stuff is to be determined. I want to know a little be more about all of it. I think to speak on it now or to share an opinion now is irresponsible. I want to learn about everything that's going on before I shape an opinion. ... there's a lot of speculation out there right now that I'm not really paying attention to."

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AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football

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