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NCAA suspends annual signing class cap for Division I Football

Signing classes will be based on an 85-roster cap for next two seasons instead of a 25-class cap. There are also changes coming to certain conference championship games.

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl - Pittsburgh v Michigan State Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

As the new one-time transfer rule and ongoing extra year of eligibility decisions by players as a result of COVID-19 continue to wreak havoc on roster stability for Division I college football programs, the NCAA this week voted to waive the annual signing and initial counter limits for the 2022-2023 and 2023-2024 academic years.

As a result, teams will not have to observe the rule capping initial counters in each class at 25 players per year, but instead allow schools to focus on providing aid based on the overall roster limit of 85 scholarships for FBS football programs and 63 for FCS schools.

Prior to the suspension of initial counters, schools were not able to sign more than 25 players in a recruiting class each year. This was becoming problematic in the current environment as a program was unable to adjust its initial counter even if more players left the program than were allowed to sign as replacements such as what happened to Michigan State when it signed the 2021 class last year. The temporary solution in 2021 by the NCAA of allowing up to seven additional transfer athletes to supplement the 25-man cap (32 total additions) was not even enough for the Spartans to fully replace roster attrition.

Per the Division I council, it was also impacting the ability of incoming recruits to receive offers from programs that desperately needed to plug roster gaps. Last season, South Carolina was only able to field a roster of 79-scholarship players, while Kansas was looking at a roster in the low 70s in terms of scholarship players heading into the 2022 season as a result of the initial counter limits.

“Some schools hadn’t given out all their scholarships and felt constrained by the annual limit,” Division I Council chair Shane Lyons said in a statement. “This temporary change provides schools more flexibility and adds opportunities for incoming and current student-athletes to receive aid.”

The Football Oversight Committee states it will monitor transfer trends over the next two academic years to see how the waiver allowance proceeds for now. Some critics anticipate head coaches will attempt to run off players to take advantage of the new rule. The committee will make a determination on what to do with initial counters after the waiver expires.

Separately at the D-I Council meeting this week, FBS leagues will now be allowed to determine the method for identifying the participants in its conference championship game. This could see some leagues start to move to new schedule formats that reduce the importance of divisions or entirely end them with a move to a more round-robin or pod based format.

The Pac-12, for example, has already announced plans to change its conference championship format. Starting in 2022, rather than the two division winners competing for the conference crown, the two teams with the highest conference winning percentage will instead face off in the championship game.

It will be interesting to monitor if the Big Ten plans any changes for the 2022 season or beyond.