College football considers giving Alabama, Nick Saban a bigger edge. Here's why | Toppmeyer

Blake Toppmeyer

Few guardrails promote parity in college football.

There’s no salary cap, no player draft, and admitting just 3% of FBS programs into the College Football Playoff each year makes it difficult for those outside the sport’s innermost circle to ascend.

Basically, two parameters promote any semblance of parity:

  • Limiting rosters to 85 scholarship players
  • The 25-player limit on signing classes, a figure that accounts for high school recruits plus transfers

Working together, those guardrails keep the best programs from acquiring an endless bounty of top talent.

However, college football decision-makers are considering tearing down the latter guardrail, a move that should help recruiting elites like Alabama, Georgia and increasingly Texas A&M stockpile a deeper volume of inbound talent.

Athlon Sports reported this week that the NCAA Division I Council is expected to vote later this month to eliminate the 25-player signing cap for at least the next two years. This change would not eliminate the overall limit of 85 scholarship players.

Why do this?

Well, lifting the 25-player limit would allow programs to combat player attrition, which is increasing thanks to athletes enjoying more freedom than ever to transfer.

A record number of players will transfer this offseason. Some programs face trouble maintaining a full complement of scholarship players while players flood the transfer portal. Meanwhile, the 25-player cap limits the inbound players a program can add annually. Coaches are trying to tread water with a weight on their shoulders.

Removing that barrier may allow programs to better offset attrition, but in turn, it will make it even harder to keep up with the Joneses – by which I mean keep up with Alabama, Georgia and other elites, which will be free to gobble up an even greater percentage of the available talent each year.

We received a sneak peak at what removing the 25-man guardrail will do, because this year, programs had been allowed to add up to 32 newcomers, as they adjust to the new transfer landscape.

So, Alabama signed a 25-man recruiting class that ranked No. 2 nationally. Then, the Tide grabbed five of the top available transfers, and it has room for a couple more.

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Now envision a scenario in which the guardrail limiting a program’s amount of newcomers is removed.

What’s to stop Alabama from signing 30 of the top high school prospects and adding 10 of the best available transfers?

Texas A&M has been quiet in the transfer market and instead used most of its spots on high school recruits. Its 30-man signing class this year ranks as the top-rated in the history of the 247Sports Composite. The Aggies inked 27 five- or four-star prospects. Tear down the guardrails, and the Aggies may assemble 37 five- or four-star prospects.

But, if the elites add 40 of the best available newcomers every year instead of 25, won't they exceed the overall limit of 85 scholarships?

Not necessarily. 

The 25-player signing limit dissuades coaches from running older players off the roster. If that guardrail is removed, what’s to stop a coach from adding 40 newcomers per year, and then after a year in the system, retain the best 15 to 20 and run off the rest, allowing room to add another 40 newcomers without exceeding the 85 scholarship cap?

So, to review: Eliminating the 25-player signing cap would be designed to combat roster holes created by the increased rate of transfers and attrition. However, removing that signing cap limit further encourages transfers and attrition.

Nice solution, huh?

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College football's player attrition isn't problem isn’t going away. But instead of heightening efforts at player retention, this proposal would swing the other way toward further freedom to acquire new players.

I realize no coach wants to endure heavy attrition and spend the subsequent season with 70 scholarship players, especially when some players may not be ready to contribute. If rosters become too thin, safety can become a concern. In particular, removing the signing cap should help programs with new coaches, because attrition is often at worst after a coaching change.  

But the proposed solution would only seem to speed up the spin cycle of roster turnover.

Sign players. Lose players. Sign more players. Lose more players.

Round and round it goes.

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Think of it like this: With a signing cap in place, Alabama and other elites entered the buffet line first, choosing the most delectable items. However, there was a limit to how many goodies those elites could put on their plates.

If the signing cap is removed, not only will the elites head through the buffet line first, they can pile their plates to the point of gluttony, and everyone else will be left to fight over their scraps.

Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.