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Mike Gundy (Probably) Nailed a Prediction on a Major College Football Trend

Ban the 25-man class limits!

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[Devin Wilber/PFB]

Eleven months ago, I wrote about a reckoning in college football developing in the mega-transfer era and why Mike Gundy — as usual — saw a storm brewing before anyone else.

Now it appears a formality that Gundy may formally be proven a soothsayer in short order. (Mark Emmert is retiring in 2023, by the way. Gundy for pres? Who says no? WHO SAYS NO?)

The NCAA is reportedly considering doing away with its limit of 25 scholarship signees for each football recruiting class, according to new reporting from Sports Illustrated, something Gundy long ago envisioned would be necessary to survive in this new era where one-time transfers don’t have to sit, where NIL spurs player movement and where players are empowered moreso than ever as quasi professionals at the college level.

Perhaps the abolishment of the class limit takes years, or perhaps it never comes, but it’s clear right now in the current environment of college football — as Gundy once predicted — that it’s a very real problem many staffs are dealing with across the country. And it’s not just leaving teams with roster shortfalls; it’s leaving teams in a lurch with potential safety issues lurking. Kansas, for instance, may be down as many as a dozen scholarship players in part because it is unable to meet the 85-man roster due to the 25-man-per-class rule. Here’s what KU’s coach told SI:

Kansas coach Lance Leipold is dealing with something much worse. The Jayhawks, pending more transfer movement this summer, will enter next season in the low 70s in roster numbers. That’s more than a dozen unused scholarships.

“Is that a safety issue?” Leipold asks. “You’re worried about your numbers and depth and you’re playing players you wish you had more time with or had redshirted.”

No one could have seen the transfer portal becoming this impactful, I don’t think. Not even the most ardent NIL supporters probably figured it’d so quickly transform college athletics into a business. But you’ve gotta tip your cowboy cap to Gundy for foreseeing ahead of time why the 25-man class limit was always a silly, arbitrary limit. Stuff happens. Players retire or transfer or quit. Situations change. Locking players in for four years and holding schools to that lofty standard? In this economy? Good luck. Here’s Gundy on that from nearly five years ago.

“There needs to be some adjustments made. For example, we can have a young man who has a year of eligibility left and graduates, so he’s been productive, he finishes, he graduates, he gets a good job offer, he can go out there and work for Amazon and start at a good salary. He says ‘my body is tired.’ I love Oklahoma State football but I’m tired. I’m ready to go out, I’ve got a good job at Amazon. We lose that number but we don’t get to replace it for the next year. To me that’s counterproductive. Aren’t we trying to graduate young men? Aren’t we trying to put them into society? We can’t get that number back. I don’t agree with that. If they go out the right way, why can’t you replace it and take another young man and give him a scholarship and give him an opportunity? There’s only so many out there.”

In a way, you could argue college football — even with the legalization of literally paying players — has become more dirty since NIL was implemented. Now there’s real incentive to recruit players not just from the high school ranks, but from the portal, which in turn has led to players being recruited from elsewhere at their current spots. It’s not great! Teams — and more importantly, coaches — need roster flexibility more than ever. Get to 85 players however you can. If that means taking 85 in a class (looking at you, Kansas!), then so be it.

The NCAA deserves credit for at least recognizing this is a problem, and they did allow a one-time exception where schools could take 32 players in a class because of the COVID year and so many players coming back and clogging rosters. And maybe that’s a path that remains open. Who knows? Something’s got to change, clearly.

“Our coaches have always been in support of the 25,” Todd Berry, director of the AFCA, told SI. “But the landscape has changed. All of our coaches have recognized that it’s not realistic anymore. From a health-and-safety standpoint, the only way to allow us to get to a situation to have the right amount of players at positions is to just get to 85.”

OSU’s roster depth this spring — particularly along the offensive line — was so thinned out because of injuries and attrition that Mike Gundy cited it as a main reason it could not hold a full-fledged spring football game. It had to do a “spring finale” instead, which was essentially a practice. Texas and Penn State were forced into doing something similar.

It’s time to change that once and for all. Depth — and by extension, safety — is too important to overlook and avoid addressing. Abolish class limits for good, hand power to coaches to manage their rosters accordingly so long as they remain at 85, and you can avoid an elongated reckoning in college football that is better for the safety of the players and for the betterment of coaches’ rosters.

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