GAINESVILLE, Fla. — For Florida football fans who closely follow recruiting, Isaiah Johnson’s recent de-commitment from UF raised concerns.
Fortunately for those Gators fans, Florida’s compliance office and staff found a way to avoid the predicament LSU is currently paying the price for.
Back in February, the Southeastern Conference penalized the Tigers for having unlimited contact with a mid-year recruit. Offensive lineman Matt Womack had signed a financial aid agreement with LSU, but later de-committed and did not enroll at the school.
The sanctions, which were upheld by the NCAA, banned LSU from signing early enrollee recruits to financial aid agreements for two years and stripped the football program of 10 percent of its recruiting evaluation days (21 of 210) this year.
Financial aid agreements, adopted by the NCAA in October 2013, can be signed by mid-year recruits on or after Aug. 1 of their senior year. It guarantees scholarship aid but does not bind them to a school, while also lifting the contact restrictions for coaches and allowing them to publicize their signees.
However, according to the NCAA’s Michelle Hosick, if any of those restriction changes are acted upon and the prospect does not enroll in January for the spring semester, the school has committed a recruiting violation.
Johnson was one of five high school recruits announced by UF coach Jim McElwain on Twitter in late November as mid-year enrollees. It was the first time Florida had publicized prospects before they signed letters of intent or physically reported to campus for enrollment.
Johnson has since de-committed from the Gators and will enroll early at Washington State next month. But unlike LSU, Florida will not be penalized for using one of the benefits of a signed agreement.
“There’s more to it than just publicizing a kid,” said Matt Jakoubek, LSU’s director of compliance, “but I would be curious to know what Florida actually did (to avoid penalty).”
While LSU, Georgia (see 5-star QB Jacob Eason) and most schools around the country have been signing early enrollees to financial aid agreements, Florida used a different method with Johnson and others.
“For clarification, there are a few football mid-year enrollees that have been admitted and have signed their written offers of admission for January,” UF said in a Nov. 24 email. “The graphics from Coach McElwain’s account are not referring to kids signing financial aid agreements.”
A written offer of admission provides the same unlimited contact as a financial aid agreement, but it serves a separate purpose and is offered to mid-year recruits later in the early-enrollment process.
It also doesn’t bind them to the school, but there’s one big difference. If a recruit chooses not to enroll after signing his written offer of admission, the school is not in violation of the NCAA rules, per Hosick.
“A violation of the (financial aid agreement) restriction legislation occurs if a prospective student-athlete signs such an agreement and does not enroll in the institution at mid-year,” Hosick said. “If the prospective student-athlete signs only a written offer of admission and NOT a financial aid agreement, no violation occurs.”
It’s unclear if Florida is the first school to sign mid-year recruits to written offers of admission with this in mind, but the Gators used it to their advantage in November and again this past Tuesday for some positive PR.
— Jim McElwain (@CoachMcElwain) December 16, 2015