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Wisconsin football: Impact of the NCAA Council's actions from this week

A look at what the relaxed regulations on signing limits and conference championship games could mean for the Wisconsin Badgers.

This week the NCAA's Division I Council, one of the key governing bodies of college football, removed a pair of longstanding restrictions that will undoubtedly impact college football over the coming years.

Let's take a look at the two new policy adjustments and how they might impact the Wisconsin Badgers.

25-player signing class limit removed

One of the most substantial rule shifts involved recruiting, an area of the sport already undergoing significant change with the evolution of NIL and the transfer portal. 

In an effort to allow teams and coaches to have more flexibility in roster construction, the NCAA removed a stipulation that limited teams from signing more than 25 players (high school prospects and transfers combined) in a single class. The 85 scholarship player maximum still applies. 

Shane Lyons, the Chair of the Divison I Council, had this to say about the change:

"Some schools hadn't given out all their scholarships and felt constrained by the annual limit. This temporary change provides schools with more flexibility and adds opportunities for incoming and current student-athletes to receive aid."

The new rule is in place for the next two recruiting cycles, as teams still attempt to manage COVID-19 waivers and greater volatility in the transfer portal. I would not be surprised to see this rule continue into the long-term future though, assuming there aren't significant unintended consequences. 

In terms of implications for Wisconsin, the shift could prove beneficial as early as this year for the Badgers. 

Wisconsin has 18 scholarship seniors on its roster at this time. Considering normal roster attrition, the Badgers could be in the market to sign anywhere between 18 and 25 players from the high school ranks or transfer portal. 

While I think the final number of total signees will likely be closer to the lower twenties, there is a chance that they exceed 25 if there is a large number of departures in the transfer portal. 

Given the way Wisconsin has relied on development and redshirting players early in their careers, exceeding the 25-player limit has rarely been a worry under Paul Chryst. However, with the ever-changing nature of the transfer portal, it is hard to know how things might look come next winter. 

For example, last season Wisconsin uncharacteristically saw 11 players leave the program for the transfer portal or via dismissal. While this number was high for Wisconsin's standards, it was relatively tame compared to many schools around the country. 

Even if those numbers come down a bit next season, eight players leaving could result in the Badgers flirting with surpassing 25 signees. If the number of players exiting the program hits double-digits once again, I think 25, or more, is very realistic. 

As previously mentioned, I don't necessarily see the rule change impacting the Badgers in most years. Wisconsin has averaged around 21 signees per year under Paul Chryst, and his staff has placed a premium on developing high school prospects. 

However, the new policy change aims to provide greater flexibility for teams, and as things stand, I think it should allow that for the Badgers over the next two years. 

The update will also allow other teams the opportunity to sign more than 25 though, which could have an impact on Wisconsin. 

Some of the top programs in the country routinely finish with high school classes pushing the 25 player threshold due to transfers and NFL Draft declarations of their own, which means that these teams could have additional room for players to sign. 

With programs like Alabama and Ohio State placing a premium on maximizing their overall class finish, these teams could look to add more players, which may have a trickle-down effect on teams like Wisconsin. 

There could also be a higher prevalence of teams running off players now, especially at blue-blood programs, knowing that they can replace them. How does this impact the college football ecosystem? Does it lead to more transfer movement to lower levels? 

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The NCAA Oversight committee has vowed to watch for trends and monitor the behavior of teams, but it will be interesting to see how teams creatively use this to their advantage.

FBS conferences can now determine championship game participation

The other major announcement to come from the vote centers around conference championships.

Conferences now have complete control over the structure of their title game, allowing further flexibility in scheduling.

Under the previous rule, conferences with 12 or more teams had to have divisions, and the winner of each division must meet in the championship game. 

However, with the removal of this stipulation, it opens up the possibility for conferences to explore the dismantling of current divisions and instead allow the top two teams to compete for the conference crown.

The Big 12 Conference has a similar methodology already in place. All ten teams play one another during the year, with the top two teams meeting in the championship game at the end of the season. 

The Pac-12 Conference quickly enacted similar changes for the 2022 season moments after the ruling. The two teams with the best conference winning percentages will meet in their title game next season for the Pac-12.

The Big Ten has yet to make any sweeping changes at this time, but the removal of divisions would have a significant impact on Wisconsin.

The Badgers have found success in the Big Ten West, winning the division four of the past eight seasons. However, in that span, they have yet to win a conference title.

Given the unbalanced nature of the Big Ten East and Big Ten West, I think it is only a matter of time before the conference nixes divisions, though the exact model the B1G would use is unknown. 

There have been discussions of protected rivalries to maintain games such as Wisconsin versus Minnesota and Iowa, but the overall path to Indianapolis would look very different for the Badgers if there were changes to the schedule. 

The rule change does not immediately impact Wisconsin for the 2022 season, but there is a change in the air across college football, and the Big Ten could follow suit down the road. 

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