DESTIN, Fla. -- On the final day of the Southeastern Conference meeting Friday, league presidents unanimously approved a rule limiting conference football teams to signing just 28 players annually.
NCAA rules allow teams just 25 scholarships per year, but SEC schools generally over sign players, anticipating a portion of the ones they sign won't academically qualify. The new SEC rule takes effect immediately.
No one said the rule was a reaction to Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt, but when the Rebels signed 37 players in February it set off alarms with the SEC presidents.
"The presidents and chancellors view the signing of a letter-of-intent as a commitment by a student-athlete capable of being academically admitted and can contribute athletically," SEC commissioner Mike Slive said. "Coaches have their own decisions for signing a player, but the chancellors believe this is an academic-educational decision when someone signs."
Ole Miss athletic director Pete Boone said Friday that he wasn't shocked that Nutt had over signed players, but didn't care for the large number.
"I know all the academic requirements needed to enter our school, so I knew it would get down to the right number," Boone said. "We went through ones that wouldn't make it, he went through the ones he thought he would greyshirt. He knew how they would all be placed. I did think it all got a little overdone."
Earlier this week, Nutt explained why he over signed so many players.
"I wanted to really make sure we had a good relationship with the state of Mississippi high schools," Nutt said. "We knew that seven to eight of those guys wouldn't qualify. We were able to help some Mississippi junior colleges."
Slive said over the last three years, more than half of SEC schools have over signed players in the 26 to 29 range. The league will have the new rule even if the NCAA doesn't adopt it nationally.
Meanwhile, the conference divided a record $132.5 million in revenue for 2008-09 fiscal year ending Aug. 31 -- a figure expected to increase by $100 million next year when the new 15-year CBS and ESPN contracts kick in. Nevertheless, presidents and athletic directors discussed cost-cutting proposals.
The $132.5 million came from football television ($52 million), bowls ($25.4 million), the SEC football championship ($14.3 million), basketball television ($13.6 million), SEC men's basketball tournament ($4.1 million) and the NCAA championships ($23.1 million).
The average amount distributed to each school was $11.1 million. Not included in the $132.5 million was $11.6 retained by the schools participating in bowls and $744,000 divided among all 12 league members by the NCAA for academic enhancement.
Slive said by the time the recession fully hit last year, season football ticket packages had been sold. While he's curious to see how the recession will impact each individual SEC school, he believes stadiums will still be full, even with a new TV contract that calls for all conference football games and all non-conference football home games to be televised.
"There's no safe harbor from the recession," Slive said. "But if history teaches us, we've had extraordinary attendance the last 20 years. Last year, we had 6.7 million fans at our games. We averaged over 75,000 people. We filled stadiums to 98 percent capacity. That's the real strength of the SEC. Television is a byproduct of that strength."
Men's and women's basketball have increased exposure in the new TV package. Men's basketball will have six televised games per week on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. The semi-finals and finals of the men's tourney will be on ABC.
Women's basketball will have 72 televised games during the season.
On Tuesday, Slive will begin negotiations in Birmingham, Ala., for the nine SEC bowl tie-ins whose contracts expire after this season.
"I expect the process to extend into August, if not later," Slive said.