“But hey, nobody told [the Big Ten] they had to do that.”

Andy Staples has a good piece up about oversigning (the header quote is from Tommy “You Can Take The Coach Out Of The SEC, But You Can’t Take The SEC Out Of The Coach” Tuberville) that neatly illustrates why I’m somewhat ambivalent about the practice.

Staples highlights two issues:

… The question of regulation is two-pronged. First, is oversigning harmful to the welfare of the student-athlete? When a player is told in July that the scholarship he was promised almost a year earlier has evaporated, it absolutely is harmful. It also harms the welfare of athletes who become victims of offseason purges to clear scholarship spots for new signees.

Second, does oversigning offer a competitive advantage by allowing coaches who oversign to make more recruiting mistakes than their colleagues who refuse to engage in the practice? Ohio State fan site the-ozone.net produced a fascinating post in December that examined the differences in players signed between Big Ten and SEC teams and their bowl opponents. In the Sugar Bowl, Ohio State faced an Arkansas team that had signed 30 more players than the Buckeyes in a four-year period. In the BCS title game, Oregon faced an Auburn team that had signed 19 more players than the Ducks over a four-year period.

The coaches who signed more players had a chance to erase their mistakes. The coaches who signed fewer had to live with their mistakes. That certainly seems like a competitive advantage…

The second of these doesn’t really bother me.  As Tuberville notes, that’s a choice conferences like the Big Ten have made.  As long as oversigning doesn’t violate any rules, it’s hard to see what they have to get worked up about.  (And it’s not as if the Big Ten doesn’t enjoy a few competitive advantages of its own.)

But the first… yeah, that can be problematic, although the real issue I have there is with coaches who are too stupid or careless to manage their numbers properly.  Which is why you have to admire – okay, maybe in a perverse way – Nick Saban’s brutal honesty.

Give Saban credit. At least he tells recruits they might get cut to clear space for newer signees. When the Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Sun-News interviewed seven participants in the Offense-Defense Bowl about the topic of the one-year, renewable scholarship, only one, Alabama commitment Christion Jones, knew his scholarship had to be renewed annually. “Coach Saban told me it’s a one-year scholarship you have to work for,” Jones told the paper. “Some coaches don’t tell some kids. Some kids have to find out the hard way.”

Shoot me if you’d like, but I don’t have a problem with that approach.  It’s in line with the rules, albeit in a starkly Darwinian sort of way, and whatever else you might think of it, you have to at least admit that kids going into the Alabama program know the risks before they sign that NLI.  It sure beats what Les Miles pulled with Elliott Porter.  (Speaking of which, how weird has Porter’s story gotten?)

Staples ends the article with a few suggestions about how to curtail oversigning.  I wouldn’t mind seeing coaches get punished for their carelessness, but I suspect if anything happens on this front, it’ll be because some schools get fed up about the perceived competitive advantage.  If there’s one thing we know in this day and age about college athletics, it’s that after paying lip service to the concerns of the student-athlete, the schools will do what they believe is best for themselves.

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35 Comments

Filed under Recruiting

35 responses to ““But hey, nobody told [the Big Ten] they had to do that.”

  1. TennesseeDawg

    I have no problem with it as long as Saban is up front with it. Lord knows an approach like that might generate a helluva lot more effort at Georgia if the players were treated the same way.

    • JBJ

      Incentives go a long way.

    • Russ

      I agree. I gotta think if you sign a band scholarship, and you suddenly suck at the tuba, that you stand the chance of losing that scholarship. Should be the same for football.

      • The issue is not that a player “suddenly sucks” but that the staff thinks a high school player will be better. The fallacy is that there is the perception of decreased performance by the enrolled player. Myles cut a player (Elliott Porter) last year before he ever attended a class.

        The answer is simple – eliminate the 85 scholarship rule and institute a fixed annual limit. The limit should be high enough to account for career ending injuries, transfers and dismissals. While we’re at it let’s drop the redshirt rule. Sign 30-35 players each year (pick a number). Those players have 5 years of eligibility. Then it’s up to the coaches to improve skills and keep them in school.

  2. Bryant Denny

    Related to the Saban part…I’ve been arguing this all along…but this is the first time I’ve heard my hunch confirmed.

    Have a good day,

    BD

  3. Bulldog Bry

    I still don’t understand something. If I lose my scholly because I’m not living up to snuff, am I free to go anywhere right away? Or do I have to sit out a year before playing D1 ball again?

    My only problem is if the athletes DO have to sit out. They’re not transferring, they’re being CUT, no fault of their own.

    • Castleberry

      I have the same question. Like the Senator, I have no problem with oversigning, but it should work both ways. If Saban pulls a scholarship, Chizik should be able to swoop in and give the kid a second chance right away.

      • Hackerdog

        And there is no reason to demand a commitment from the player that the school doesn’t have to make. If coaches are free to cut a player and bring in another recruit, then the player should be free to transfer to another school without losing playing time.

        • Russ

          +1

          Of course, Ole Miss figured out how to do it. We just need to beef up our course catalog with classes nobody else has.

  4. Bulldog Joe

    I don’t expect the SEC to do much about this in their May meetings. As long as there are other BCS conferences doing it, they won’t give up the competitive advantage and the face the potential for lost millions in BCS revenue.

    I think the better way for Georgia to deal with it is to anticipate a higher turnover rate (Georgia had four scholarships unused by the time the season rolled around last year), use greyshirting if we encounter an unexpectedly low turnover rate (we redshirt more than our competition does anyway), raise the expectations on what it means to be a Bulldog, and use our more conservative approach as a recruiting differentiator with the parents and guardians of the rising high school students.

    I understand we are already doing many of these things differently this year.

  5. A Different Jim

    You should read a book called “Meat on the Hoof: The Hidden World of Texas Football” written by Gary Shaw in 1972. It is about Darrel Royal and Texas. Schools have been running off players forever. It is not a nice side of this business. If I became hurt while making money for Nick Saban, I would like to know they were not going to run me off so they could free up the slot.

  6. TL

    It is interesting to note that the SEC West is far more aggressive about oversigning than is the SEC East. Of the eight SEC schools cited as involved with the practice, the only two from the East are Kentucky (who, perhaps unsurprisingly, has gotten better in the past several years) and South Carolina (which won its first SEC East crown this year). For all the statements about how the SEC West is better than the East these days, isn’t this as good a reason as any?

    Also, are there numbers out there to provide a bit more historical reference than merely the last few years? I suppose one could troll through the Scout.com or Rivals.com databases to make that determination, but is oversigning a very recent issue at some of these schools, or has it been ingrained in the schools for decades since the 85-scholarship limit went into place?

    • Mayor of Dawgtown

      Remember in the not so distant past when the SEC East top to bottom was better than the SEC West top to bottom? Oversigning probably is the reason for the reversal.

  7. 1) Over-signing is not over-enrolling. A non-qualifier that signs does not mean someone was cut to free up a spot. Only using signing numbers distorts the picture. I would be interested to see a non-qualifier-adjusted number of signees over the four-year period.

    2) I agree with Bulldog Bry and Castleberry. If a football program decides to cut a player, the player should be granted a free release and immediate eligibility anywhere his heart desires. That is the unfair thing about this practice. If the NCAA wants to do something about this, change that rule.

  8. Bad M

    There’s just no reason for the practice. If everyone plays by the same rules then you don’t have to screw over kids and no one gets a competitive advantage.
    Give the coaches 85 numbered scholarships/25 numbered letters of intent every year and limit them to that. That still gives them almost 4 extra LOI’s a year for attrition. After that, if someone leaves/flunks out/gets hurt, only then can you offer another.
    I am proud that Coach Richt doesn’t participate in the practice, but I’m also frustrated that I know there’s a distinct advantage we are giving the other teams. Mark Ingram was an oversign. A three star is more likely to commit early (before the slot gets filled) and then the five star who waits will be more likely to go to a school that oversigns. They will still be showing interest.
    I agree, a cut player should be able to transfer immediately to anywhere he wants.

    • Bryant Denny

      Maybe so about a 3-star committing before a 5-star, but I really don’t think Saban looks at the stars. I think it’s more likely for a recruiting service to fix the stars once they find out who is recruiting the kid.

  9. Puffdawg

    I’m on record as saying I think it’s a disgusting practice, especially when “they promise those guys mommas they are gonna look after them for four years.” That said, I stand corrected with respect to Saban if that is truly his approach. Surprised he is up front like that. Not surprised that naive 18 year olds still think “It won’t happen to me.”

    However, I still think this is a slimy practice. Call me old fashioned but I don’t want our coaches to do what Nick Saban is doing. I think we can win without treating a scholarship athlete like a mercenary. Just my opinion.

    • Comin' Down The Track

      There could be a difference in the approach though.

      Are they saying, “Coach Saban told me it’s a one-year scholarship you have to work for,”?
      OR:
      “Coach Saban told me it’s a one-year scholarship you have to work for, [but that it'll never happen to me because I'm a superstar]” ?

      Big difference.

      • Bryant Denny

        He probably says, “You’re a star, and if you do what you’re supposed to do, it won’t be a problem for you…” :)

  10. Fundamentally, I don’t have a problem with one-year renewable scholarships. If you get a Hope scholarship and blow it in year 1, you’re in the same boat. I guess the difference is that, with the Hope, you don’t have to worry about an Einstein coming in next year’s freshman class and making your work look less outstanding in relative terms. As long as you’re above the 3.0, it doesn’t matter what others do.

    But, still, whether it’s on a relative or absolute basis, you have to perform. To my knowledge, no academic scholarship comes with the four-year guarantee that we’re selling our athletes.

    The disgusting practice is how athletes options are limited after they sign. If you’re cut, or your head coach is fired, you should be, as Southwest Airlines says, “free to move about the country.” Absurd that a kid who had offers from a half-dozen D-1 programs has to go slum with an FCS program because something arbitrary happened with the program he initially signed with.

    • John Brantley

      Tell me about it! I got stuck having to go back to the Gators when I really want to be gone but I have no options cause I’m a senior and can’t sit out a year.

    • Bryant Denny

      For the most part, they are allowed to go wherever. Sure you may have to sit out a year and go out of conference, but that leaves about 110 other places where you can go.

  11. fuelk2

    I’d also like to point out that the author above should have pointed out that Arkansas and Auburn also had coaching changes within that period. I realize that Oregon did as well, but an internal promotion doesn’t have the same effect.

    The author fails to point out the number of defections these changes caused. If Auburn is so bad about oversigning, why did they play the 2009 season with fewer than 80 scholarship players? Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that is the case.

    And BTW, I hate Auburn and it pains me to defend them in any way. Just stating the facts.

  12. Macallanlover

    Just look at the entire discussion above, CFB has become very seedy. Sure, I am old-school and long for the “good old days”, probably in vain. That is why I favor a true NFL minor league to get the players out who have no business on a college campus. It is all a charade and is at the core of many of the issues we all spent hours/days kicking back and forth.

    Requiring CFB players to meet academic standards for admission, and making progress toward a degree in legit courses would eliminate a lot of what detracts from our beloved sport. Does that mean the level of play would dip? Certainly, but it would still be competitive, and that is more significant to me than watching institutions, and fans, sell their integrity. That is why I supported Cuban’s thoughts about establishing an “NFL Light” a week or so ago.

    • shane#1

      I like that idea too, why force an unqualified kid to sit through classes that he has no intrest in waiting for the NFL to call? Besides, denying someone a chance to make a living a his chosen career for three years sounds like restraint of trade to me. If Cuban can start a minor league, more power to him.

  13. Bryant Denny

    Most of these discussions have assumed that the coach is screwing the player over in order to game the system. That may be the case where Les Miles is involved, but I don’t think we should assume that for every program.

    Most of the discussions assume that the players are being totally raked over by this process and that they have no idea what is happening. The player may have no idea what is happening, but I would venture to guess that the pieces of paper he signs related to his scholarship clearly indicate the terms. I would also guess that most of these little darlings also have a college educated high school coach or advisor (or hanger on) that knows what the deal is.

    I attended college on a non-athletic scholarship that was “renewable” every year. As a goofy 18 year old, it made perfect sense to me that the school not guarantee my ride for four years. In fact, I was more of a goofball four years later.

    I believe that when a coach (such as Saban) sits down with a player, he tells him like it is…whether the player is a 5 star or 3 star. I believe he tells them they need to make progress – academically and / or athletically or they could be asked to leave. I know it doesn’t happen exactly like this, but I think it’s close.

    Have a good day,

    BD

    • Aaron Murray

      BD,
      You make a valid point, if only it were that simple. In other words, if a guy comes in and only eats Big Macs and doesn’t go to class then yea, that’s an easy call that he is not “making progress academically and or athletically.” But what about the guy who comes in and adheres to the S&C program and goes to class, but it turns it he really just wasn’t that good? He doesn’t make the 2 deep and he’s a junior, so he’s pushed out the door. Is that fair in your eyes?

      • Bryant Denny

        Yes – if he is aware of the situation from the get-go.

        If not, you have to think that what goes around comes around.

        BD

      • Mayor of Dawgtown

        Not defending the practice but the guy who gets pushed out after 2 years has a decision to make. He can (1) transfer to another (probably lower level athletically) school and play there, where he actually may be a hot commodity because of his coaching received at the powerhouse program; or (2) stay at the school where he is and be like any other student. I have had friends who fell into each category going back many years. A lot of guys just quit and become regular students, too.

  14. 69Dawg

    Senator What is the rule on the player who loses his scholly? Can he transfer and play FBS football the next year or he required to sit out a year? Legally if the student is no longer on scholarship how do they enforce a contract with the student? Seems once the school voids the contract all bets are off. On another note it seem Rutgers is about to screw up and get sued by trying to keep a player from transferring to the State of Florida. The father has already said they would sue so maybe the NCAA wants to have a long talk with the Scarlet Knights.

    • Bryant Denny

      I think you can go wherever you want – if you pay your own way – and of course, sit out a year if the transfer is to a FBS school.

  15. Texas_Dawg

    So why don’t you call on Richt and Georgia to start oversigning, Senator?

    If you really think all of these recruits fully understand the risks that a true 1-year renewable contract involves, then you are still completely clueless on this topic.

    Reputable universities don’t oversign for a reason. Pathetic schools from the poorest states in the country do.

    • If you really think all of these recruits fully understand the risks that a true 1-year renewable contract involves, then you are still completely clueless on this topic.

      Given the quote from Staples’ article I cited that indicates the contrary, I’m not sure what your point is, TD.

      • Texas_Dawg

        My bad. Poorly worded.

        The point was that if you really think all Alabama recruits truly understand the odds, probabilities, and other aspects of what they are getting into, then you don’t really understand the situation.

        And it’s too bad Staples (an SEC fan and a reporter who doesn’t really want to get in trouble with coaches like Saban) chose to go that way with his article. Especially after the WSJ recently interviewed numerous ex-Alabama players who said they had no idea what they were getting into ultimately.

        Oversigning is a complete farce. Laugh at the Big 10 all you want, but nearly all of its universities are far better ranked academically than the SEC’s Inferior 9. Largely because they don’t engage in pathetic behavior like this.

        • Mayor of Dawgtown

          I disagree about your assessment about academics TD. Vandy is ranked higher academically than any Big-10 school except Northwestern. After that there is a mesh between the SEC schools and the Big-10 schools academically. FLA and UGA are both ranked higher than about half the Big-10. I agree that the bottom ranked schools in the SEC are ranked lower than the bottom ranked schools of the Big-10, though. Academically, the better schools in the SEC are comparably rated to the Big-10–pathetic oversigning behavior aside. See http://www.usnews.com about this.