This will be my last post on oversigning for a while (at least until the earlier of somebody doing something truly egregious/stupid or the NCAA/SEC passing a new rule with teeth). I don’t think you’ll have to worry much about following the subject, though, as the media seems to have latched on to it with a vengeance.
Anyway, a couple of the more astute college football bloggers out there have posts that illustrate the complexities surrounding the debate which have left me in no-man’s land on the practice and spur me to respond.
Start with this Matt Hinton piece about Bernie Machen’s recent attacks on oversigning. Who can argue that this isn’t wrong?
“There are still universities that will oversign and it’s going to end up with a student athlete being left out,” Machen said.
The only thing there I can object to is his use of the future tense. That’s already happened.
But it’s only half of the story. And it’s the other half that, well, I can’t say I’m overly worked up about.
… It should come as no surprise that the calls are coming from the bully pulpits of Florida and Georgia. For one thing, McGarity worked in Florida’s athletic department for 18 years before returning to his alma mater last year. For another, they may have more to gain from a crackdown on oversigning than any other schools – including Big Ten schools – because they’re in the minority of SEC heavyweights (along with Tennessee) that haven’t made it a habit.
In fact, within the SEC, the oversigning charge has been almost exclusively the province of the West Division: All six teams from the West have signed at least 131 players over the last five years, putting all among the dozen most egregious oversigners in the nation. That distinction only applies to one team from the SEC East (Kentucky) and to only two teams from the other “Big Six” conferences, Iowa State and Kansas State, which have unusually high turnover as the two most JUCO-reliant programs in the country.
The Sabinator and the Hat aside, many of the schools which resort to oversigning on a regular basis aren’t exactly college football powerhouses year in and year out, as you can see from some of the examples Matt references. Most of them resort to oversigning because they need some level of quantity to offset other shortcomings in their recruiting (small talent bases, academic shortcomings – a big problem in the South, JUCO turnover, etc.) to keep up with the relatively few programs that don’t have those issues.
So, while it’s nice to admire the nobility of Machen’s stance, it’s an easy virtue he employs, isn’t it? If the NCAA imposed a hard cap on signing tomorrow, Florida, with all of its advantages in money and location, would be a huge winner. (Georgia, too, for that matter.) So that’s something I disagree with Brian Cook about in his otherwise smart post on the subject when he writes,
… More importantly, you now have an SEC athletic director who’s bluntly stating the real issue* and saying his team won’t partake, and an SEC president who is on the warpath. There’s someone calling into Finebaum right now and saying BUT PAWWWWWL, BERNIE MACHEN’S JUST DOING THIS BECAUSE IT HELPS FLORIDA. Even if they’re right, being in a position to rail because other rich people are doing shitty things to poor ones—and you’re not—justifies itself. Florida’s Machiavellian brilliance in is in not being Machievellian.
That’s too clever by half. There’s no way Machen hasn’t run this subject past his athletic director and Urban Meyer and gotten the kind of feedback that lets him feel secure in his purity. Remember that this is the same guy who voted against his own postseason revenue sharing proposal after his SEC peers told him to get his head out of his ass about the football money trail. A profiler in courage he’s not.
So here’s where the rubber meets the road. No decent person (I know, I know) wants to see kids exploited like this. But I imagine there isn’t a similar consensus among schools about the competitive advantage issue. How do you go about fashioning an improvement to the rule that favorably addresses the first without starting a war over the latter?
That’s why I think McGarity’s stated policy of not violating the 85-player rule is a better place to start than Machen’s 28-player bug bear. Cook, who, as any Alabama denizen of the Internet will tell you, is no fan of oversigning, gets this point across well.
… The NCAA’s 25-per-class limit serves as an unfortunate distraction here because people point out that’s an arbitrary rule no one should care about, which is true. If you have 30 open spots it’s not unethical to squeeze as many players in as possible, and people attack that strawman as if you’re trying to clutch pearls but failing to because you’re deranged. Even when that’s not happening there’s no particular reason for Get The Picture to focus on 25 as a magic number.
I think that’s ri…. hey, wait a minute!
Seriously, I think Brian gives me too much credit there. First of all, it wasn’t me that focused on 25; it was Jon Solomon. Second, and more to the point, Solomon was looking at a four-year average when he wrote about that. So the real key number isn’t 25. It’s 100, as in 15 more than the NCAA-mandated limit. Now maybe all 25 of those schools on Solomon’s list which averaged 25 or more signees over that four-year term were either very lucky to have signed a bunch of kids who left early for the NFL (which meant they likely had at least above-average college careers) or very unlucky to have a bunch of kids who flushed out for a variety of sad reasons before the end of their eligibility, but the odds are strong that luck didn’t have that much to do with it for all 25.
Indeed, I think that’s implicit in Brian’s post, per his comment about the SEC:
… That’s especially true when the league just put in place some cosmetic modifications by capping letters of intent at 28. These didn’t take. Journalists said “hey, wait a minute” when they multiply 28 by four and get a number that’s well north of 85 but not well north of the number of kids most SEC schools have promised an education over the last relevant period. SEC schools averaged 27.6 signees from 2002-2010.
But again, back to his earlier observation, there are times when signing a bigger class than 25 is legitimate. As Groo puts it in this close-to-home example,
… Georgia signed only 20 players in 2009. They added 19 last year. In the four recruiting classes since 2007, Georgia has signed just 86 players. That’s before you account for transfers, medical hardships, and others who no longer count towards the total over those four years. There will always be those who fret over the numbers, but my response is always the same: the folks in Athens can count to 85. The numbers always work out. If Georgia signs over 25, there will be those who lump the Dawgs among the bad guys who oversign, but Georgia has actually been dealing with the opposite problem lately. In recent years, Georgia has played its numbers close to the vest. That’s caused some Signing Say anxiety as some prospects have had to be turned away. The door seems wide open this year.
In other words, Georgia is due a haul…
Schools, slots and players don’t bump heads over the 25-man rule, or the SEC’s 28-man rule. Players get screwed because coaches like Les Miles can’t always count to 85 competently. Maybe the solution is to get rid of the annual limits on class size and simply enforce a hard count 85, with serious enough penalties for a violation that a school like LSU will invest in a better calculator for its head coach.
Competitive advantage in this context isn’t always such a horrible thing, by the way. The Big Ten has had relatively tough restrictions on oversigning for over half a century. The SEC obviously hasn’t. Anybody notice how often Ohio State makes the BCS? Anybody notice how rarely the Buckeyes face the same SEC opponent from year to year? (Or how SEC schools never repeat as conference champs?) I’m not saying you can chalk all of that up to oversigning. But I believe it’s a factor.