Could oversigning be college football’s next big war?

It’s pretty easy to analyze most of the major issues driving college football in the context of the haves and the have-nots.  But as last summer’s crazed chase over conference expansion showed, college football’s powers don’t always act monolithically.

Stewart Mandel posted something in his Mailbag yesterday that makes me ponder whether we might be getting ready to see a few more cracks in that façade.  Noting the apparent decline of the Big Ten in comparison to the SEC, Mandel writes

… As Michael Rosenberg wrote Tuesday, the league is being dragged down right now because two of its marquee programs, Penn State and Michigan, aren’t what they once were. The Nittany Lions seem to be stuck in a perpetual state of good-but-not-great that likely won’t change until JoePa retires and the Wolverines have been a mess for several years. That’s the big difference between the SEC and Big Ten — the talent pool is deep enough in the South that an Auburn or Arkansas can rise up in a given year and compete nationally, but that’s rarely going to happen with Purdue or Illinois.

That’s just the short-term analysis, though. In the long term, we have to concede — as Jim Delany himself has — that the effects of population shift on Northern and Midwest football are very real and very irreversible. (The SEC’s penchant for oversigning has its own effect, too, though that’s another column entirely.)

And so I wonder:  are we about to enter a phase where several of the power conferences decide it’s in their best interest to take on the (largely SEC) practice of oversigning?

Don’t laugh.  I can think of some compelling reasons they might.  For one thing, it’s a great excuse to use to explain the SEC’s recent dominance in the BCS title game and the other power conferences’ shortcomings there.  (See if the drumbeat grows louder in the event Auburn takes care of business next Monday night.)

But the bigger concern might be demographics, as Mandel hints.  You’ve already got a situation where the population shift from the Rust Belt to the Sun Belt favors the SEC, the Pac-10 and at least the southern part of the Big XII at the expense of the Big Ten and the Big East (another reason TCU’s move to that conference looks shrewd).  To the extent that it restricts the talent pool available to the latter two, oversigning by SEC programs exacerbates that problem.

It’s hard to see how that changes.  And if that’s the case, how long is it before Jim Delany decides he has no choice but to lead the charge to get the NCAA to tighten up the rules on class signing numbers?  No doubt he’d couch it in terms of doing what’s best for the student athletes, but we’d all know what that’s really about.  And it would be fascinating to see where the battle lines get drawn in that fight – the Big East and the mid-major conferences would seem to be natural allies for Delany, but would the Pac-10 and Big XII commissioners stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Mike Slive?


Filed under College Football, Recruiting, SEC Football, The NCAA

68 responses to “Could oversigning be college football’s next big war?

  1. AthensHomerDawg

    Ole Miss just doesn’t seem to be benefiting from this.
    The 10 Worst College Football Teams for oversigning Recruits Per Bleacher Report May ’10
    1. Alabama
    2. Ole Miss
    3. Auburn
    4. Mississippi State
    5. Arkansas
    6. Kansas State
    7. South Carolina
    8. LSU
    9. West Virginia
    10. Iowa State


    • Comin' Down The Track

      Note Georgia’s position there; only going as high as twenty-eight signees once since 2005, and that in 2006. We short sign regularly. Why is that?

      • chibucks

        also because richt is probably one of the few coaches who sees the kids as student-athletes and wants to honor the scholarship for the length of the kids stay at school… not earned on a year-to-year athletic performance based criteria.

        • Comin' Down The Track

          Those scholarships are only issued yearly though. Nice guys finish last?

          • Puffdawg

            I wonder how many couches Saban has sat on where he assured someone’s momma he was gonna see them thru college only to turn around and pick and choose which scholarships to renew. It doesn’t hurt Bama in the long run because all 18 year old kids think “That won’t happen to me, I’m (insert name here), a (enter # stars here) recruit on (insert recruiting service here).”

            Exploitation at its finest. Is that what we want to become? Call me old fashioned, or maybe ethically cognizant, but that just ain’t right in my book. Personally, that is not where I want our program to go, win lose or draw.

            • I don’t want to be one here, but if you don’t think Saban’s rivals educate the parents of every recruit Alabama chases about his oversigning policy, you’re dreaming. Some of those kids may delude themselves, but it’s not like they and their mommas weren’t warned.

              • Texas_Dawg

                Rival coaches: “Saban oversigns. Here are some examples…”
                Recruit: “Coach Saban, is what they say true?”
                Saban: “These are whiny losers. The players who were cut broke team rules or left of their own volition. You aren’t that kind of kid so you’ve got nothing to worry about. Come to Bama and be a star and win championships.”

                We’re talking about kids who are often working class or worse, minimally educated, who have rarely left their home counties, who do stuff like flipping coins to make major life decisions, etc… up against experienced professionals and extremely powerful people backed by state institutions and millions of fans.

                Wake up, Senator. Wake up.

                • AthensHomerDawg

                  “minimally educated,” or educable….might it be all they got to hope for ? Take your best shot per a team that gives your the most air time?

                  • Texas_Dawg

                    The point was that these kids don’t just “know what they are getting into.”

                    As to their futures and education, the answer is work and study, not buying lottery tickets or betting everything on slim chances at being drafted. And a university that enrolls them should work with them to educate them as best as it can. Not just sit back and hope they fail out should they not pan out as football players.

              • Puffdawg

                Of course other coaches “educate” Bama targets. Which is why I included my qualifier that kids don’t think it’ll happen to them. I think you are giving the naive 18 year old a little too much credit in the face of what a smooth operator like Saban is telling them.

            • Comin' Down The Track

              You can almost hear the converse of that statement, as well, though:
              “[Of course, if you (insert caveat here), that most likely] won’t happen to [you], [you’re] (insert name here), a (enter # stars here) recruit on (insert recruiting service here).”

    • AlphaDawg

      We short sign because Richt is always building for the future, the same as his practice of Redshirtng talent that can contribute so that JR/SR and walk-ons who have put thier time in canplay, which is going to cost him his job.

    • Bulldog Joe

      In 2008-09, Ole Miss had their first back-to-back nine-win seasons since 1962-63.

      Oversigning definitely helped them.

  2. Macallanlover

    I don’t see why the lid isn’t put on this practice ASAP. It makes no sense to set a scholly number and then allow this abuse. I have no problem with controlling the “oversigning” by one or two to cover attrition, but it should be the same at all schools. Unfortunately, only the NCAA is in a position to set, and control the issue and they seem to be impotent at managing anything these days.

  3. retwely

    Didn’t the SEC (admittedly we do this the most) institute a 28 scholly maximum recently?

    Some schools, mostly Bama and Ole Miss were oversigning well over the 28 number in previous years.

  4. Will Trane

    The rules are only for the favored of the NCAA. What rules. Aske Mississippi State, Auburn, Alabama, and Ohio State. Here woudl be my two rules. When they are fairly and even-handed applied and enforced I’ll get on board, otherwise I’m I have my own programs agenda at heart. And secong, it is better to ask foregiveness rather than persmission. And a sidebar, I’ll decide what games I have to suspend a player and what season that maybe.

  5. I think that most conferences would get behind an effort to put teeth in the 85 scholarship limit. The Big XII would be the only conference that might join with the SEC, but it’s dominated by Texas and UT doesn’t oversign, so even that seems unlikely. Speaking of which, a hard 85 scholarship cap would help Georgia and Florida the most because they are the two SEC powers that don’t oversign. Big Ten fans can bitch all they want, but they aren’t in direct competition with Alabama, Auburn, LSU, and Arkansas on an annual basis.

    Retwely, the 28-signee limit doesn’t go far enough to restrict oversigning. If Alabama has 70 players returning and then signs a class of 25, then they have complied with the SEC limit, but they have still oversigned by ten.

  6. crapsandwich

    Senator, you premise is correct. This won’t come from the SEC, but from outside the SEC. With that said, it may be legal but does it not (in the SEC east at least, exception USCjr), make the playing field rather uneven?

  7. DavetheDawg

    Death of the ‘walk-on’, then?

  8. Mike

    Based on last nights events, the Dawgs will surely keep their nose clean in this great debate.

  9. Scorpio Jones, III

    I may be wrong about this, but oversigning is basically up to the individual school as long as NCAA rules are followed.

    If the institution allows oversigning, again within the rules, can the NCAA actually do anything about it?

  10. Jon

    Two interesting ways to curb this.

    1. If you can’t prove you have an open scholarship, you can’t sign someone.
    2. The student-athlete, not the school, can release the other from the scholarship.

    This prevents signing classes of 30 in February with only 21 spots available, running a semi-pro camp, and making the 9 extra athletes “go away”. The real problem is never in a single season, but over 4 years, this amounts to over a full recruiting class advantage for some schools, which may be legal, but also doesn’t pass the sniff test.

    • HackerDog

      One of the problems, especially with Alabama, is that they convert the scholarships from football to medical. Once a kid gets cut, he becomes “injured” such that he disappears from the ranks of the 85 limit.

      I like the proposal I’ve seen of reducing the per-year limit to 20-22 and eliminating the overall 85 limit entirely. Signing the max each year would result in a roster of around 85. If a school was exceptionally good with keeping kids in school and healthy, they could have more than 85. But a school would never face a limit on an individual class of 15-18 like the ethical schools sometimes do.

  11. Oversigning is simply wrong. If Slive won’t put an end to it in the SEC, the NCAA must clarify their rules to outlaw it.

    • Macallanlover

      When Slime makes a gutsy decision, it will be his first as the SEC Commish. Presidents need to sit this under-performing employee down and reprimand him immediately. He has made the conference look like we have the scruples of an alley cat/Auburn.

  12. Bad M

    Not only is the sheer number of oversigns a competitive advantage, think about how the big-signees-who-wait-to-declare feel. One school says we want you, but you need to declare soon because the class is getting full. The other school says, screw the numbers, we want you and will take you no matter what (we’ll just secretly kick out another player). That’s a huge recruiting advantage for the oversigning school.

  13. Oversigning only creates a competitive advantage because not everybody does it. Some schools don’t because it’s “not right.” Really?

    The athletic scholarship is just like any other – you must earn it and work hard to keep it each year. If you fall behind your peers or drop below the standard, you run the risk losing your scholarship.

    Think of all the UGA students who came in with the Hope Scholarship but lost it by their sophomore year because they spent too much time fratting and their GPA dipped below a 2.0. The state is paying you to be a high-performing student. If you stop performing at a high level, the state stops paying your tuition.

    College football players in the SEC are expected to play at an extremely high level. If they can’t do it, they don’t deserve to go to school for free any more than the kid who lost his Hope Scholarship.

    • Bulldog Joe

      Unfortunately, our Athletic Department doesn’t see it that way and they are suffering the consequences of it on the field and in the living rooms.

      • Texas_Dawg

        It’s only unfortunate if you are a miserably unethical person who believes football victories should come at the expense of a state university’s reputation and integrity.

        Fortunately, our program isn’t run by such troglodytes.

        • Puffdawg

          Second that.

        • tywebb01

          Football victories shouldn’t come at anyone’s expense – let’s have no losers and give participaton trophies to all.


          • The one and only Billy Shears

            Really? He defends the University for maintaining the integrity of its academic mission, and he’s being unpatriotic?


        • Bulldog Joe

          Enjoy your self-righteous losses.

          We don’t even use all the scholarships we have.

          There is a sense of automatic entitlement in many of our players because the consequences of not giving it your all is nothing more than a few days off.

          Accountability is missing in Athens. Ask anyone in the SEC.

          This is a big reason why we saw too many of our players mail it in Memphis (those that didn’t get the day off).

    • HackerDog

      The standards of academic scholarships are not competitive. The school identifies highly capable students and then sets standards that those students should be well capable of meeting.

      Your vision of athletic scholarships are completely different. First, identifying football players that can make the transition from high school to college is exponentially more difficult than identifying students capable of handling college academics. Second, you’re also stating that these students must outperform other students who are in the same boat.

      Personally, I would rather have most of the risk in the transaction fall on the coach, athletic director, and the nutso fans who can’t function in a world where 18-22 year-olds are only under the pressure of performing in front of 100k fans and on national television. Trying to shift the risk onto the kids seems frankly cruel.

  14. Senator,

    If you would step out of this stupid “S-E-C!” idiocy for once, you would see that Georgia is being screwed far worse than any Big 10 school by oversigning. It is a disgusting practice that Georgia will never get into. Greg McGarity has personally assure me of that, and Mark Richt has long been on record about why he doesn’t do it.

    So we get insanity like Auburn signing 119 players from 2007-2010 while Georgia only signed 86. Every single SEC West school and South Carolina signed over 100 players in those classes.

    It is a disgusting practice that damages lives of young and often impoverished adults and makes a total fraud of universities that engage in it. Georgia is not only disadvantaged on the field by it, but, far more importantly, has its brand and reputation degraded for being associated with these repulsive and embarrassing impoverished state schools.

    Get off your anti-Big 10 meme, and wake up, dude.

    • Maybe you should read my post more carefully. It’s not an attack on the Big Ten. I’m saying that Delany may soon feel that he has no choice but to take this to the NCAA and have the rules tightened.

      And for what it’s worth, it’s not oversigning per se that’s questionable to me. It’s what coaches like Saban do to clear the numbers to oversign and how coaches like Miles can’t be straightforward with their recruits about their signing policy that is.

      • Texas_Dawg

        Oversigning per se is the problem. Oversigning per se requires lying, cutting players, pressuring transfers, refusing to caution against ill-advised transfers to inferior schools, removing players from their teams via medical hardship abuses, and so on.

        Wake up, Senator.

        • Richt signed 31 players in ’02 and 28 players in ’06. If oversigning per se is the problem, as you assert, then Georgia’s hands are dirty, too.

          • Texas_Dawg

            You really need to study up on this topic a little more before you go any further discussing it. You aren’t stupid… but you got yourself into an anti-Big 10 position on the topic (hey, it happens… I’m no B10 fan either) and dismissed it without really looking into what it involves.

            Oversigning is not seen in 1 year. If a team graduating 85 seniors this year were to sign 85 commits (rules permitting) and signed 0 more players until those players all left of their own volition or for other, legitimate reasons, then there would be nothing unethical to criticize.

            I have no reason to believe Mark Richt did anything unethical with the classes you note. Do you? If he did, I would want him called out on it and forced to explain his actions every bit as much as I want the oversigning coaches forced to explain their actions.

            Oversigning involves promising more scholarships than you have available. It requires pressuring students to leave school, arranging and encouraging transfers to inferior schools that are not in their best interest (or at the very least, failing to counsel against such moves), removing lesser performers – against their wishes, via medical hardship abuses – from their teammates and the honor of being a team member, forcing players to grayshirt unexpectedly after signing day, dismissing players and slandering them with “undisclosed violations” they didn’t commit or that go unpunished among the more valuable players, etc.

            You are wrong on this, Senator. The correct thing to do here is stop, admit an honest error, educate yourself on the topic, and proceed accordingly.

            Forget the serious social justice red flags of Southern state institutions screwing over often impoverished and socially marginalized young black men, if that’s not your thing. Georgia is getting royally, doubly screwed by this scam. The Big 10 schools at least don’t have their academic reputations and brands attached to this garbage.

            • I have no reason to believe Mark Richt did anything unethical with the classes you note. Do you? If he did, I would want him called out on it and forced to explain his actions every bit as much as I want the oversigning coaches forced to explain their actions.

              TD, you really aren’t getting this. I don’t think Mark Richt has done anything unethical. You’re the one who insists that oversigning per se is wrong. If that’s the case, he oversigned twice and is wrong for doing so.

              • dawgfish

                What I believe that Texas is trying to say is that when oversigning the 25/year limit, you can still not cut anybody. For instance, Georgia in those years enrolled all of those overage kids early, so they counted as last year’s class, and thus no one was cut or had their scholarship rescinded. As Brian Cook always points out 85 is the relevant number, not 25. You can sign 30 or more, but if you already have concrete, available spots for them as Georgia did in those years, you are not doing anything unethical. You have 30 schollys available, so you sign 30, and fit them in. On the other hand if you only signed 20, but only have 15 available spots, you know you will have to make cuts and are being egregiously unethical even though technically you didn’t oversign.

                • I gave him the chance to say just that. He didn’t.

                  I understand that there are any number of ways slots open up – some of them purposefully, some of them not. That’s my point. Oversigning per se isn’t the problem. It’s what leads up to signing more than 25 kids that may be.

                  • dawgfish

                    Exactly. What this issue really boils down to is the simple question: Where is each individual scholarship going to come from for each person you sign? Oversigning the 25 number is not wrong per se because there may be an already unused scholarship available. However, oversigning the 85 number IS wrong per se, because by definition there are not enough scholarships to fulfill your promises and someone who thinks they will have scholly next year will in fact not.

  15. Bulldog Joe

    I am with the Big Ten on this one.

    Loose interpretation of the rules on scholarship limits have pushed us back to the Bear Bryant days where some schools could have over 100 players on “scholarship” and were allowed to dominate those that did not.

    The ACC and Big East schools are probably tired of it too.

  16. You are seriously overlooking a crucial variable here: 8 of these 10 teams (if you can even use BR as a source with a straight face) underwent coaching changes in the period at issue.

    When staffs turnover, so too do players; some guys transfer, some guys won’t cut it physically, mentally, disciplinary or otherwise; some are known academic casualties that will rehab for a year or so at Hargrave etc; some kids may be torn between a pro career at another sport; some are short-leashed head cases, and some kids just won’t fit with the new regime. All of those can attribute to “oversigning”.

    Add to that fact that schollies are a one-year deal only, and I’d say this is pretty short-sighted hand-wringing by the commentariat who aren’t focusing on the bigger picture…dare I say, the Process?

    • Texas_Dawg

      What a joke.

      Auburn – 119
      Alabama -113 (no coaching change)

      USC went through a coaching change, has discipline cases, has academic cases, has injuries, has early NFL departures. Their total in the same period? 76. Ohio State? 78. Texas (several DC changes)? 86. Georgia (DC staff fired)? 86.

      Alabama and Auburn’s numbers are what they are not because of any coaching changes but because they cut players, pressure players to transfer, abuse medical hardship scholarships, lie to recruits, etc.

      Ethical, reputable schools don’t oversign. SEC West schools do.

      • “ethical reputable” schools also graduate their kids and don’t have a two deep littered with apparent drunks.

        See how easy and lazy that was? And absolutely one-sided with no understanding (or with willful ignorance) of the larger issue here (which, to my mind, seems to be damned selective and bullying Athens cops). But it’s easier to just take a cheap, easy way out rather than f’n think about it.

        And, you don’t substantively address the issues related to “oversigning” raised above. And, if it’s your ad hominem about SEC west only, explain SC or K State or Iowa State or West Virginia (where, I add, 3/4ths had new coaching hires).

        Also, you really might want to look at the “data” provided by BR/ Pretty damned credulous aren’t you?

    • AthensHomerDawg

      BR got their numbers from…. and with a straight face.

      • Texas_Dawg

        What is your issue with

        You realize they are one of the few sites to have praised Georgia and Mark Richt in discussing SEC oversigning, right?

        Which do you care about more: the SEC or the University of Georgia?

        • It’s a B10 hit piece, that’s why. Failing to take care of business on the field, it’s but the latest whine, right up there with bowls being played in idyllic weather, decrying the relative brain power of SEC students, and now this.

          OSU, for instance, undersigns, as does UGA; so, of course, they’d praise the Dawgs to high heaven. Apparently getting quality depth is of little concern to the guys, and they’re hell-bent on ensuring the same.

  17. Texas_Dawg

    Here’s a plan to quickly improve UGA football for you, Senator.

    Georgia should sign 32 players this class (as Auburn did in 2010).

    Let’s force these players to leave the team and their teammates and give them medical hardship scholarships:

    Arthur Lynch
    Logan Gray
    Malcome, Thomas, King, or Ealey (whichever doesn’t make the cut out of spring practice)

    And we can pressure these players to transfer, dismissing them in late July or early August for “undisclosed violations” (always a team meeting or class they missed somewhere along the way, right?):

    Brandon Bogotay
    Derek Owens
    Alex Ogletree
    Michael Bennett

    How ’bout it? Do you want to win or not? These are 1-year agreements. These kids knew what they were getting into.

    Let’s do it. Reload the farm system now.

  18. Dog in Fla

    What I like best is when Nick explains that it’s the doctor’s decision and he has nothing to do with it.

  19. Will Trane

    I understand why they oversign and so does the NCAA. Do not think this change much.
    You never know how many kids will leave their junior years.
    As for Dawgs underclassmen only Green maybe there, but he needs to look at Luck, the Manning brothers, and the OU Qb now with the Rams. The latter three could have left early, but they did not. They came back because that senior year of playing is huge for pro development. Think CMR is wrong when he said it would not improve Green’s draft status. For me the status is a factor but not controlling. If you have the talent, you want to make sure you have the staying power, that comes from a senior year. And Bradford laid to rest that issue about the injury. But look at Stafford. Think he made a huge mistake leaving early. Two years he is on injured reserve. Pro teams take note of that stuff. That is why there will be lock out this year. Simply can not keep the comp level. Green has not played a full D1 season for 2 years. Can he play a longer more physical game if he leave early. I think that would be difficult. Stay, ramp up your numbers, and sign a solid contract when you know you have staying power.

    • Puffdawg

      I can’t believe I’m actually responding to this, but dude, in what universe did he make a bad decision. Stafford got $40 million guaranteed. $40 million. Please make me a list of the pros and cons of having $40 million in your checking account and get back to me.

      • Irrational UGA fan

        Hey, what’s $40 million compared to another season of reading about yourself on Georgia message boards?

        I still say Stafford had no leadership skills!

  20. winstongator has a neat eligibility tracker. Look at Alabama:

    Roster size is pretty much the same thing as oversigning. If you’re recruiting a RB and they’re considering Bama, you just point to Ingram, Richardson & co and tell him he’s just not going to get carries. Guys who went to USC had this problem. For QBs it’s also a big issue. Where guys will pay less attention is on the lines and on D where depth is most helpful – that’s also where oversigning give the biggest bang for the buck.

    • I think Alabama and Iowa tell you that RB is exactly where you want and need depth. Iowa goes through about 7 a year. And, with TR and MI both post-surgical/lagging, we needed the 3 and 4 guys to pick up the slack.

      If your system doesn’t have the one “guy”, you can still sign running backs and they will get carries. For instance, when TR is the starter next year, and Crowell and Hart are rotating, do you think they’ll mind not getting the 25+ carries if they’re still part of the spotlight, and have a chance to compete for titles?

  21. Joe

    Easy solution — expand the number of scholarships to match the number allowed each year for 5 years. Why shouldn’t schools be able to educate more people? It makes no sense to allow 25 scholarships per year but limit overall scholarships to 85. By doing that the NCAA is essentially forcing schools to cut people. Allow 125 total scholarships and the issue goes away completely. No more greyshirts. No more medical scholarships. Easy and it benefits the kids.

    • Texas_Dawg

      Why shouldn’t schools be able to educate more people?

      Schools are able to give away as many scholarships as they please.

      But allowing virtually unlimited football scholarships gives larger, wealthier programs one more major advantage over smaller schools.

      This solution wouldn’t change anything anyway. The same advantages from oversigning would exist even with the higher limit.

    • The one and only Billy Shears

      That’s the most rational and simplest argument I’ve ever read on this topic. If total scholarship money were a serious problem, and if they needed to maintain the 85 max so the playing field is leveled for the smaller schools, then even say max 17 scholarships per year, to reach the overall max of 85.

  22. crapsandwich

    Senator, I must defend 100% Texas Dawgs reasoning, even if he may have misplaced your reasoning.

    With that said, TDawg knows this issue better than any other dawg I know of. Personally, I think we all need to write letters, make phone calls, etc. Whatever we have to do to stop this practice. Yes Richt did do it, but if I recall there was a only 2 players grayshirted, no one was FORCED to transfer, take medical hardships, and skank the rules like Saban, Miles, Nutt, Petrino, Tuberville (sorry left Gene C off), and my personal favorite Spurrier. These sick bunch of thiefs, and the selfishness of coach and player alike had led to this problem. A hear, speak or see no evil SEC, is a joke. This is one case I will agree with the Big-10 on.

    Senator, please don’t ever defend the practice of oversigning.

  23. Anonymous

    Texas Dawg and Senator seem to agree on the main point and the argument is simply over the definition of “oversigning.” Senator seems to define “oversigning” as simply signing more than 25, and criticizes the use of unethical tactics to enable the Alabamas to oversign. Texas seems to include the element of unethical behavior as a necessary part of the definition of “oversigning.” Both are cyberyelling at each other over definition but both agree on the issue of unethical tactics to fit recruits in despite the numbers.