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.