Over at Oversigning.com, Joshua turns the conversation in a different direction:
… What we think we are seeing with the abuse of the medical hardship scholarship and the large number of players that are being pushed into it is that some coaches who run their college football programs like a professional NFL team are using the medical hardship scholarship as an injured reserve loophole.
This raises a lot of questions. Let’s take Alabama and Nick Saban’s name off of this and just talk about the issue — this is not a hit piece on Alabama or Nick Saban and this topic can be discussed without focusing in on the particulars of the Alabama case in the WSJ. Here are some general questions for discussion…
3. How do you feel about coaches trying to make college football more like the NFL?
4. At what point does college football become so much like the NFL that players have to start being paid? It appears in some places they are already dealing with annual roster cuts, being placed on an IR list, and essentially drafted and placed in farm systems…all we need is a player’s union, free agency, and to have the players quit going to classes and we’ll have a mini NFL.
We ask these questions because we see the direction all of this is heading with the oversigning, roster cuts, medical hardships, pay-for-play, etc., and if you love college football like we do all of this is headed in the wrong direction.
If there’s one thing that really troubles me about what we’re seeing at some programs it’s this quasi-NFL approach to roster-making. And regardless of where you stand on oversigning, it’s only a part of that trend. Put a hard cap on signings (i.e., require the 85-man roster limit to be in effect in February instead of August) and all you wind up doing is moving up those coaches’ timetables for pruning student athletes from their teams. You could address that by remaking scholarships into automatic four-year deals, but I doubt even Bernie Machen has the stomach to push that solution.
Further complicating things is that pesky question of motive. I don’t know anyone who thinks it’s proper to screw kids over, especially when you consider that the recruiting process is the last time any of them will have some degree of leverage with the coaches and schools who seek their athletic services, but I suspect there are more than a few people who aren’t being honest about the real reason for the stand they take. As Gamecock Man notes,
… It’s appropriate here to acknowledge that many of the critics of oversigning clearly have motives other than the well-being of kids like Mauldin. The aforementioned oversigning.com is written by a Big 10 homer who would presumably like to see his conference’s honor restored with some much-needed wins over SEC teams, while the commenter at GTP is a Georgia fan who’s likely not too keen on Spurrier and South Carolina’s recent success. A kid like Mauldin who is trying to strategically make the most of the opportunities available to him is caught in the middle. For the arguments produced by the two sides, he’s more a prop and a placeholder than anything else. That’s what’s probably most concerning to me about this situation, that in an argument between coaches trying to obtain a competitive advantage and self-righteous opposing fans wanting to take a moral high ground we’re actually failing to really address what concerns this kid…
That’s why I don’t expect big changes at the SEC spring meetings when the subject is broached (if we’re to believe Chris Low). The SEC doesn’t do nuance well – just ask Rogers Redding – and I don’t see some sort of global change to signing being brought up without fierce resistance from a number of schools. A lot of people on both sides of the debate care more about the competitive aspect of oversigning than they do its impact on recruits. That makes progress hard, in my humble opinion.
If you think this is easier than I do, let me pose a hypothetical. Suppose Mike Slive surprises me and pitches a sensible framework for one troublesome area, grayshirting. Let’s say that what he comes up with requires a clear, standard disclosure of what the recruit is being offered, a disclosure which the athlete and his parents must acknowledge they fully understand before signing and a requirement that the school must hold a roster slot in the next class for any recruit who signs the acknowledgement (unless the kid later changes his mind and signs elsewhere, of course). Implicit in that deal is that the SEC will continue to support the practice of grayshirting.
Here’s your tradeoff: such a deal would certainly be better for recruits than what exists now, but it doesn’t address the competitive advantage issue which bothers so many critics of oversigning. In fact, it locks it in. Ask yourself how such an arrangement would suit you. Let me know in the comments.
And keep in mind as you ponder that, this is just one small area of the debate. As you saw, Joshua has a longer list, one that most of us could probably add to without too much effort.