Competitive advantage and hoisted petards

I’ve said all along that my dislike of oversigning arises from the mistreatment of recruits and student-athletes.  I’ve always believed the concern over competitive advantage to be a crock, basically, no matter what coaches might say.  (Anybody really think Ole Miss is going to be a powerhouse program this season?  Bueller?  Bueller?)

So you can imagine my reaction to John Pennington’s analysis of exactly that point.

… Let’s sum all this up, shall we?  Many Big Ten backers claim that oversigning is the work of the devil because it’s the only thing keeping the Big Ten from competing with the SEC.

However, when you look at the numbers, you find that the number of signees has very little to do with the number of wins a program rolls up.  Is there some advantage?  Sure.  SEC teams from 2002 through 2010 averaged 3.42 signees per victory.  Big Ten teams average 3.11 signees over the same period.  Hardly the night and day difference one would expect.

But while oversigning isn’t the magic bullet Big Ten fans would want you to believe, things like local talent base, tradition and spending serve as tried and true differentiators.

We at aren’t fans of oversigning.  As noted above, we would have no problem if every school went to a hard cap at 25.

But the argument that oversigning is the difference between the SEC and the Big Ten?  Well, that doesn’t hold water.  And as you can see above, that argument doesn’t even hold water when you make comparisons within the same conference.

In theory, signing more players than your neighbor should be a big advantage.  But in reality, it’s not.

In other words, there’s all kinds of competitive advantage out there in the world of college football, just not where the people screaming about oversigning believe them to be.  Surprise, surprise.

The punchline is where Pennington sourced his data.

Using the numbers provided by the site, we examine the 2002 through 2010 seasons in the SEC and Big Ten.  If the theory is, “The SEC is better than the Big Ten because they sign more players each year,” then the same must hold true when applied at a smaller level.  So, when looking at the SEC and Big Ten in those nine seasons, the teams that signed the most players should be the teams with the best records.  After all, if oversigning is the difference between Alabama and Northwestern, then it should also prove to be the difference between Florida and Mississippi State and between Ohio State and Purdue.

Read the whole post.


UPDATE:  Michael Elkon isn’t convinced by Pennington’s argument, but does make this point.

… The teams that have the greatest incentive to oversign are the middle class or lower class programs that struggle to recruit top players and therefore have to make up with quantity what they cannot acquire in quality.  Thus, we would expect that the most successful teams in the conference would not oversign because they don’t have to do so.

Assuming for the sake of argument that such programs are handling their oversigning protocols ethically, the question I’ve got is why we should care about this.  If Ole Miss makes its program more competitive against the rest of the conference and no student-athletes/recruits are harmed in the making of the film, so to speak, isn’t that a good thing?

I think Elkon concedes that when he writes,

Where Big Ten fans have a point is here: as between elite programs, oversigning is an advantage.  It’s one thing for Ohio State to play Arkansas, a team with a limited recruiting base and a medium recruiting profile.  Ohio State has numerous advantages over Arkansas, so all things being equal, Ohio State should expect to bring more talent to the table.  It’s another thing for Ohio State to play LSU or Alabama – teams with similar profiles and recruiting bases – and then to have to deal with the Tide and Tigers having the extra advantage of their coaches having signed more players and cut guys who did not pan out.  This has always been my point about oversigning: LSU and Alabama have no business engaging in the practice and they deserve the media criticism they get on the subject.

I don’t get why Les Miles oversigns either, but I don’t know how you can fashion a rule that says one thing’s okay for a middle-tier program and not for Nick Saban.  And if you enact a blanket prohibition against oversigning, will Saban and Miles run programs which are any less dominating over the likes of Nutt’s?  I doubt it.



Filed under Big Ten Football, Recruiting, SEC Football

25 responses to “Competitive advantage and hoisted petards

  1. One would be remiss to ignore the fact of where most of the NCAA/NFL talent is coming from (which would provide realistic perspective of the number disparity in signings).

    If you have a ton of legit DI starters coming from your southern states and really being predisposed to going to those southern environments. Lets face it, right or wrong, but the state of Iowa isn’t putting out anywhere near the amount of recruits that Georgia/Mississippi is (let alone Texas, Florida, Louisiana, and Alabama).


  2. Go Dawgs!

    The stats that are holding the Big Ten back from competing with the SEC aren’t about signee numbers or anything like that. It’s wind chill, number of days per year above 80 degrees, number of days above 20 degrees, both of which dovetail nicely into the most important number: number of days co-eds spend in sundresses, bathing suits, or working on being in shape for sundresses and bathing suits.


    • I would be lying if I said this did not factor into my decision to go to Georgia.

      (Then again, another factor was my parents promising to buy me a car if I went to UGA since they no longer had to use that money to pay my tuition thanks to HOPE . . . and free cars are an area in which Ohio State has already proven they can go toe-to-toe with anybody.)


  3. Hogbody Spradlin

    Even with population growth and demographics favoring SEC states, I have a hard time finding a reason why Ohio State and Michigan, and Notre Dame, cannot gather athletes equal to Alabama and Florida. More accurately, I cannot see why Ohio State, Michigan, and Notre Dame (and others) are in decline relative to Alabama, Florida, and others.

    We don’t grow young men any bigger or faster down here. With indoor practice facilities, they get just as many reps. Their coaches are experienced and seasoned like ours. Anybody know the competitive stats in other sports?

    Maybe it’s just a long term trend that will even out sometime. In any event it sure is odd.

    I don’t go as far as Blutarsky in saying the competitive advantage is nothing. Nick Saban telling kids they’re going to have an injury, so he can clear a scholarship, has to be some advantage. However, I think over signing is over rated, because (as Blutarsky says) why aren’t Ole Miss and South Carolina better?


    • Go Dawgs!

      I think it’s hard to argue that Ohio State was in decline before the scandal this offseason. They dominated the Big Ten and they did beat Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl. They’ve been a dominant force in their league, they just couldn’t beat an SEC team in the BCS Championship (or, really, at all in a bowl game until this year… thanks, ineligible players!). Now, they’ll certainly be in decline. But, it will be easy to see why.

      Michigan’s decline is easy to explain. They were being dominated in the Ohio State series (and then getting beaten because they couldn’t figure out the Appy State spread option), and their administration bowed to the pressure to sweep away Lloyd Carr and try to bring in the next “big thing”, the spread option and Rich Rod. Well, they didn’t have the right athletes to run that system. Rich Rod was a bad fit. There was scandal over his departure from WVU, and there was scandal over illegal practices at UM. By the time he started to get some pieces in place to run his system, it was basically too late.

      Now, Notre Dame? I have no idea how you run that into the ground, other than the fact that kids around the country don’t grow up having Notre Dame forced down their throats to nearly the same degree anymore. Hiring Bob Davie back in the day was the first nail in the coffin.


  4. Derek

    The competitive advantage that concerned me was between us and other sec teams who oversign. That there are other reasons that the big ten lags is beside the point. The idea that that coaches thought the risk of mistreatment was worth it by gaining diddly is silly. They did it because they thought it helped on the field. That like the big ten ole miss has problems that aren’t overcome via the practice doesnt speak to the advantage gained by bama by doing it. Whether the advantage is overwhelming is irrelevant. Marginal advantages through abuse of the process was worth addressing.


  5. Marmot

    I think you are looking at this all wrong. Ole Miss starts at a major disadvantage to Georgia, even if they had the same fan base with the same administration and the same coaches using the same budget. They are at a disadvantage because of their 10 best in state recruits, 6 of them are long shots to qualify. In a world with no oversigning Ole Miss has to either sign some of those marginal students and risk underenrolling year after year, or not take any risks and accept building a roster from a thinner talent pool, or rely heavily on out of state recruits, who if they are any good and have good grades are probably coveted by local powers.

    So for the Ole Miss’s of the world, oversigning is a means towards bringing in 25 capable athletes every year, just so they can be competitive with the Florida’s of the world with a full roster of capable athletes. Even then academic casualties are constantly gouging that roster of mature players, requiring them to be replaced by immature players, but that is better than replacing them with nobody. Oversigning is for these academically marginal environments an equalizer.

    The Big 10 seems to be made of Have’s and Have Not’s, and I wonder if that is perpetuated by not allowing schools that could really benefit from oversigning from doing so. In the SEC, there is only one team that is a sure win on anybodies schedule. That is a more meaningful measure of the benefits of oversigning.


  6. Dog in Fla

    “Location, Tradition Have A Lot More To Do With Winning Than Oversigning”

    Irvin thinks there may be another factor involved


    • Go Dawgs!

      Location, location, location. If you grew up in Michigan and love Michigan, you can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t want to be playing for and living in Michigan. But that’s where Michigan man has to take off the blue and maize colored glasses and seriously look at his town, his campus, his program, and his town’s weather. Will players who grew up in Michigan want to come? Absolutely. But what do you have that’s going to entice a player from the south or from California to come to your campus? Big stadium? Historic program? Pretty girls? Great college town? They’ve got all of that in the south, they’ve got all of that in California, they’ve got all of that in Texas. So why is a blue-chipper going to come to you when they can get everything they want closer to grandma, and in better weather?


      • Dog in Fla

        It’s weird. Recently there was a kid down here with many offers, including all the Florida schools, but he narrowed it down to Florida, Notre Dame when Charlie was there and Stanford. And then to Notre Dame and Stanford. He chose Notre Dame. The word I got on his decision-making process was that he thought the world of Charlie compared to Urban, who felt like he was doing him a favor by making an offer to come to UF, and the Stanford coach. Plus in his mind he felt that ND and Stanford were academically equivalent. He knew the weather and girls would be worse in South Bend and he was not Catholic, so go figure.


        • Go Dawgs!

          There was an Atlanta area kid a couple of years ago, a receiver who was flush with SEC offers (including Georgia, which was very hot on his heels) and he ended up going to Stanford because he wanted to take advantage of the academic opportunities there. Those cases happen, but there are exceptions to every rule. I’m sure the Florida kid who went to South Bend figured out that if he wanted girls, he could find them there. However, I think if you’re looking at the vast majority of kids in Texas, Georgia, Florida, California, it’s going to be a harder sell to get them to some of those schools. Once upon a time, Notre Dame had a kind of exposure that you couldn’t get at other schools. That’s no longer the case.


  7. Zdawg


    If over signing does not offer a competitive advantage, then why does Saban do it? Do you think he is just mistaken? Or that the over signing makes up for a gap in the educational system (because recruits are not qualifying ) like Ole Miss etc?


    • I think Saban does what he does because he believes it gives him an advantage.


      • Mayor of Dawgtown

        I assume you will admit that Saban is somewhat of an expert about college football, wouldn’t you. If Saban thinks it gives him an advantage, believe him. It gives him an advantage.


        • C’mon, Mayor, what are you telling me, that he’s infallible like the Pope?

          I’m sure he thought his 2004 game plan going into Athens gave him an advantage, too.

          People, even skilled ones like Saban, convince themselves of things that aren’t true all the time.

          FWIW, I think Saban came back from the NFL convinced the best way to manage a college roster was similar to the way he managed a pro roster. That doesn’t necessarily translate into a competitive advantage.


          • Mayor of Dawgtown

            He turned Bama around by oversigning. Don’t you think Spurrier knows a little about football, too? He’s oversigning now. When will you just admit the obvious? Saban, Spurrier and others oversign because it works. Please show me evidence that supports your theory that it doesn’t work instead of simply making a naked assertion.


            • He turned Bama around by oversigning.

              Unlike that naked assertion, I suppose.


              • Mayor of Dawgtown

                Ignore Saban’s oversigning it if you want to ignore it. That’s kinda like saying that the blood spurting from the bullet hole wasn’t caused by the gun being shot and the bullet going in.


              • Mayor of Dawgtown

                I have been pondering how to get to the bottom of whether or not Saban’s oversigning at Bama really turned the program around. It seems to me that the best way to determine that is to look at who was on the team and played for Bama when Saban first arrived and who was on the team and played in ’08 and ’09 when Bama met with substantial success. If the guys who were on the team and had playing time in ’07 were gone by ’09 by means other than graduation (or using up eligibility) and their spots on the team were taken by transfers in (like Cody) or new underclassmen, that would seem to indicate that Saban signed new players who were better and then ran off the older players that were inferior. That would be particularly true if those missing Bama players transferred to another school and played. Do we have a means to determine those things short of subpoena power?


  8. James Stephenson

    I would be more apt to believe over signing was an advantage if we schools were limited to 55 players like the NFL. But they are not, they get 30 more slots than the NFL. That is almost two more depth chart slots more than the NFL. How many schools play 80 players in a year? 70 players or even 60 players? And I mean meaningful minutes, not mop up duty, get the walk on in on the kick off as a thanks for working hard that week.


  9. Dude

    I think it just comes down to whether or not you’re willing to allocate a certain portion of your GIAs to “misses,” and if so, how many you’re willing to tolerate. The demand for athletic scholarships in the SEC by prospective student-athletes clearly exceeds the supply. That may be a cold way of looking at it, but it’s as much the residue of scholarship limits as anything else. I feel bad for the kid who can’t really compete on that level. I feel bad for the coaches torn between the pressure put on them to win and the pressure to see these kids through to graduation.

    More $$$ would eliminate that tension, but I guess that makes the idea not even worth discussing.


  10. Bad Marinara

    Oversigning is a competitive advantage for three reasons. 1. Hedge against injuries, transfers, arrests, non-qualifiers. 2. Small chance a three-star turns out to be a super-star (Mark Ingram-who was an oversign). 3. You can alway look good to undecided 5-stars (“I’ll take you no matter what!”). Because it’s a hedge, you don’t always see the benefits.
    As far as the SEC’s advantage, I think has a lot to do with all the stated reasons, but also momentum/hype. Kids will even go to Idaho or Starkville if they thought it gave them the best shot to win. But even the mighty Gator recruiting class took a hit from loss of momentum this last year.


  11. Mayor of Dawgtown

    What exactly is a petard and where can I get one?


  12. I think one place it offers a benefit is that if I am willing to oversign then I can throw out more early offers and still know I have room for the big guns I am truly wanting. If you don’t oversign you throw out your offers to the best of the best but that next tier of player you have to be a little more careful with and evaluate a little longer before offering. This causes that kid to think, hey school A offered me in January school B didn’t offer me until July. School A must want me more. May not be a huge advantage but in the world of recruiting even the slightest edge can make a difference.