Jeff Long, a titan of the profession, has a vision. Well, more like a sincere beg of his peers:
Kansas athletic director Jeff Long, a relative newcomer to the Big 12, stood before his fellow athletic directors last week in Scottsdale, Ariz., and asked them to consider a proposal that would help Long’s football team and none of theirs. The question now is whether any of those other ADs will realize that one or several of their teams might need what Long suggests someday.
Long knew he’d get a chilly reception, but he made the ask anyway. His football program has been gutted. The first mistake was hiring Charlie Weis, who put Kansas in a deep scholarship hole by signing a bunch of junior college players who didn’t pan out. It was so bad that after the first spring practice under Weis’s successor David Beaty, the Jayhawks had only 28 scholarship players. Beaty initially tried to build the time-tested way—with high school recruits who would spend between three and five years in the program—but as the losses mounted, he felt the pressure to improve immediately and also began looking for quick fixes from the juco ranks. In Beaty’s final two recruiting classes, 24 of 46 signees came from junior colleges. Sheahon Zenger, the AD who hired Weis and Beaty, was fired last year. In came Long, who fired Beaty and hired Les Miles. The 67-year-old Miles seems excited about the job, but Long estimates it will be four years before the Jayhawks play with a roster anywhere the NCAA maximum of 85 scholarships.
So Long asked his fellow ADs to consider the idea of tweaking recruiting rules to allow a team in a scholarship hole to climb out and get competitive more quickly. How would this work?
… Long would like programs to have the ability to sign a rolling total of 50 initial counters over two years. He can live with a one-year cap of 35 or so, but he’d like the ability to replenish a roster that has been depleted not because of NCAA sanctions but because of mismanagement by people who don’t work at a place anymore.
… and a pony.
Really, this is too rich. Zenger committed AD malpractice of his own free will. Signing Charlie Weis was one of those monumental acts of stupidity that everyone outside of Kansas recognized would not end well. And it didn’t, to say the least.
Jeff Long’s suggestion is, rather than make his school go through the usual rebuild under the current rules — admittedly, a daunting task for Les Miles — simply to rewrite those rules to the benefit of his program. While it’s a suggestion that’s certainly in keeping with the man’s spectacularly overrated career, it’s also a good example of a short-term fix that’s bad policy.
First of all, by letting ADs off the hook for poor decision making (speaking of short-term fixes), a redo of the rules simply excuses and enables further bad decision making.
But that’s far from the worst of it. Here are a couple of concerns voiced by Long’s peers, per Staples:
The best programs (at schools without super-strict admissions policies) would horde recruits and then “process” the players who aren’t good enough. This is why the SEC changed its rules a decade ago and the NCAA adopted those changes nationwide. Houston Nutt signed 38 players one year at Ole Miss and said he would have signed more. Nick Saban brought in 56 players in the recruiting classes of 2008 and 2009. Some of those players—the ones who didn’t get processed—took part in three national title runs.
Newly hired coaches who want to run off the existing players will have an easier time cleansing the roster. The deterrent of having no scholarships available to replace the players who were run off would be gone.
Can you imagine what Saban could do with such a rule?
Of course, this is college football, so Andy’s advice to Long is obvious.
Long’s best bet is to push this as a player safety issue. A team playing with 50 recruited scholarship players will have to play players more snaps in practices and games. Those players will get hurt, forcing the remaining players to carry even more of the load. Players who should get redshirted will be thrust into games when they aren’t ready. This creates a vicious cycle that will keep a team down for years.
You can never go wrong doing it for the kids.
Long’s actual pitch to his fellow ADs was pretty cringeworthy in and of itself.
Long also made a practical argument to his Big 12 brethren. If Kansas continues to be a laughingstock, it doesn’t help the Big 12’s best teams when they’re being considered by the College Football Playoff selection committee. Long, a former chair of the selection committee, knows how the committee considers a win against Kansas. It’s not that different from a win against a Conference USA or MAC school. That’s not ideal for anyone. Long knows that some relief isn’t going to turn Kansas into a juggernaut that beats Oklahoma every year. But he’d like to have a competitive team, and he believes a competitive Kansas would be good for the Big 12.
Sounds like Jerry McGuire’s “help me to help you” line. By the way, it doesn’t seem like Kansas’ ineptitude has done much to hurt Oklahoma’s chances to reach the college football playoffs the past couple of seasons. One handy thing about playing an in-conference cupcake every season is that it gives a school the freedom to schedule a more formidable non-conference opponent.
I hope they told Long to stuff it.