My First Post on Oversigning

Everybody in the college football world knows the magnitude of no. 1 ranked LSU taking on the no. 2 ranked Crimson Tide on Nov. 5th.  But not everyone can sit back and appreciate this game for what it is – the premier match up of the 2011 season – and instead choose to look for the supposed underbelly of the two teams involved.

One such blog is Eleven Warriors, a web site devoted to the comings and goings of Ohio State athletics.  Eleven Warriors contribution to the LSU-Alabama run-up?  It starts off like this:

The storyline that probably won’t make it anywhere near the national discussion is that Saban and Miles each play the recruiting game with a stacked deck: For every four players that almost every other program in the country admits to school, Alabama and LSU each take in five.

While it won’t happen, the discussion of oversigning should be one of the storylines for this particular game. LSU and Alabama should be ranked at or near the top of the polls, and every year – not just in 2011.

Both programs have top-tier head coaches and both schools – unlike the one in Columbus – are at or above the Southeastern Conference’s pay grade for proven assistant coaches and coordinators. Baton Rouge and Tuscaloosa are practically required to be on every elite high school recruit’s list of possibilities.

But what ensures that LSU and Alabama should be among the elite of the elite is that both have installed a system that gives them significantly less recruiting risk than most of their competitors in recruiting.

That’s right, Eleven Warriors thinks Bama and LSU are in their respective positions because they oversign.  They even provide a handy definition:

If you’re somehow unfamiliar with how oversigning works, here’s the one-sentence summary: Oversigning programs like Alabama and LSU purge their 85-man rosters of underperforming players by either citing medical hardship, issuing grayshirts, encouraging transfers, natural attrition or – when the summer is over and the season is about to start with still too many scholarship players on the roster – abruptly pulling enough scholarships to get down to 85.

There’s an entire web site devoted to shedding light on this practice, but it is angled more toward the ethics behind operating on the premise of a renewable one-year scholarship that can expire, rather than a four-year commitment to a kid who accepts a scholarship offer.

The latter group of collegians, which includes recruiting misses, occupies valuable spaces in the rosters of most football programs in the country.

They even provide useful examples of how this has occurred:

It only takes a couple of extra guys to make the leap to championship contention. Look at Cam Newton, who was booted from Florida for both academic fraud and property theft.

He ended up signing at Auburn as part of 32-man class. Those seven extra signees above the 25-man limit that is allowed to enroll were insurance policies for players – potentially, like Newton – that are likely to flake, flunk or get kicked out of school.

Newton was a gamble that paid off. Auburn, like Arkansas, Ole Miss and the SEC West as a whole sign more players to choose from when it comes to determining the two-deep.

Look at Duron Carter, Ohio State legacy who was kicked out of school for, among his other hallmarks of laziness and entitlement, flunking survey courses. Alabama could afford to give him a second chance last April, well after National Signing Day – in part because of the unnatural attrition that happens in Tuscaloosa every summer.

But, but, but then they tell us this:

As long as players are clearly informed up front that scholarships are a one-year deal and not a four-year commitment by the school, it shouldn’t be a matter of ethics. However, the Big Ten has eliminated that course of roster management entirely by placing a hard cap on the number of players that can be signed annually.

The SEC just pays the topic lip service, and that’s its prerogative: That conference is about winning national championships and being the best football conference in the country.

What this is folks, is a classic example of whining.

As was mentioned, college football rosters can turnover because of  “…medical hardship, issuing grayshirts, encouraging transfers, natural attrition…” or for a variety of other reasons.  And all of these are completely legal and ethical.

College scholarships are one-year commitments by the individual schools.  One year commitments.

As an Alabama fan, I expect the University to “purge their 85-man roster” of players that, for whatever reason, don’t conform to the program.  This is good for the program.  It motivates, encourages accountability, demands responsibility and enhances competition.

Most people have no idea what happens inside a college football program and it’s a mistake to assume that all coaches are lying to all recruits about the nature of their scholarship (i.e. it’s a one year deal) and their status within a program.  I default to assuming the opposite.  I assume that most coaches are up front and honest to recruits and players.  Why?  Because the competitive open market of recruiting is open and available to correcting the actions of unscrupulous coaches.  Alabama has consistently signed top five rated classes since Nick Saban has been on board.  If Saban is so egregious about this, wouldn’t word get out?  I know that Alabama is a special place to play football and go to school, but coming to play for Saban is a big part of the draw now.  If he’s lying to recruits, I don’t see how this cycle maintains itself.

Medical hardships are not, by default, unscrupulous.  In fact, they are actually a blessing to those kids who have been injured.  These kids get to keep their scholarship and continue their education.

Likewise, “greyshirts” are not necessarily unscrupulous and they are matter-of-fact legal.  If a coach lied to a kid about a greyshirt that would be unscrupulous, but it still wouldn’t be illegal.  Again, the assumption should not be the the coaches are automatically misleading kids.

Eleven Warriors also gave two examples: Cam Newton and Duron Carter.  Let’s deal with those one at a time.

First, yes, Newton was part of a 32 member class.  But guess what?  It wasn’t illegal (or immoral or unethical) for the Tigers to ink 32.  They still had the 25 scholarship per year rule, could only have 85 on scholarship at one time, etc. etc.  Does this give Auburn an unfair advantage over the likes of Ohio State because numbers 26-32 couldn’t sign with the Buckeyes?  Not necessarily.  Typically, Auburn has trouble enrolling all of their signees because they couldn’t get them enrolled.  Would a recruit that couldn’t get into Auburn make it into Ohio State?  Duh, no.  These type of sign-and-place recruits ink with their favorite team on signing day to bask in the glow for a day and then it’s off to junior college.   (See also: Nutt, Houston)

Critics will also point out that maybe Auburn shouldn’t have even been allowed to sign 25 because signing 25 would put them over the 85 limit for a bit.  That’s essentially the argument Eleven Warriors makes concerning Duron Carter.  But, again, those that make these arguments fail to grasp the concept of normal attrition in a program.

Eleven Warriors also goes so far as to offer a solution to the “problem” of oversigning:

Oversigning shouldn’t necessarily be eliminated outright, just altered for fairness to these athletes. Matchups like LSU and Alabama in two weeks are what we all want to see, and these teams have armed themselves to the teeth in part because of how they exploit recruiting loopholes.

Instead of banning oversigning, change the rules for recruiting to openly reflect the rest of the meat market mentality and operation that FBS college football has been for decades. That isn’t ever going to change, so the NCAA might as well embrace it.

Implement a National Cutdown Day the last week of January – prior to National Letter of Intent Day – to give the players who would normally be ushered out the back door, given bogus medical hardships or grayshirted over the summer the chance to transfer anywhere else that’s willing to take them.

Allow them to play for their new school that fall instead of sitting out for a year. Install the SEC’s 28-man signing day limit across the country. Level the playing field without screwing the players by sending them to directional Alabama schools at the last minute.

Ahhh, here we cut to the chase.  Oversigning shouldn’t be eliminated, just tweaked enough to make it palatable to the college football elite among us.  Let’s don’t ban this evil, immoral practice, let’s just embrace it.  That makes no sense to me.  If something is bad, it’s bad.

The reality is that the Big 10 and others have decided to have a different standard.  Just because their standard is different, it doesn’t mean it’s better or worse.  In this case, it just means it’s different.  Ohio State and others would be better served to recruit better and play better, rather than trying to place blame because others work harder.