Andy Staples, writer for Sports Illustrated, wrote an excellent article on oversigning last year in the wake of Huston Nutt's 37 player class and subsequent thumbing of his nose at those who criticized the number of players he signed, given that he had 64 scholarship players set to return to Ole Miss and there was no way he would have room for all 37 players.
Let's take a closer look at Andy's article.
First, regarding Nutt's position on his class of 37:
"I checked with [compliance director] David [Wells], and there's no rule that says that we can't sign 80," Nutt said at that Signing Day press conference. "All I know is we have to have 25 ready to go in August ready and eligible."
Is this the kind of coach with which you should entrust your child's signature on a letter of intent? Seriously. Fortunately, the SEC addressed the situation and placed a limit of 28 signed letters per class, but 28 * 4 != 85, so there is still room for improvement and further regulation.
As long as programs keep their total at 85 scholarships and don't bring in more than 25 a year, the NCAA has no quarrel -- for now. The NCAA's Football Issues Committee discussed oversigning and grayshirting at its January meeting. The committee, which comprises coaches, athletic directors and conference administrators, agreed to monitor oversigning, but Sun Belt Conference commissioner Wright Waters, the committee's chair, said until the committee can get some hard data, it can't determine if oversigning is an issue that requires legislation.
"We don't know yet, because we don't know the numbers," Waters said. "If you look at it purely in principle, you're uncomfortable with it. But you've also got to ask if kids are being benefited by it. If they are, then you've got to find a way to not hurt those kids and at the same time make sure you maintain a level playing field."
As Waters noted, oversigning and grayshirting raise some ethical dilemmas. For instance, what happens when too many players have qualified academically and there is no scholarship available for a grayshirting player?
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How in the world do they not have numbers on this stuff? Hopefully by now someone on that committee has been forwarded a link to this site. Just to make sure we are going to see if we can track these people down and send them something to help with their research.
What blows our mind is that how do these people not have a grip on this already? Oversigning is an issue that dates back to the 1960's when Georgia Tech coach Bobby Dodd withdrew GT from the SEC in part because of the oversigning and spring tryout camps for scholarships.
At least they are talking about it now.
Another relatively unexplored issue is grayshirting's effect on the National Letter of Intent, the contract between player and school that guarantees a scholarship. The Frequently Asked Questions section of the NCAA's NLI Web site warns athletes to "be aware of the informal nature of this commitment." Meanwhile, Section 6-A-2 of the NLI suggests schools cannot hold athletes to their letters of intent if oversigning forces them to grayshirt. "This NLI shall be rendered null and void if I am eligible for admission, but the institution named in this document defers admission to a subsequent term," the section states. "However, this NLI remains binding if I defer my admission."
So basically, if we read this right, the school can render the letter of intent null and void if it defers admission to the student-athlete, but if the student-athlete defers his admission the school holding the letter of intent can keep the student-athlete from signing another letter and enrolling somewhere else.
But the issues may not remain unexplored for long. "This is certainly not a practice that was contemplated when the NLI was designed," said Sankey, who is very familiar with NLI issues because the Collegiate Commissioners Association administered the program out of the SEC office until the NCAA's Eligibility Center took over in October 2007. Sankey said if grayshirting remains a popular option, the NCAA may eventually make rules to regulate it. "It does not seem that this is a practice that has gone away," Sankey said. "Over time, these things have a way of percolating onto agendas."
It's pretty easy to see that the NCAA needs to go back really take a long hard look at two areas of the signing process that they admittedly did not give much thought at the time the By Laws were written. This has been our point all along, that the NCAA needs to create a lot more transparency in the signing process and they need to regulate the exact number of players a school can sign, allow them to only sign players that will qualify academically, and enforce stiff penalties on coaches who insist on signing 10 more players than they have room for with full intentions of "making room" however necessary to get down to 85 before the August deadline.
Georgia coach Mark Richt refuses to oversign for two reasons. First, he wouldn't want to run out of scholarships for qualified players. Second, he would not want to run off current players who have eligibility remaining to keep the Bulldogs under the 85-scholarship limit. "We could always get into a situation where we oversign, but there's no way I could look at a kid and his parents and say, 'We had some room, but now we really don't.' I just think you have to be careful," Richt told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Signing Day. "I don't want to oversign, then tell one of the kids we've already got, 'You've got no value to us' and toss him aside. I'm not going to do that."
Major props to Mark Richt. There he is competing right in the heart of the conference that is the biggest abuser of oversigning, yet he stands strong in his conviction that he refuses to oversign his classes. Georgia fans you should be very proud to have a man like Mark Richt running your program.
Typically, coaches solve their numbers crunches without losing qualified players and without chasing away current players. Last offseason, the hot topic in SEC country was how Alabama's Saban would manage to squeeze in the players from his top-ranked, 32-man recruiting class. The questions led to a spirited back-and-forth between Saban and Birmingham News beat writer Ian Rapoport during an April 2008 press conference. "It'll all work out," Saban said. "I mean, the whole thing has a solution to every issue. You don't put yourself in a position where you don't know what's coming, then have to take it in the chops."
Reporters and rival fans watched in the ensuing months to see how Saban would make the numbers work. He did, with a mix of academic casualties, transfers for playing time and attrition. When the Crimson Tide began the 2008 season, 26 of the 32 signees were on the roster. Here is a detailed breakdown of how that class managed to fit.
Two players (receiver Chris Jackson and kicker Corey Smith), enrolled in January 2008. Because Alabama has two scholarships left in the class for the 2007-08 academic year, Jackson and Smith's scholarships counted back to that class. That brought the 2008-09 number to 30. Meanwhile, athlete Devonta Bolden, defensive end Brandon Lewis and receiver Kerry Murphy failed to qualify academically, bringing the number down to 27. Running back Jermaine Preyear, nursing a shoulder injury, accepted a grayshirt, bringing the number down to 26. During the summer, receivers Destin Hood and Melvin Ray signed professional baseball contracts, bringing the total of incoming freshman for the 2008-09 class to 24.
But that was only part of the equation. Alabama still needed to shed existing scholarships to stay under 85. During the offseason, the Tide lost defensive back Tremayne Coger (transferred to Jacksonville State), offensive lineman Patrick Crump (quit football), defensive end Jeremy Elder (arrested on a robbery charge), quarterback Nick Fanuzzi (transferred to Rice), receiver Tarence Farmer (transferred to Wyoming), linebacker Jimmy Johns (arrested on cocaine dealing charges), linebacker Zeke Knight (medical hardship) and cornerback Lionel Mitchell (medical hardship for back injury).
You see, we're not the only entity reporting on the Alabama situation or on oversigning in general. We're just the first and only website completely dedicated to covering oversigning and fighting to get it removed from college athletics.