As mentioned, Alabama only has roughly 8 scholarships Seniors on their roster (including 5th year guys), yet they landed their 19th verbal commitment today. Guess there will be 11 Juniors leaving early for the NFL because there is no way the rash of medical hardships could continue again this year, no team is that unlucky for that long.
Of course, we all know that Saban told Jones that his scholarship offer is conditional and could turn into a grayshirt offer based on who in front of him qualifies and who currently on the team suffers a career-ending injury, and we all know he made sure to tell the parents of Jones that his scholarship is just a one year deal that might not get renewed.
UPDATE: Make that 21 commitments given that there are 2 guys from 2010 that accepted a grayshirt from last year's class and will count towards 2011. Thanks for the correction Vesper. So there are 19 new commitments and 2 grayshirts, and only 8 scholarship seniors. Nick Saban is on pace to oversign worse than Huston Nutt did when he signed 37 and only had room for 22 - he was 15 over his budget, if Saban signs a full 28 he will be 15-20 over depending on how many juniors leave early for the NFL. Yep, the SEC really solved that oversigning problem when they set the limit to 28 per year!
One of the topics that comes up when talking about oversigning is the competitive edge that is gained by schools that abuse the signing process and accept more signed letters of intent on national signing day than they have room for under the 85 limit mandated by the NCAA. As we have mentioned a million times, they can do this because the NCAA, until just recently, did not limit the number of players that can be signed each year. They have since set the cap to 28 per year, but that is still an issue and nothing more than window dressing, but we'll get into that at another time.
Arthur Ray Jr. accepted a scholarship offer from Michigan State in 2007 and signed a letter of intent with the Spartan during his senior year in high school. The day before the MSU spring game that year, shortly after he arrived at Michigan State, Ray was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare type of bone cancer.
This kid has endured 14 hour surgeries, chemo, and had his tibia removed for 8 weeks and reinserted. And never once was his FOOTBALL SCHOLARSHIP in danger. Never once did ANYONE at Michigan State consider pushing this poor kid out of the football program and onto a medical scholarship so they can free up his spot and give it to someone better who can help them win more games, or heck just play in a game. Instead they all sucked it up and kept Arthur Ray a part of the team.
"This doctor, he didn't have too good of bedside manner," he said. "He was just like, 'You've got to start immediate chemotherapy. Throw football out the window. The most you'll do is run around with your grandkids.' I'm 17. I'm not trying to hear that at all. I'm not thinking about grandkids.
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- A large man appears at the entrance to the Skandalaris Football Center, braces himself with his crutches, swings open the door and hobbles inside.
The interview will be held on the second floor, and while the stairs are navigable, the football-shaped elevator is the safer option. When Arthur Ray Jr. reaches his destination, the lobby outside Michigan State's football offices, he lowers himself onto a couch and places his crutches to the side.
The crutches have accompanied Ray since July 2007, when he underwent surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from his right leg. Last week, doctors gave him the go-ahead to use only one crutch, but he hasn't fully supported himself for nearly 21 months.
He has enough hardware in his leg to fill a shelf at Ace or Home Depot. He has undergone four surgeries in addition to several other chemotherapy procedures. Amputation is still a word doctors use around Ray, who had a type of bone cancer that often results in patients losing a limb.
Bottom line: Ray doesn't look like a man who could play offensive line for Michigan State.
If Ray's leg continues to heal and can supply blood to the infected area to support his 6-foot-3, 307-pound frame, he can start increasing his activity. He returns to Chicago every six months for a series of tests -- MRI, X-ray, CT, bone scan -- and so far everything has been clean.
"Walking is the big step," Ray said. "Because before I can run, I've got to walk. Before I can sprint, I've got to run."
But skipping steps or rushing his rehab could have disastrous consequences. Infection remains a major risk, and Dietzel constantly stresses the importance of taking things slow.
"If you don't stay off of this and allow it to heal, the plates and the screws and the rod that's in your leg cannot support your weight by themselves," Dietzel tells Ray. "Bottom line is we are going to amputate your leg.
"My discussions with him are essentially, 'I want you to leave here in four or five years with a degree, being able to walk down the aisle and get your diploma and not going down with crutches or a wheelchair.' If he does play football, that's just gravy."
But football remains in the forefront of Ray's mind. He attended practices throughout the spring, wearing his No. 73 jersey on the sideline.
Regardless of what side of the fence you are on with regards to the debate over medical hardships, we strongly encourage you to read the entire story, it is truly unbelievable.
And the next time you read a Wall Street Journal article about Nick Saban's former players who felt they were pushed into medical hardship scholarships and asked to leave the team in order to free up scholarship space under the NCAA 85 limit, think about Arthur Ray Jr. and his missing tibia, chemo, and bone cancer, and how Michigan State didn't kick him to the curb and off the football team just so they could get a better player and have a better chance at winning games.
Also think about Arthur Ray Jr. the next time you hear Alabama placing a guy on a medical hardship scholarship when his knee won't function effectively.
“He hasn’t been out there at practice, so he is getting a medical,” Saban said. “He can not function effectively on his knee. Those things happen on occasion. He tried to go through the summer conditioning program and struggled. It’s always a mutual decision when we make that decision with a player, as to what he wants to do in the future.”
Bottom line, if you aren't at practice, Nick Saban has no need for you.
Medical Hardship Scholarships Under Nick Saban
The real issue here is that the medical hardship is a safety net of last resort and Nick Saban has made a mockery of the process by using it as a tool to trim his roster, but as those who would defend him would say, it's legal. Our advice to the guys currently on the roster - stay healthy - most likely 8-10 of you will have to go by next August.
We've touched on this briefly in the past, but now that we are into the swing of the football season and the final team rosters are in place for 2010, it's time to start really keeping an eye on Alabama and LSU for the upcoming recruiting season.
Both Alabama and LSU face the same problem with the 2011 recruiting class, which is they have very, very small senior classes currently on the roster. This is the net result of oversigning; basically the guys you see here are the ones who made it through 4 years or more of rosters cuts, being pushed into medical hardships or nudged towards transferring to a lesser school, and as you can tell the list is very short.
Typically, players with SQ next to their names are consider squad team players (walk-ons, non-letter men, and typically not on scholarship).
Alabama has a total of 14 seniors, with 8 non-SQ players; LSU has 15 total seniors, with 11 non-SQ players.
So in doing a little bit of math it appears that Alabama has 8 scholarship seniors and LSU has 11.
In looking at the latest Rivals recruiting lists for verbal commitments for Alabama and LSU, we see that Alabama is currently ranked #2 with 18 verbal commitments and LSU is ranked #3 with 17 verbal commitments.
Those that follow recruiting know that there is now way either of these schools are finished with their recruiting classes - not by a long shot. We know that LSU and Alabama will both have a few Juniors leave for the NFL early, but the gap between what they will have room for and what they are projected to sign is pretty damn big.
Should be interesting to watch Saban and Miles cut the dead weight this coming year and keep the football factories running.
Those of you who are really passionate about the topic of oversigning and interested in hearing more about the Wall Street Journal article Alabama's Unhappy Castoffs should find Paul Finebaum's (a sports talk show host on Sirius Satellite Radio) interview with the author of the article, Darren Everson, interesting.
The Darren Everson interview comes around the 20 minute mark in the link below.
One thing that we found interesting was that it was Phil Steele's list of "players lost for the year" that triggered Everson to do a little more investigative work on the specific topic of medical hardships. Everson states in the interview that Alabama's numbers, and a couple of other teams, really stood out; Alabama having 3 medical hardships in one year and roughly 12 since Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa stood out to him and prompted him to take a closer look.
Obviously, Everson was well aware of the numbers crunch for Alabama over the last couple of recruiting seasons, and he mentions that he was interested to see if there was a connection between the medical hardships and the roster crunch.
Everson made a couple of phone calls to players and as it turns out some of the guys he interviewed, not all of them willing to go on record out of fear of possible backlash from what they have to say, said that they feel as though they were pushed in the direction of taking a medical hardship to free up a scholarship for a new recruit, AND that they thought that not only did it happen to them, but that they thought it was something the coaching staff did to other players as well. It's important to note that a few players did go public with their comments, but it would really be interesting to hear what those who wouldn't go public had to say - sure wish the NCAA could interview those players and find out their side of the story.
Part of the problem here is that the by-laws and the process for handling medical hardships are somewhat of a grey area, even the NCAA by-laws are a little vague.
220.127.116.11 Counter Who Becomes Injured or Ill. A counter who becomes injured or ill to the point that he or she apparently never again will be able to participate in intercollegiate athletics shall not be considered a counter beginning with the academic year following the incapacitating injury or illness.
18.104.22.168.1 Incapacitating Injury or Illness. If an incapacitating injury or illness occurs prior to a prospective student-athlete’s or a student-athlete’s participation in athletically related activities and
results in the student-athlete’s inability to compete ever again, the student-athlete shall not be counted within the institution’s maximum financial aid award limitations for the current, as well as later academic
One key word for us is the word PARTICIPATE. What do you define as participation? To us it could be defined as doing everything with the team except contact drills, scrimmages, or playing, which would leave individual drill work, film study, team meetings, etc. There are ways to participate in intercollegiate athletics without actually playing on the field on game days...walk-ons and scout team guys do it every week.
This is yet another example of the NCAA writing vague by-laws that speak to the spirit of the rules instead of the factual details that need to be monitored and regulated. No different than the by-laws for signing players. The NCAA is trying to give schools and players enough room to protect the student-athlete, but they leave enough room for crass coaches interested in winning above all else to exploit the loopholes and gain a competitive advantage, use youngsters like pieces of meat, and lower the overall ethical standards of the game.
There are a couple of solutions to this problem (abusing medical hardships and pushing kids to accept them in order to get an oversigned roster down to 85, which is clearly what Alabama, LSU, and UNC have done over the last 4 years).
1. The NCAA should hire a third-party medical team to provide a final exit examination so that some of these mysterious medical conditions can be investigated.
2. The NCAA should create an exit interview for players who transfer or who are asked to take a medical hardship scholarship. An exit interview, where players can speak freely about what they were told or asked of by the coaching staff would have revealed that there are players at Alabama that have been pushed into taking a medical hardship in order to free up room and avoid NCAA penalties for going over the 85 scholarship limit.
3. Make the medical hardship scholarships count towards the 85 limit and make guys continue to earn their financial aid. Unless a student-athlete is paralyzed from the waist down, there are plenty of things they can do to earn their scholarship and help the team.
4. Eliminate the motivation to use this loophole. If you eliminate oversigning then you can drastically cut down or eliminate all together situations where coaches are looking to push innocent players off the football team in order to make room for better players.
Common Arguments and More from the Paul Finebaum Radio Show:
1. This happens everywhere, what's the problem? No. This does not happen everywhere, according to Darren Everson there were 25 Medical Hardships in the SEC and 12 of them were Alabama's. But that's not the real issue, it's the combination of three things that makes it an issue, and those of you that want to argue against this to really pay attention here: A.) It's the higher than average number of medical hardships, B.) combined with a motive to issue those hardships (being oversigned and needed to cut players to get down to 85, and most importantly, C.) combined with the FACT that you have ALABAMA players ON RECORD stating that they think they were pushed into the medical hardship IN AN EFFORT TO WORK THE RECRUITING NUMBERS OUT and BRING IN BETTER PLAYERS.
If you take away those 3 factors then there is nothing wrong with the medical hardship, in fact, it is great and should be preserved.
2. This is just another example of northern media out to put down the SEC. No, it's not. This is a widely recognized issue that has been addressed by media outlets around the country. That is nothing more than a lame excuse.
The sports editor of the Tuscaloosa News, Cecil Hurt, tried to use that as an excuse or a reason as to why this is an issue, he even went so far as to say that this is all coming from the Big 10 in response to losing to the SEC all the time. Cecil Hurt is very well respected, but he is slightly off in his comments. If anyone has been affected by oversigning in terms of competitive advantage it has been the ACC who signs the fewest number of players of any BCS conference and has a miserable record against the SEC. His comments are at 32:20 in the link below.
3. This is all not true. Typical argument from a delusional fan that is willing to do whatever it takes to defend his team or coach. Finebaum actually had a guy call in and take this position with him, to which Finebaum responds with the following...go to the 3:45 mark in this link and listen to this argument.
4. This freaking article is a bunch of crap - you could write this article about any of the 119 teams. Another insane argument posed to Finebaum in the link above at the 21:00 minute mark.
5. This is not against the rules. Yes, medical hardships are not against the rules, but does anyone like the idea of a school abuse them to gain an advantage? Probably not.
Note: The site to the links for the audio is temporarily down; will probably be up again soon. Be sure to come back and check out the audio, it's well worth it if you enjoy discussing this topic.
Hannah Karp and Darren Everson at the Wall Street Journal have decided to probe the Alabama football program and the topic of medical hardship scholarships. The results are interesting.
At least 12 times since coach Nick Saban took over the program in 2007, Alabama has offered players a "medical" scholarship, according to public statements made by the team. These scholarships, which are allowed under NCAA rules, are intended to make sure scholarship athletes who are too injured to play don't lose their financial aid. A player who receives one of these scholarships is finished playing with that team.
Three Alabama players who've taken these exemptions say they believe the team uses the practice as a way to clear spots for better players by cutting players it no longer wants. These players said they believe Mr. Saban and his staff pressure some players to take these scholarships even though their injuries aren't serious enough to warrant keeping them off the field.
"I'm still kind of bitter," said former Alabama linebacker Chuck Kirschman, who took a medical scholarship last year. Mr. Kirschman said Mr. Saban encouraged him to accept the scholarship because of a back problem that he believes he could have played through. "It's a business," Mr. Kirschman said. "College football is all about politics. And this is a loophole in the system."
The article is pretty much in line with everything we have been saying here on this topic, except this time it's actual former Alabama players saying the things we have said instead.
In light of the admission from former Alabama players that they felt pressured to take the medical hardship scholarships to free up scholarships, are we really still supposed to believe that guys like Star Jackson transfer completely on their own free will and that there is no pressure whatsoever from the coaching staff to move guys out in order to make the 85 limit every year.
"Alabama isn't the only school that has given players medical scholarships. Including the Crimson Tide, the 12 members of the Southeastern Conference have given at least 25 of these scholarships to football players in the past three years. Ultimately, it's the school's decision whether a player is healthy enough to play football."
No one is forced against their will to take a medical hardship, some players said they were pressured, some said they were not pressured.
In some cases, the players who took these scholarships say they didn't feel pressured. Charles Hoke, a former Alabama offensive lineman who took a medical scholarship in 2008 because of a shoulder problem, said the choice was left entirely up to him and was based on the many conversations he had with the team's doctors and trainers over the course of his junior year.
Others who took these scholarships say they believe the school is violating the spirit of the rule. Mr. Kirschman, the linebacker, said he injured his back in April 2008 but continued practicing with the team through the spring of 2009. That May, he was approached by coaches and trainers and asked to take a medical scholarship.
"I wasn't playing significant minutes, but I was personally upset because I did anything coach asked, I was a team player, I had a 4.0 average," said Mr. Kirschman, who played in two career games, both in 2008, and is now working full time as a robot programmer at Mercedes.
But that doesn't mean all of the players were happy about it.
On the surface this looks like the perfect little loophole to get around oversigning. These kids are given a scholarship to continue their education, so the coaches can sell them on that, plus the coaches can work the "it's for the good of the team and your school, which you'll still be able to attend" angle, which is much more appealing than, "hit the bricks we don't need you and we need to make room for better players."
Couldn't this be looked at as giving players money to go away instead of giving them money to come? "Hey, we'll give you $20-30K in the form of paid education and perks such as game tickets if you'll just leave your football scholarship so we can give it to someone else, and by the way, you'll need to sign this medical waiver so the NCAA doesn't slap us with rules violations and probation."
Mr. Kirschman said the school offered in the summer of 2009 to pay for his graduate degree in business—an offer he accepted—and that he still gets some of the same perks as players. "I still get game tickets, which is nice," he says.
Mr. Kirschman said the decision to take the medical scholarship was ultimately his, and that he decided to do it to open up a scholarship for the good of the team. But he said he felt he was pressured. "It was pushed," he said. "It was instigated for several players."
In today's day and age, it's becoming increasingly harder to give players money and gifts on the front-end to entice them to come to a school without someone noticing, so why not give it on the back end to make room for better players. That is what this is all about. You don't build the kind of teams LSU, Alabama, and UNC have, as quickly as they have, without making as much room as possible for new, better players.
Just like the oversigning abuse, this is an issue that is being exploited by certain schools and it needs to end. You would think the schools that abuse these loopholes would take more pride in just competing straight-up without having to bend every rule in the book or exploit every loophole, but that is obviously not the case some places. What good is winning a National Championship if you oversigned 40+ guys in a 4 year period and ran off a bunch of kids in the process? And shame on the conference commissioners, athletic directors, and university presidents that allow their coaches to do this kind of stuff to innocent kids.
Jim Tressel announced today that three walk-on players will be awarded with scholarships: Ricky Crawford, Chris Malone, and Scott Sika.
Sika has already graduated and will get an entire year of his graduate degree paid for by Ohio State. Crawford and Malone are set to graduate this year. Odds are that none of these guys see significant playing time, this is simply a reward for their dedication, hard-work, and character, and is the net result of Jim Tressel's recruiting philosophy, which is based on signing the number of kids you have room for on National Signing day and then awarding scholarships to walk-on players based on the shortfall between the number of guys signed and the 85 limit. We outlined this method of roster management a while back--the contrast to this style is to signed 26-28 recruits instead of 17 and instead of adding walk-on players to the scholarship roster you cut lesser performing or injured scholarship players to get down to 85.
In contrast, this is the polar opposite of the recruiting styles of coaches such as Nick Saban and Les Miles, who purposely sign at least 8-10 more players than they have room for and then get rid of whoever they have to get rid of via medical hardships, transfers to lesser schools, or just flat pulling a scholarship, like Les Miles did to Elliott Porter this year, in order to get down to 85 players by the NCAA deadline in August.
Tressel has had this philosophy since the beginning of his time at Ohio State and has never once oversigned a class and has awarded over 40 walk-on players with scholarships in his time at Ohio State. You have to admit that it is pretty remarkable how he has been able to keep Ohio State in the National Championship picture despite working against such a disadvantage in terms of the numbers. When you look at the numbers you see that Ohio State and Texas were very evenly matched in terms of numbers and the performance on the field against each other. USC is a little different story given that they are currently on probation because of recruiting violations. That leaves Florida, LSU, and Alabama, teams that have run through players at alarming rates, but who have also enjoyed a tremendous amount of success.
National Championship Coaches 2002 - 2010
Tressel has some interesting comments regarding the scholarship awards given to the three walk-on players. The link below is about an 8 minute clip and his comments on this topic come around 2/3 of the way through. He mentions that it is one of the neat things he gets to do and wishes he had 10 scholarships to give out to walk-on players every year.
The NCAA felt that Jeremiah Masoli's application to transfer from Oregon, where he was kicked off of the team for violation of team rules, violated the "spirit" of the NCAA transfer rules and thus they denied his application and are preventing him from playing at Ole Miss.
The spirit of the rules, huh. Interesting.
So who over at the NCAA is in charge of determining violations of the spirit of the signing process? Just wondering because clearly someone over at the NCAA headquarters tasked with monitoring the spirit of the signing process has been asleep at the wheel while schools like LSU, Alabama, Ole Miss, Miami, UNC and others rape the spirit of the signing process by constantly signing way more players than they have room for when they sign them, which ultimately leads to a laundry list of transfers, medical hardships, and players flat out getting screwed.
This shouldn't be surprise anyone as this is just the latest indicator that the NCAA is an overgrown, bureaucratic organization that is not capable of regulating college athletics or delivering on their stated mission of maintaining competitive equality while ensuring that the academic experience of the student-athlete is paramount in the integration of athletic competition to the college environment.