The Wall Street Journal just released another article on oversigning written by Hannah Karp and Darren Everson in which Steve Spurrier, Bobby Petrino, and Huston Nutt all attempt to defend oversigning, calling it necessary and helpful.
Spurrier admits that it is a competitive advantage to the SEC and that it is hurting the Big 10 a lot to not partake in the practice of oversigning. The crazy thing about Spurrier is that he didn't really have to rely on oversigning while at Florida.
Spurrier said oversigning is "helpful" because so many of the players in the state come from underprivileged backgrounds and may not qualify academically. He said the Big Ten, which has curbed oversigning for decades, is making a mistake by doing so. "I think that really hurts them a lot," Spurrier said. "They end up giving scholarships to a lot of walk-ons."
Petrino openly admits that they target 3-4 recruits that they know for sure are not going to qualify academically so they can place them in the JUCO farm system.
Petrino, the Arkansas coach, said he tries to follow a formula. He signs 19 players he knows are "academically gonna make it without being a load on our academic support staff," six guys who may or may not qualify, and three to four players who have "absolutely no chance" of qualifying. (He signs the last group so that "they feel a commitment to us," and stashes them in junior college for a few years.)
Nutt claims that we can't have a perfect world of signing 22 players every year. Big 10 coaches must be living in a fantasy world because they average around 22 players per year and have done so for a long time.
Houston Nutt, Mississippi's coach, signed 31 players in 2008, 37 in 2009, 25 last year and 28 last month. He said oversigning is sometimes "necessary," mainly to plug holes. This year, he said, two cornerbacks—Jermaine Whitehead and Floyd Raven—defected at the last minute. "Now I'm sitting here without two corners. You just can't have this perfect world of, 'We're gonna sign 22 this year.'"
Meanwhile, the High School coach of one of the players South Carolina pulled the plug on at the last minute is crying foul play.
Montgomery's high school coach, Walter Banks, said, "I told them this was foul. I didn't have a clue until 18 hours before signing day, and if they say anything else, they're lying."
The number one thing that stands out in this article is that the majority of recruits either don't care or don't know about all the ins and outs of the recruiting numbers -- they all think they are going to play and that they won't be the one to get cut. Obviously the lure of NFL cash and whatever the recruiters are selling is just too much for kids to look past.
In interviews conducted in the weeks since last month's signing day, when top high-school seniors make their college commitments, dozens of signees headed to some of the nation's most chronically oversigned schools were either unconcerned, or unaware, that these schools may have to cut some players to balance their lopsided books.
Offensive tackle Jonah Austin of New Orleans, who signed at LSU, said he wasn't aware that LSU is about 11 players over budget—and that it's not something he's thought much about. Cornerback Senquez Golson of Pascagoula, Miss., who chose Mississippi over Florida State, said that at the risk of sounding "cocky" he's not worried about being "run off" by coaches. "I don't think I'll be one of those players," he said.
Based on these comments, the conference meeting in July to discuss the topic of oversigning will be very interesting and probably very heated. Clearly not everyone in the SEC is on the same page with this issue. The topic of oversigning is a fundamental element of the cultural identity of a conference and for the SEC members to be so divided on this is really unbelievable. This is where the Big 10 Conference is reaping the benefit of banning this practice back in 1954; the decision to remove oversigning back then created a cultural mindset in the Big 10 Conference that oversigning is not accepted and therefore it is simply not an issue today. The SEC was faced with this same opportunity back then when Georgia Tech demanded that the SEC step in and put a stop to oversigning, the SEC did not and Georgia Tech left. Are the rest of the chickens coming home to roost? It appears that way.
Hannah and Darren have really done a great job covering this topic, we encourage everyone to go read the rest of the article -- things are getting very interesting.
Nick Saban's abuse of the medical hardship scholarship, which has been documented by the WSJ in a piece called Alabama's Unhappy Castoffs, has caused a lot of controversy. The number of players placed on medical hardships in addition with comments such as these from a former player tends to raise a collective eye brow and point it in Nick Saban and Alabama's direction.
"It's a business," Mr. Kirschman said. "College football is all about politics. And this is a loophole in the system."
"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.
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."
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.
How can anyone read those comments and not think that there is something wrong with the current system for determining a medical disqualification? If a student-athlete is injured enough to warrant a disqualification why should there ever be the need to get them to agree to it? Furthermore, why should they be asked to take a medical hardship by coaches and trainers? Shouldn't a doctor be the one to make the final determination and disqualify the student-athlete? Instead, we have a WSJ report where a student-athlete says he felt pressured into the disqualification and that others who took these scholarships, but wouldn't go on record with their names, believed the school was violating the spirit of the rule. Forget that it's Alabama -- this could be any school in the country and it would still be a serious problem. This is a problem of college football becoming more and more like the NFL than it is about one particular school abusing the rules.
The NCAA by-laws state that the player must be unable to PARTICIPATE ever again; it says nothing about being able to compete at a certain performance level. How do you define participation? Guys that are walk-ons that never see the field participate, guys that are on a medical redshirt, which is different than a medical hardship in that medical redshirt players are only sitting out for a year and plan to return, are able to participate. So how was Mr. Kirschman, who was PRACTICING with the team unable to participate according to the NCAA by-laws below?
188.8.131.52 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.
184.108.40.206.1 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 years.
We believe he was able to participate but was pushed into a medical hardship in order to free up scholarship space, which in our opinion is unethical, skirts the NCAA by-laws for medical disqualification, and looks very much like something that would happen on an NFL team, not in college athletics.
In a recent article regarding how Nick Saban runs the Alabama football program, Greg McElroy is quoted as saying that the program is run like a professional organization. The type of professional organization that he is referring to is most certainly an NFL franchise.
"At Alabama we're all professionals except we're not being paid," McElroy said. "The fact remains we live in a professional organization. Coach (Nick) Saban runs a professional organization. He expects you to be punctual in the way you arrive in meetings. He expects you to come and not wear a hat to meetings. He expects your hair to be a certain length. There's rules and regulations within the organization that are run like a professional franchise."
In the NFL teams are limited to 53 players, but they are also allowed to utilize an injured reserve roster. In order to free up a spot on the 53 man roster, NFL teams are allowed to move injured players to the reserve roster and replace the player with someone from free-agency or from the draft. The player on IR is not allowed to practice or play with the team until the end of the season, at which time the coaching staff can reevaluate the roster and the health of the players on IR and make roster changes as needed. College football doesn't have free-agency (yet) and it is generally accepted that when a student-athlete commits to a school the intention is to be there for 4 years and get an education while playing football. In addition, there are transfer rules in place that require a student-athlete to sit out a year after transferring, so it is really difficult on a player to change schools in the middle of his career -- this is completely unlike the NFL.
What we think we are seeing with the abuse of the medical hardship scholarship and the large number of players that are being pushed into it is that some coaches who run their college football programs like a professional NFL team are using the medical hardship scholarship as an injured reserve loophole.
This raises a lot of questions. Let's take Alabama and Nick Saban's name off of this and just talk about the issue -- this is not a hit piece on Alabama or Nick Saban and this topic can be discussed without focusing in on the particulars of the Alabama case in the WSJ. Here are some general questions for discussion.
1. How do we reform the Medical Hardship Scholarship process and ensure that kids are not being pushed into taking one because a coach is oversigned and needs to make space in the roster?
2. If a student-athlete is given an inducement to take a medical hardship scholarship, such as season tickets in Mr. Kirschman's case, is it a violation of either the written NCAA by-laws or the spirit of the by-laws? You can't give a kid season tickets to commit to come to a school on a football scholarship, why should you be able to give him season tickets to leave, or any inducement for that matter?
3. How do you feel about coaches trying to make college football more like the NFL?
4. At what point does college football become so much like the NFL that players have to start being paid? It appears in some places they are already dealing with annual roster cuts, being placed on an IR list, and essentially drafted and placed in farm systems...all we need is a player's union, free agency, and to have the players quit going to classes and we'll have a mini NFL.
We ask these questions because we see the direction all of this is heading with the oversigning, roster cuts, medical hardships, pay-for-play, etc., and if you love college football like we do all of this is headed in the wrong direction.
Last year we saw Les Miles play Russian Roulette with his recruiting numbers in hopes that a certain number of incoming recruits wouldn't qualify because if they were to all qualify LSU wouldn't have room for everyone under the 85 limit. Everyone did qualify and consequentially student-athletes already on the roster had their scholarships yanked from them because it was the only option Les Miles and LSU had left to avoid going over the 85 limit.
It appears that South Carolina is in the same boat this year, but in an attempt to curb the amount of forced attrition they will need in the spring and summer, South Carolina decided to fax a letter to the high school of a couple of its recruits the day before signing day to let them know that they would not be receiving a letter of intent to sign.
But Mauldin didn’t end up signing with South Carolina as expected. He found out via a letter faxed to his school the day before national signing day that the Gamecocks would not have room for him in their Class of 2011. South Carolina signed 31 players on national signing day and added one more — Jadeveon Clowney, the nation’s No. 1 prospect — on Feb. 14th.
Mauldin wasn’t the only to be left at the altar by the Gamecocks. Linebacker Jordan Montgomery of Groveland, Fla., was also left hanging despite being committed since August.
“I kind of feel like I’ve been shoved away,” Mauldin told me recently. “Then again, on the other hand, I realize that I wasn’t academically eligible and I understand that was on my part. And I can’t really use the times I’ve been through as an excuse for that. It’s all right.”
Never mind that a number of South Carolina’s prospects also have not met entrance requirements.
We have said all along that oversigning has as much to do with keeping kids away from other schools as it does filling your own needs and building depth through forced attrition. These kids are being treated like pieces of meat and they are no match for the slick-talking, NFL dream-selling recruiters that are paid big money to secure the commitment of kids with the kind of family background as Mauldin -- go read the full story about his background, the poor kid has been through enough in his life, the last thing he needs is a bunch of slime ball recruiters telling him everything he wants to hear and then pulling the rug out from underneath him at the last minute. It's just a sad, sad story. Why did South Carolina wait until the day before signing day to tell these kids they would not be receiving a letter of intent to sign? If there were questions about academics, did they just arise at the last minute?
This is probably part of what Urban Meyer was talking about in his latest comments about the direction of ethics in recruiting. Let's hope the kid makes the grades and lands on his feet somewhere and really makes something of himself despite the huge disadvantages he has had in his life to this point.
In a piece in today’s JACKSON (MS) CLARION-LEDGER by Kyle Veazey, Houston Nutt drove any credibility he had left in how he recruits and subsequently treats players off a cliff.
In the article, SBS links to an article written in 2009 about former Arkansas recruit Dan Bailey.
Bailey, who's from Mustang, Okla., had passed up a full scholarship at Ohio to accept an offer from Arkansas. Head coach Houston Nutt and his special teams assistant, James Shibest - both of whom are now at Ole Miss - told Bailey he could walk on and receive an academic scholarship that would cover tuition. Bailey, who has relatives in Fayetteville, agreed to the deal.
But soon after losing the competition for the starting job in late August, Bailey was approached by Nutt and Shibest, who told the kicker he would have to pay his own way if he wanted to play football. As they explained at the time, they didn't realize that Bailey's partial academic grant would count toward the team's 85-scholarship limit.
"It wasn't anything intentional," Nutt said in an interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in September 2006. "I can promise you that. I wish things had been made clearer."
Nutt told Bailey he could earn a full ride by January if he performed well on the field. But Bailey's parents were outraged. A meeting with athletic director Frank Broyles didn't mollify them.
"We told them it wasn't our fault they didn't know the rules," said Bailey's mother, Ann. "That's your mistake and it's wrong what you're doing. You just don't do that to these kids."
According to SBS, referencing an article by the Clarion-Ledger, despite the 7 players leaving unexpectedly, Huston Nutt and Ole Miss are still 3 over their limit. Nutt encouraged the Clarion-Ledger to contact any of the 7 players who left early, only 1 could be reached and would not comment on record. Interesting to say the least.
In our Oversigning Cup standings, which we are still working on, we had Ole Miss at +14 based on having 85 scholarship players at the end of the season and not taking into account the 7 players that left early. In addition, we were tracking verbal commitments at the time and obviously those are not official numbers, as we also noted at the time -- the official numbers are the number of players that sign a NLI. Regardless, we were projecting Ole Miss at +14 and according to the Clarion-Ledger there are still 3 spots that need to be cleared as there is only room for 19 of the 22 remaining players that have signed a NLI; this is after the 7 departures. So it looks like they were over by 10, lost 7, and still have 3 to go. That would mean that our numbers were right provided Ole Miss finished the season with 81 players on scholarship, not 85, and their real number was 10 not 14. Note: we posted an asterisk next to the Ole Miss numbers because we were unclear about the SPES number; this helps clear that up.
To be honest, all of this would be so much easier if everyone handled their roster like Pat Fitzgerald at Northwester: "We are at 85 scholarships, we had 17 to give, and we are at 85 right now." Case closed, no BS. Why don't we demand this of every coach and why can't every coach deliver - 17 openings, 17 additions, end of story?
The topic of oversigning is somewhat complicated, the numbers are hard to track, especially when a school redacts them from public documents, the terms used in the recruit game are hard to understand (greyshirt, redshirt, count forward, count back, medical hardships, medical redshirts, etc), and the NCAA bylaws combined with the NLI process can make the whole world of recruiting hard to truly understand. Most fans simply follow rivals.com and the other recruiting sites to see where their team is ranked and give very little thought to how rosters are managed and whether or not coaches are abusing the oversigning loophole or any other loophole.
This site has been the epicenter of the oversigning debate since it was launched roughly a year ago. Since being discovered by Stewart Mandel in May of 2010, its popularity and traffic has grown to the tune of 200,000+ unique readers and 6.6 million page visits.
This is why I love the Internet. I must confess, I was not aware of oversigning.com until receiving this e-mail. (I've since seen it referenced numerous places.) Hats off to the authors. They've done a tremendous job of shedding light on a largely under-covered topic through meticulous research and easy-to-digest data. They seem most concerned with the overlooked human consequence of this practice: coaches quietly cutting loose underperforming or injury-riddled veterans to make room for a new crop of recruits. Currently, the site is closely monitoring Alabama, which, as of the most recent post, still had 91 scholarship players on its projected 2010 roster, in its "March to 85."
Needless to say the topic is viral, as it should be. It's a topic that is years and years overdue for the spotlight.
For those of you who are new to oversigning, there is plenty of material on the topic readily available all over the Internet.
In the past year of following and writing about this topic, we have found that there are two main components to the oversigning debate: competitive advantage and ethics.
Where most people get lost in this argument is in that they think that the team that oversigns the most is automatically the better team. Often times people will say, Huston Nutt is the most notorious oversigner in the country - he signed 37 in one class, if it was such and advantage why doesn't he win the National Championship every year? Well, it's not that simple. You have to look at when the attrition takes place in order to determine if a coach is upgrading his roster by signing more guys than he has room for, having those guys qualify and enroll, and then having upperclassmen or guys already on the roster pushed out via transfers, medical hardships or simply not renewing their scholarship, OR, if a coach is signing a bunch of guys that won't qualify and have to go to JUCO which ultimately has no tangible bearing on the roster in the short term, a practice commonly known as signing and placing. Nick Saban and Les Miles would be the former, Huston Nutt would be the latter, and that is perhaps why we see a difference in the results on the field, not to mention Saban and Miles are simply better coaches, much better.
There is absolutely no question that oversigning creates a competitive advantage against schools that are prohibited from the practice or elect on their own, as does Georgia in the SEC, to not exploit the loophole.
Oversigning provides coaches with the opportunity to hedge their bets against attrition, gives them leverage in the recruiting process by not being as restricted in terms of the number of players they can pursue, and gives coaches a mulligan should they miss on a recruit. We wrote a post a while back comparing the numbers for National Championship Coaches.
National Championship Coaches 2002 - 2010
The first thing that jumps off the screen is that despite being out of college football for 2 years (2005 & 2006), Nick Saban still signed 193 recruits, which is second only to Les Miles his successor at LSU when Saban left in 2005. Saban also has the highest average recruits per year at 27.50. In 7 years, Nick Saban has never signed less than 25 recruits in a single year.
Let's compare that to the same set of years (2002-2004 & 2007-2010) for the coach with the lowest numbers, Jim Tressel. Tressel signed 142 players in the same years that Saban signed 193 recruits. That is a difference of 51 players over the same period of time, 7 years. That is mind boggling to say the least.
Note: we would add Gene Chizik to the table above, but he only has two recruiting classes as a head coach: 2010: 32 and 2011: 24.
Ken Gordon at The Columbus Dispatch asked former Head Coach of LSU, Gerry DiNardo, about the competitive advantage of oversigning:
"At LSU, I could do whatever I wanted," said DiNardo, now an analyst for the Big Ten Network. "The athletic director trusted me. If I signed 30, he knew I would be at 25 when I had to be. There was always a way to manage to numbers."
Then in 2002, when DiNardo was hired by Indiana, he was in for a shock. The Big Ten had the most restrictive rules against oversigning of all the major conferences.
The NCAA allows 85 scholarship players. DiNardo found that he could sign only the number of players that would bring him to 85. Not only that - he could offer only 20 scholarships.
What that meant was that if any of the 20 players he offered went elsewhere, he was short of 85 that season.
"The Big Ten puts itself at a competitive disadvantage," DiNardo said. "You would never be at 85. When I got to Indiana, the numbers were awful. We had 50-some players on scholarships. My only chance to catch up was to oversign."
Mike Farrell, national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com, said, "It's like in bowling, if your opponent gets three balls instead of two."
The analogies are endless, but the point remains, having the freedom to play fast and loose with the numbers when competing against schools that play conservative and tight with the numbers creates a competitive advantage. Jim Tressel, being the senator that he is, took the high road when questioned about it:
This doesn't bother Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, though. The way he looks at it, the majority of his games are against Big Ten schools working under the same rules.
"I don't think (oversigning) is a crisis-type thing," he said. "I don't see it happening in our league that much. Sometimes in a bowl game we compete against another conference, but I've never thought we had an unfair bowl matchup because of that."
But he did make it very clear where he stands on the issue:
Tressel said his staff tries to keep the lines of communication open, so he usually has a good idea who might transfer. But in general, Tressel is in philosophical lock-step with the Big Ten. Where others consider it a competitive disadvantage, he looks at it from the perspective of making sure he treats recruits fairly.
And that means ensuring he doesn't have to sweat out a summer like DiNardo did.
"We're probably conservative in more ways than just play-calling," Tressel said, referring to offering relatively few scholarships. "We've ended up under 85, because we don't want to overcommit.
"To me, the worst nightmare would be if you have got to tell someone, 'We can't fit you.' You're talking about a young kid's life."
The direction of the ethical side of the oversigning debate became pretty apparent to the general public when University of Florida President, Bernie Machen, called the actions of other SEC members morally "reprehensible," "disgusting," and "nefarious." Those are STRONG words from an SEC President aimed directly at other SEC member institutions who are notorious for oversiging.
When it comes to the ethics side of oversigning you have to look at several areas:
1. Honesty in recruiting.
2. The spirit of the NCAA rules vs. The Written Bylaws.
3. College football being "Big Business" instead of Tax-Exempt Institutions of Higher Learning.
With the increased attention on recruiting rankings, college football's second season has become more competitive than ever, especially in the SEC where the recruiting battles are just as hard fought and nasty as the actually games on the field. Greg Doyle recently wrote about this very topic.
Honesty in recruiting:
How honest are coaches being with recruits? Are they telling them upfront that they plan to oversign the roster and that there might not be space for them? Why are we seeing guys who commit and then on signing day are surprised with greyshirt offers, or even worse after signing day and after they have moved onto campus? Is it unethical for a coach not to prepare for roster management and ensure that there is never a need to push someone out? After all, most coaches make more than the smartest, most-credentialed professors on campus, surely they should be able to manage their roster in such a way that doesn't force them to push a greyshirt on an unsuspecting kid or push out an upperclassmen.
Recently, Nick Saban alluded to a possible ethics issue with recruiting in the SEC when he compared how coaches in the SEC react to a verbal commitment to how coaches in the Big 10 reacted to verbal commitments when he was in the Big 10. Paraphrasing, he said that in the SEC when a guy commits verbally he becomes a target for other schools, but during his time in the Big 10 when a guy commits verbally he was off limits unless the recruit approached another Big 10 school, in which case the coach that was approached would contact the coach the player was originally committed to and discuss the matter. If coaches in the SEC are not handling verbal commitments ethically, according to Saban, which he admitted he was just as guilty of because of the competitive nature of recruiting in the SEC, are they handling roster management ethically with regards to the oversigning?
Just today, Sports by Brooks published an article called: Player's Parents Outrage Illuminates Nutt's Deceit, in which he claims any credibility that Houston Nutt had left in recruiting has been driven off of a cliff.
The Spirit of NCAA Rules:
Obviously, there is a loophole in the recruiting bylaws with regards to the number of players that can be enrolled each year and the total number of players allowed on scholarship each year. 25 new players can enroll and no more than 85 can be on scholarship at one time; 25*4=100 plus any redshirt seniors obviously doesn't even come close to the 85 limit. However, the NCAA used those numbers to provide a little bit of cushion and probably had no idea that some coaches were going to use that cushion as a way to manage their roster like a professional football team. The Spirit of the NCAA bylaws for recruiting is that if you have 17 openings for new scholarship players then you should sign and enroll 17 new players, not 25 and push 8 guys out the door.
The NCAA bylaws are enormous and they grow every year. Much of that growth is in response to coaches abusing the spirit of the existing rules, such as the Huston Nutt "28 rule" because of his abuse of the signing process and the Nick Saban "bump rule" because of his abuse of bumping into recruits while visiting their coaches.
In the Big 10 Conference, there is not a problem with oversigning. Although schools are allowed to send out 3 extra NLI than they have room for under the 85 limit, most coaches avoid doing it at all costs. Why?? Because they like competing at a competitive disadvantage? Probably not. They probably avoid it because they all know oversigning is a dirty little trick that is played with numbers in order to gain an advantage and it comes with the price tag of messing with the lives of young people. The Big 10 Conference has embraced the spirit of the signing process by developing a culture devoid of oversigning. It didn't happen overnight--the rules on oversigning have been on the books in the Big 10 Conference since 1954.
College Football as Big Business:
Often times, supporters of oversigning will point to the 1 year renewable scholarship and infer that college football has become big business and schools need to manage their rosters like NFL teams. That argument falls on deaf ears because despite the growth of college football these are still institutions of higher learning, governed by an organization with a mission statement that states athletics only exist to enrich the educational experience and that the educational experience is paramount, and they enjoy a tax-exempt status that the NFL does not enjoy. Somewhere along the line, there is a disconnect between the spirit of the NCAA's mission statement and what certain schools are doing in blatantly managing their rosters like an NFL team. How ethical is it for a coach or school to hide behind the tax-exempt status of an institution of higher learning while attempting to run a NFL style team with roster cuts and an injured reserved list; at least in the NFL guys on the IR have half a shot at making it back.
Recruiting is now valued as a second season for football coaches. After a difficult season, one of the best defenses a coach can mount is a class ranking among the top five or top 10. It creates a public perception that your program is on the rise.
The pursuit of recruiting rankings has led to over-signing—the more you sign, the more points you get. Over-signing is signing more players than the NCAA allows in a given year.
At the major college football level, NCAA rules allow you to enroll no more than 25 new scholarship players a year. The NCAA also limits the total number of scholarship players on your team to 85.
Those are hard caps and are non-negotiable. The limit is the limit--or is it?
There are three accounting tricks used to get around the limit. For years, one of the tricks was to have a player graduate early and start in January. You could essentially back-date that player to the previous class (unless you signed the limit the previous year).
The second trick is pushing a few players back to the following January, essentially moving that scholarship to the following year.
The third trick is to sign players who will not make the NCAA’s initial academic eligibility standards, and stash them in a junior college so that no one else can sign them. It is a game of keep-away. It also explains how one school was able to sign 37 players in 2009 (the highest number of signees in the last 10 years).
Recently, there has been some media discussion about the ethics (or lack thereof) in continually over-signing. Over the past 10 years, an average of nine of the top-20 rated Rivals teams over-signed. One particular team has signed 143 players the past five years (an average of nearly 29 per year) and 275 over the past 10 years.
Now, I am no math major, but I do believe even Enron’s accounting firm would have a hard time making those numbers fit the NCAA’s rules.
But even with all the evidence, the tough questions remain unasked. During one network’s signing-day coverage, they interviewed four coaches who had over-signed in a two-hour window. Not once did anyone interviewing the coaches ask for the math equation that makes 27 or 29 or even 31 fit into 25.
We have read a lot of articles on oversigning and listened to a lot of people talk about the topic over the last year. The vast majority of people writing or talking about this topic don't fully understand it and the complexities involved. Some are too emotionally charged to think clearly long enough to fully understand what oversigning is and who is guilty of abusing the practice. Others are in clear denial that it is an issue, such as the blog Bama Sports Report.
Nick Saban is everybody's favorite oversigning whipping boy. It's a role he's no doubt accustomed to - he's been the internet's number two villian (just behind Hitler) since he told reporters he wasn't leaving the Dolphins for Alabama. But here's the thing. There's really nothing to see here. No one has done anything wrong. Let's take a closer look at the rules and what Alabama has done.
Saban and Alabama have broken no rules. No one has even alleged that they have. The process is pretty clear. You put 85 (or fewer) student athletes on scholarship each year, and no more than 25 can be added in a year. You submit those lists to the NCAA and everyone goes on about their way.
Translated: no rules have been broken, there is nothing here to see, and you can put 85 on scholarship each year with no more than 25 being added each year. Wow. Really? Let's continue.
Last year, the SEC changed the rules to allow member institutions to only bring in 28 student athletes per class. This was mostly in response to the class of 33 Houston Nutt inked at Ole Miss a few years earlier. Big Ten fans are up in arms because the Big Ten only allows member institutions to sign the exact number that they have available.
Why does the Big Ten do this? Moral superiority? Past abuses? The warm fuzzy feeling of getting steamrolled in big bowls? I don't know. But the SEC (and many other conferences) have chosen not to follow their lead. That it disadvantages the Big Ten is a Big Ten problem.
Ugh. The Huston Nutt Rule was in response to his class of 37, not 33. The new SEC rule doesn't allow member institutions to bring 28 student-athletes per class, it limits SIGNING to 28 from February to May 31st. It in no way addresses the real issue of keeping schools from being faced with having to get rid of players because all of their new recruits that signed a LOI qualified and to enroll them all would put them over the 85 limit. The rule change was meaningless.
Big 10 fans are not the only ones "up in arms." The University of Florida President, Bernie Machen, was a little bent on the topic, calling it and greyshirting morally reprehensible, Mark Richt has spoken out on the topic, and there is a Twitter account called Oversigning that is operated by a Georgia Bulldog fan who is absolutely furious about oversigning and has been relentless in pestering the national media. And as a result, the entire national media has picked up on the topic and the court of public opinion has ruled that oversigning is a slime-ball tactic that needs to go. The issue of oversigning is not a Big 10 problem it is a SEC problem, check that, it's a problem of schools that are abusing it, some SEC schools don't (Georgia, Florida, Vandy traditionally speaking) and some schools outside of the SEC do (Miami, Florida State, Troy) although not to the tune of the SEC schools that do, and even more of a problem for schools who are abusing it and then refusing to release their scholarship numbers to the general public.
Sadly, it's a fact that public schools in Alabama and Mississippi are occasionally lacking. See our national rankings in most test scores, etc. So, more frequently than in richer, more industrialized states, kids in the south fail to qualify. It's not a fact that those in the Big Ten don't know; it's frequently used as a convenient insult. But when it hurts their argument, it is ignored.
More industrialized states? Really? The bottom line on this BS is that there are plenty of kids that can qualify in the south; they might not run a 4.3 40 or have freakish talent, but with all of the population shifts there are plenty of good, quality kids that can get it done on the field and in the classroom. Coaches just need to get better at finding them and better at coaching them up. The reason we see so many guys not getting in is because coaches go after so many kids that they know won't qualify -- they do this for a couple of reasons: to keep competitors away from them and in hopes of signing and placing them in the JUCO farm system.
And here's the bottom line. Since Nick Saban arrived at Alabama, two student athletes have left the program without a "soft landing" - meaning fre school. Those two kids are Jimmy Johns and Jeremy Elder. They were both arrested for felonies.
Every other kid has received at least some sort of tacit nod to other programs. You can bet if Saban were poor-mouthing departures, less of them would be receiving free rides elsewhere. Either way, these are year to year scholarships. Something that isn't news to anyone. There's no obligation to renew the scholarship.
Soft landing. Really? Going from a 4-5 star recruit at one of the premier schools on track to get a quality degree from a great school to a spot on a FCS roster and degree from a lesser school is a soft landing, provided he even makes it that far...sounds more like a shattered dream. To be fair this isn't all on the oversigning coaches; bogus recruiting services that attempt to rank these kids are just as guilty of contributing to the rise and fall of some of these student-athletes.
It appears that The Drake Group and the National College Players Association disagree with the Bama Sports Report in the assertion that everyone knows that scholarships are 1 year renewable contracts. Both groups were in Hartford, Connecticut testifying at a legislative hearing.
Sack, who called the proposed bill the "Connecticut Student-Athletes' Right to Know Act," said he was attending the hearing as president-elect of The Drake Group. According to the organization's website, it has a national network of college faculty that lobbies for proposals that ensure a quality education for college athletes.
While NCAA rules state that athletic aid cannot be reduced or cancelled during the one-year period of the award because of athletic ability or injury, Sack said, "the rules are murky when it comes to conditions for the renewal and non-renewal of the scholarships in the subsequent year."
"Some universities renew scholarships for four years as long as athletes continue playing and adhere to team rules," said Sack. "Others cancel scholarships for poor athletic performance or for injury."
Sack, who called the proposed bill the "Connecticut Student-Athletes' Right to Know Act," said he was attending the hearing as president-elect of The Drake Group. According to the organization's website, it has a national network of college faculty that lobbies for proposals that ensure a quality education for college athletes.
Ramogi Huma, a former UCLA football player and president of the National College Players Association — a California nonprofit made up of more than 14,000 Division 1 student athletes — also testified at the hearing and went one step further. He said the majority of high school recruits decide which college to attend based on "false information given to them by athletic recruiters."
Most recruits and their parents have no idea, Huma said, that colleges can "leave them with sports-related medical expenses, take away their scholarship for any reason, leave them with tens of thousands of dollars in educational-related expenses, and hold their eligibility and scholarship opportunities hostage when they try to transfer schools."
And for the grand finale...
I was on the debate team in college. It paid my way. I was well aware that if I didn't do what I needed to do, there'd be no scholarship next year. Whether that was a certain amount of research or practice or keeping my grades up, I knew that there were expectations. I knew if I failed to meet those, I'd have to pay my own way. Why is a football scholarship any different?
My final thought is really this. Oversigning is legal. No matter the scenario, kids are getting free college tuition (barring felony arrests). Oversigning does, unequivocally, give a competitive advantage.
If it's legal, and no kids are harmed in the process, then the guy who's getting paid upwards of $4 million dollars a year to win football games ought to be doing it. If he's not, he's not doing everything he can - within the rules - to win football games. And that's not acceptable. That's the cold, hard, unfeeling truth here.
Debate team. Really? Regardless, the comparison of a football scholarship to an academic scholarship is completely laughable. Wonder if the coach of the debate team was being paid millions of dollars based on the performance of the writer of this article. Wonder if the debate coach faced the same level of pressure to win as Saban or Miles do? Wonder if the debate team coach was only allowed to give out X number of debate scholarships? What if a new debate coach comes in and he wants to clear the roster? If a debater wanted to go to another school to debate would he have to sit out a year? Wonder if the writer of the article signed of LOI that bound him to the school in a one-way agreement? And lastly, how many times does a debater put his life at risk debating so that the schools, coaches, and TV networks can make millions?
That last paragraph about sums it up: to not oversign is unacceptable in this guy's eyes. Pretty sad state of affairs. Saban has had 12 kids placed on medical hardship scholarship, a scholarship reserved for players that are so severely injured they can no longer play football. If Alabama were a tax-paying, private sector business, OSHA would be camped out at the corporate headquarters asking why their employees were being injured at such a higher rate than other similar businesses. Guess this guy would give them the finger too.
On the heels of national signing day, one of the hot topics right now is oversigning, and those in the Big Ten are screaming that the SEC has a huge advantage because many of the SEC teams oversign so many players. Where do you stand on the matter?
MS: It was two years ago that we took the initiative and put in an SEC rule that 28 was the most you could sign [in one class] and understanding that the rest of the country might not do that. The rest of the country followed suit and copied the SEC rule nationally and made it 28. Now, we’ve had a couple of years with the 28, and there are issues that relate to signing day. We’ve actually had an athletic director committee that’s been looking at all this for several months before all of the articles. We expect a recommendation from the committee that will come to our athletic directors this spring, and I fully expect legislation to be considered in Destin [at the SEC meetings] that will address some of the issues that have been raised.
First, it has widely been accepted that the SEC Sponsored NCAA 28 rule is an absolute joke and in no real away addressed the core issue of oversigning, which is ethics. Second, the 28 rule is a moot point in the Big 10 because they address the oversigning issue at its root, the 85 number. What good is limiting signing to 28 when a school legitimately only has room for 15 under the 85??? That limit of 28 is just for February to May 31st by the way. If a school has room for 15 and sign the 28, they can still go 13 over the 85 limit, which in essence is what causes the roster purging we see in the spring and summer as we close in on the August deadline for 85.
Why wouldn't the other conferences agree to the 28 rule? Very few of BCS conferences had a problem with schools going over 28 on regular basis to start with; that's not to say everyone was staying under 28 all the time, there were school here and there that would get to that level, but you could usually look back and see that they had a small class in the teens a year or two prior.
We'll call this what it was - a knee-jerk reaction and window dressing by the SEC office to try and save face after Houston Nutt made a mockery of the signing process by signing 37 kids and then laughing about it to the press on signing day. Let's hope the SEC athletic directors do the right thing in Destin and adopt the Big 10 recruiting rules which state that you have to establish your number before signing day and then you are allowed to issue exactly that many LOI with the option to petition for 3 extra, in which case you have to provide complete transparency in the numbers and document exactly how you come into compliance with the 85 rule. There is ABSOLUTELY no reason on earth for the SEC and the rest of the country to not adopt these rules. They have been in place since 1954 in the Big 10 and have worked well. Therefore, what in the world could there be to look at and study? There is a proven solution to this problem, all they have to do is adopt it.
Do you think we’ll essentially see the end to oversigning in the SEC with some of this new legislation, and will there be some real teeth in this new legislation?
MS: It’s a much more complex question than meets the eye. That’s not to say it isn’t one that needs to be addressed and resolved. Just like we did with the 28 limit, I’m pretty confident that we will take some initiative in Destin to try and deal with some of the issues that have been discussed. It’s complicated when you talk about the 25 you can get in in August and then counting some back and then counting some forward and then the issue of “grayshirting.” You also have more and more prospects enrolling for the spring instead of waiting for the fall. Our athletic directors are trying to take all of those pieces to the puzzle and see if there’s a way in which to address them that’s really fair to the student-athlete and fair to the institution.
No, it's not complicated. What is complicated is trying to track down and plug all of the loopholes that are being exploited by coaches trying to figure out a way to make room for more kids than they have room for under the 85 limit. The signing process for recruiting kids is as simple as Pat Fitzgerald said it was on signing day: "We have 85 kids on scholarship now, we had room for 17, now we have 85." What is making this complicated is all the tricky dickey exploitation of loopholes such as excessive medical hardships and the abuse of legitimate practices such as grayshirting.
Do you agree with Florida president Bernie Machen that “grayshirting” is a morally reprehensible practice?
MS: I think it’s a practice that on its face is one we’re going to address head-on. There’s a question that relates to notice and making sure that everybody knows exactly what’s going on. I think you will find that our ADs and our league will address the issue of “grayshirting.” Bernie has raised it. It’s definitely something that will be a part of whatever recommendations come from our athletic directors.
Let's hope the athletic directors don't address grayshirting the same way they addressed oversigning with their Houston Nutt Rule of 28.
Listen live to The Paul Finebaum Show - Andy Staples will be on to talk about oversigning today.
During his national signing day press conference, Nick Saban implied that no one outside of him knows Alabama's scholarship numbers. He also seemed rather irritated at all of the talk about "oversigning" while reading the notes he prepared regarding the controversial topic. Judging by the national response to his comments, his message fell on deaf ears.
We started writing this last night but this morning Kevin Scarbinsky put out the following article which dovetails nicely with what we have prepared.
According to Saban, those of us on the outside of the Alabama program can't criticize him for oversigning because we don't know the exact number of players he has on scholarship from year to year.Funny thing about that. Why don't we know? Alabama won't tell us, even though we ask every year.
Birmingham News colleague Jon Solomon requests a copy of the annual NCAA revenue and expense report from every Division I athletics department in the state. One of the categories on that report is number of student-athletes on scholarship in each varsity sport.
Every Division I public school in this state provides us a copy of those reports. Only Alabama blacks out the scholarship numbers for every sport.
We know from the latest form that Alabama reported spending $3,041,356 on football scholarships for the 2009-10 academic year. We don't know how many players Alabama reported having on scholarship that year.
The News has asked Alabama several times to explain why it withholds information we believe is a public record. The heart of the explanation, from university spokesperson Deborah Lane: "Federal privacy laws prevent the University from providing the media with personally identifiable information related to its students."
If there are federal privacy laws that prevent them from saying who is on scholarship, then why does Alabama have a fax machine cam that displays the names of the recruits signing a national letter of intent to accept a GIA for a football scholarship? Further, no one is asking for NAMES, they are simply asking for NUMBERS. This is severely weakening his position that everything is on the up and up. No one else is hiding their numbers, why is Alabama?
We tracked Alabama's scholarship numbers last year and shortly after National Signing Day last year we determined that Alabama was projected to be 10 recruits over the 85 cap and would need to shed 10 student-athletes in order to come into compliance before the August 1st deadline. To ensure the general public that we were not being biased and that we were not pulling numbers out of thin air, we provided a link to an Alabama sports blog that provided the most detailed roster break down available anywhere on the Internet - surely the guys that cover Alabama like a blanket 24/7/365 knew what was going on with the roster, right? Well, in light of the recent comments from Saban and Jon Solomon's request for the exact numbers...who knows.
There are people that follow college football all day and all night, they know every name on their team's roster, what high school they went to, who they are dating, their favorite color, what position they play, where they are on the depth chart, and so and so forth. With recruiting being such a hot topic, everyone wants to know how many openings they have for the up coming class. We're willing to concede that perhaps the general public is off by one or two, but in order for what Nick Saban is telling us to be true everyone, including the most dedicated Alabama fans that watch the roster numbers, has to be off by double digits. That's hard to believe unless there is a secret scholarship society at Alabama that no one knows about.
Over the next 6 months we followed Alabama's football program and tracked the attrition in an effort to see if they would lose exactly 10 student-athletes by the deadline. We dubbed this effort the March to 85. The following list is the attrition that took place on Alabama's roster after national signing day and before the August deadline.
2010 The March to 85 - Alabama
|Player||Position||Reason for leaving after NSD|
|Terry Grant||Running Back||Scholarship not renewed|
|Travis Sikes||Wide Receiver||Scholarship not renewed|
|Rod Woodson||Safety||Scholarship not renewed|
|Star Jackson||Quarterback||Transfer, Georgia State Div 1AA.|
|Deion Belue||Defensive Back||Academically Ineligible; headed to JUCO|
|Alfy Hill||Linebacker||Academically Ineligible; future unknown|
|Taylor Pharr||Offensive Lineman||Medical Hardship|
|Milton Talbert||Linebacker||Medical Hardship|
|Darius McKeller||Offensive Lineman||Medical Hardship|
|Ronnie Carswell||Wide Receiver||Greyshirt|
|Wilson Love||Defensive End||Greyshirt|
On the day before deadline, Saban announced that 1 student-athlete would be transferring and 2 new recruits would be accepting a greyshirt.
With that announcement, Alabama was magically at the 85 number, or so everyone thought, including all of the Alabama media that follow the numbers. Shortly after that announcement, the NCAA would rule that Alfy Hill would be academically ineligible (which was total BS on the NCAA's part with regards to how they handled that poor kid - he had already taken classes at Alabama but was ruled ineligible after the fact).
Read more on Alabama getting down to 85 on the last day here: http://oversigning.com/testing/index.php/2010/08/04/saban-gets-down-to-85-on-the-last-day/
The two players taking the grayshirts on the last day appeared to be indication that there wasn't room for them in the current class. In his press conference this year, Saban had this to say about grayshirting:
"We have never, ever grayshirted a guy here who when he decided to come here didn't know ... that he was going to be a grayshirt whenever he committed," Saban said.
Read that very carefully. If a recruit knows he is going to be a grayshirt when he commits, then why it is not announced on National Signing Day that he will be taking a grayshirt and enrolling in the following January? We are not doubting that Saban is telling guys that a grayshirt is possible, that much has been reported already, but his comments above in conjunction with the announcement of two players accepting a grayshirt on July 31st last year sure makes it look like he was oversigned and was waiting until the last minute to see how it was going to play out before using his ace in the hole, the grayshirt. Perhaps those grayshirts were not cast in stone on the front end, instead, perhaps they are a safety valve for the back end should everyone qualify or roster management dictate that someone has to go in order to stay under the 85 cap.
What we are seeing from some schools in the SEC is a mad scramble to wrangle in as many players as possible in order to try and keep them away from other schools, a recruiting tactic as old as the SEC itself, and the grayshirt process has turned into a safety valve for getting back down to 85 if necessary. This is what Bernie Machen was referring to as morally reprehensible and what Mark Richt was referring to when he said that schools are offering scholarships like candy.
"One of the hardest things for us to do is to evaluate and nail down who you’re going to go after, especially in our own state. A lot of the out of state teams will just come in and just offer like mad. They’ll come in and just offer like candy. Quite frankly I’m not going to name names of schools, but a lot of them will do that just to get in the fight and if the kid commits too soon and they’re not sure they want, they’ll just tell them that’s not a committable offer. Whatever the heck that means?"
Saban comments on this at the 4:15 mark in this video, where he says that recruiting is largely a numbers game and that if they want to get 30 guys they have to put 90 guys on the board. We're not going to comment on that because Tony Gerdeman has already said all there is to say about that kind of an approach.
Now back to the numbers.
Saban implied that this year's class of 21 (now 22) new recruits and 2 grayshirt players that carry over from last year was all they were allowed to take. Further implying that they are currently full and that the 24 new additions now bring them to the 85 limit. He went on to say that there might be wiggle room to get 1 more guy.
Saban said Alabama has signed the number of players that it could.
"We could add one or so to that, if the opportunity presents itself in the future," he said, presumably referring to defensive end Jadaveon Clowney, the nation's No. 1 prospect from Rock Hill, S.C. (South Pointe High School), and offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio of Hyattsville, Md. (DeMatha Catholic High School).
"We have some people who could not finish the season who will probably not be able to continue to play that can be replaced, and we have several (redshirted) players who can graduate and may not come back for the fifth year."
In breaking that down, he is saying that right now they are at 85 and the only way there would be room for future additions would be for future attrition. This means two things:
1. We shouldn't see any attrition this year to free up space and get down to 85, and if we do see attrition and no new recruits are added, Alabama will operate below the 85 limit by the number of players that "create their own situation for leaving."
2. If Alabama truly had room for 24 scholarship additions, where the hell did they come from? They had 14 seniors listed on their roster, 6 of which were listed as SQ for scout team. They had 3 Juniors leave for the NFL draft and they had 1 player announce he was going to transfer prior to signing day, BJ Scott. That is 12 scholarship players (8 seniors + 3 juniors to the NFL + 1 transfer). Saban said they were not at 85 total last year, so were they 12 under the 85? And if so, why the grayshirt announcements on the last day before the deadline.
The math just doesn't add up and it's not even close. Compare this to Northwestern's roster situation and look at the difference in how everything is handled.
Pat Fitzgerald: "We have 85 scholarships, we had 17 to give, and we’re at 85 right now."
Nick Saban: "It's none of your business. Aiight? And don't give me this stuff about the fans need to know, because they don't need to know."
The SEC and the NCAA need to create transparency in the numbers and how they are managed. As we have said all along, schools should have to report their number of openings immediately after the January 15th deadline for Juniors to declare for the draft and they should be restricted to those numbers - if there is not an opening then there shouldn't be a scholarship offer unless it is a grayshirt situation that is documented and cleared with the conference office. Schools should be limited in the number of LOI they can send out/accept in accordance with their openings under the 85 rule, not the 25 or 28 rule, and if there needs to be an exception for up to three extra, fine, but everyone wants transparency. Fans want it, parents and recruits need it, the coaches need it and there is no reason the numbers shouldn't be made available. In fact, the only reason to not make them available is because you have something to hide. The Big 10 has had this transparency since 1954, it's time for the SEC to do the same.
We are still working on the cup standings and we are working on a piece about Saban's comments regarding his numbers. We are having a hard time believing that with the addition of 24 new players (22 recruits that signed this year + 2 grayshirts from last year) that Alabama is exactly at 85 right now, which is what he implied by saying what they signed is what they had room for right now.
Saban said Alabama has signed the number of players that it could.
"We could add one or so to that, if the opportunity presents itself in the future," he said...
A cursory check of the roster shows 14 seniors, 6 of which were on the scout team, 3 juniors leaving for the NFL, and 1 transfer prior to signing day. That is a departure of 12 scholarship players. In order for Alabama to be full right now, they had to have been under the 85 cap by 12 last year. If they were under the cap of 85 by 12 then why did two players grayshirt on the last day before the deadline last year? It just doesn't add up. We're going to break it all down in a separate post.
In the meantime, here is a break down of the class signings for all BCS conferences. No surprises here. The conference with all those teams ranked in the top 15 in recruiting had the most players signed by a landslide. Again, where would all those teams rank if they were restricted to only taking what they have room for like everyone else?
2011 Recruiting Numbers - Players Signed - Big 10, SEC, ACC, Pac12
|Illinois||27||South Carolina||30||Florida St||29||USC||29|
|Ohio State||23||Tennessee||27||Virginia||26||Oregon St.||24|
2011 Recruiting Numbers - Players Signed - B12 & Big East
|Big 12||Signed||Big East||Signed|
|Kansas State||25||West Virginia||22|
Stop what you are doing and read this piece by Tony Gerdeman on Saban and Oversigning. Solid work from someone who really gets it on this topic.
Also, Stewart Mandel doesn't believe a word Nick Saban said at his signing day press conference; no one does.
Nick Saban had every opportunity to put this to bed on Signing Day. All he had to do was come clean on his numbers - instead he tried to keep them a secret.
Just some quick numbers while we work on the cup standings and getting caught up on all the activity this week.
The SEC signed 47 more players than the Big 10 this year. With the average Big 10 class sitting at 20 recruits, that is enough extra recruits for 2.35 Big 10 schools; in other words, the 291 recruits the SEC signed would be enough to supply roughly 14.5 Big 10 schools with the conference average class size. With each school averaging 4 more players, if you extend that for 4 years, each SEC school would have signed on average 16 more players over a four year period, which is just slightly less than the average recruiting class size in the Big 10. So basically, the SEC is working their way through 5 recruiting classes in 4 years. Guys don't pan out, some don't qualify, some run into the Nick Saban medical hardship machine, and others decide that Georgia State is where they always dreamed of playing. It would be one thing if this was an anomaly, but the historical data shows that this has been the case for some time.
2011 Recruiting Numbers - Players Signed - Big 10 & SEC
Coaches around the country were asked about their recruiting classes and their numbers. Here is what a couple had to say about their numbers:
Things are hectic right now around here...hope to have the cup standings updated soon as well as a collection of comments from coaches around the country. We hear Mark Ritch had some interesting things to say.