It appears the battle lines are taking shape as the SEC meetings draw near. On one side we have the chronic oversigners clamouring to come up with excuses as to why oversigning should remain in tact, reasons such as “It’s a very difficult job to try to manage, to keep two, three deep at every position” (Houtson Nutt), or "oversigning is 'helpful' because so many of the players in the state come from underprivileged backgrounds and may not qualify academically" (Steve Spurrier), or "I don't see it as a bad thing unless you're being dishonest or waiting until the last minute, which eliminates their visit opportunities with other schools" (Bobby Petrino).
Nick Saban added his name to the list of coaches that will fight to keep oversigning alive and well in the SEC on Thursday.
"The innuendo out there is that all these things are being manipulated in a negative way," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "But nobody has ever really brought to the forefront the positives by doing it the right way. People hang onto all the situations that aren't done the right way and act like in every situation that somebody is getting screwed in some sort of way, and that's just not the case."
Shouldn't the situations like Elliott Porter, Chris Garrett, and Steven Wesley be the situations that everyone holds onto, not the positives? Did he even mention any positives other than the competitive advantage aspect? The stories of kids having their scholarship offers pulled the day before signing day by Spurrier and their High School coaches being irate about it, shouldn't that be what we hold on to?
If just one kid gets screwed by oversigning, isn't it enough to seriously crack down on the practice? Think about it in terms of the way the NCAA creates its rules. Often times, an NCAA rule is created not because the area in question is nefarious, such as the rules regarding selling personal memorabilia, but rather because of the potential for abuse. The rules regarding selling personal memorabilia are in place to prevent a booster from buying a jersey from a player for $100K, not because they don't want some kid selling his ring at a fraction of its value. Even if you believe that oversigning only harms a few and only when not done right, shouldn't it be addressed in the same way as the rules regarding selling memorabilia? What's more harmful, a kid getting a few extra bucks or some poor kid losing his scholarship at the last minute because a coach oversigned his class to bring in better talent so that he can keep making his millions of dollars?
Those positives that Saban refers to by the way are the competitive advantage that these coaches gain by exploiting this practice. Nearly every coach that oversigns has stated that it provides them with an advantage.
"In my opinion, it would really affect the quality in our league," Saban said. "You can't know the attrition from signing day until August, which guys who're going to be fifth-year seniors that decide they don't want to come back and play football. Well, you can't count those guys. You're going to have to tell those guys they're going to have to decide in January.
This is where the competitive advantage issue comes into play. By oversigning, coaches can bring in a few extra guys and work them through the spring while at the same time working the 5th year guys that have eligibility remaining, and then after spring training is over coaches can make a decision as to whether or not they want to renew a 5th year guy who may or may not have graduated yet, knowing all along they have an ace in the hole and will end up with the best 85. The coaches want their cake and eat it too.
Why is it that 5th year guys can't make a decision as to whether or not they want to come back in January, but Juniors leaving early for the NFL can? Are Juniors that much more prepared to make a life-altering decision than 5th year seniors?
Furthermore, if the question is whether or not they want to come back, isn't their participation in spring practice an indication that they would like to come back? Just recently Alabama had a 5th year RB Demetrius Goode participate in spring practice, indicating he hadn't given up on football, but then after spring practice decided he wanted to go to UNA instead. Perhaps he wanted playing time, fine. But can't that decision be made in January at the same time Juniors make decisions to go to the NFL?
On the other side of the battle line you have Florida and Georgia who have both been very outspoken about the abuses of oversigning and greyshirting. Mark Richt has been especially outspoken about the abuses taking place:
Georgia coach Mark Richt is in the opposite camp. He said that it was an "awful thing to do" to bring in players to participate in the summer strength program and then ask some to leave or wait until January to sign based on which ones performed the best.
He didn't stop there, either.
"These other coaches have been oversigning, trying to make sure they never come up short of that 85 number," Richt said earlier this month at a Georgia booster club speaking engagement in Greenville, S.C. "But in doing so, have they done it in an ethical way?
"I'd say the answer is probably not."
It has become extremely clear that the coaches that want to continue oversigning all want you to believe that there is nothing wrong with the practice as long as it is done the right way. Again, there is nothing wrong with selling your jersey for a few bucks, so long as you don't sell it to a booster for $100K, right?
At the end of the day it all comes back to the competitive advantage aspect of the argument and the pressure on these coaches to win. These coaches are under more pressure to win than anywhere else in the country, so of course they want you to believe their practice of oversigning is okay as long as it's done right, they can't afford to live without it based on the pressure to win.
Houston Nutt is already starting to feel the affects of the 28 rule, named in his honor, and he knows if further rules are passed that he could be in serious jeopardy of losing his multi-million dollar job, so of course he's fighting for the right to continue to exploit the spirit of the signing process and the loopholes inherent to the NCAA's 25/85 rule.
Quick Note Regarding the Medical Hardship Aspect of the new Legislation:
The new legislation that is on the table includes a proposal to address the issue of medical hardships and how those are being used to game the system and fudge the scholarship numbers. As the Wall Street Journal pointed out, Nick Saban's medical hardship numbers are way above the norm, and then when former players were asked about those medical hardships and whether or not they felt pressured to take them the players revealed that they were pressured and that they thought the medical hardship was loophole used to bring in better players.
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."
That is THREE former players coming out and saying they believed the team used the medical hardships to clear roster space for better players, one of which says he's still bitter about it calling it a business and a loophole.
Here is what Nick Saban had to say about it.
Saban is also quick to defend the charge that he pressures players into taking medical redshirts or dismisses players who aren't contributing on the field in order to open up more scholarship room each year.
"First of all, I've never gotten rid of a player who didn't create his own circumstances for why he had to leave the program, whether it was academic, whether it was behavior, whether it was drug-related, whatever," Saban said. "Really, I've always given guys more rope than they deserve, and I think the innuendo out there is that I'm just picking and choosing which guys to run off, and people bring it up that I've medical-ed more people. Well, yeah, I medical them so they can stay in school and graduate, where other people just get rid of them. I don't make those decisions, either. The doctors make them, and we have great doctors."
In one breath Saban says, "I medical them so they can stay in school," and in the next breath he says, "I don't make those decisions, either. The doctors make them, and we have great doctors." Which one is it? Who is making the final decision to issue the medical hardship? Hard to believe everything is on the up and up when you have 3 players claiming they were wrongly pressured to take those medical hardships to clear roster space and another player calling it a loophole.
The new proposal on the table includes a measure for medical hardship monitoring, but is it enough?
Giving the SEC league office more oversight concerning those players placed on medical scholarship. In other words, the league would be involved in reviewing outcomes. A team doctor, trainer and athletic director would need to sign off on each case.
The new legislation would require 3 people to sign off on the medical waiver, does anyone in their right mind believe that a trainer or an athletic director are going to go against the decision of a doctor? And if what we read above from Saban is true, it appears that he has great influence on whether or not a medical is issued to a player. The details are still unclear, but you have to believe the athletic director would only be signing off on whether or not to grant the medical hardship or to just not renew the player -- if coaches are allowed to continue oversigning and continue to be in a numbers crunch, is there an athletic director out there that is going to refuse to sign off on a medical hardship and have his school face NCAA violations for going over the 85 limit?
Unless there are more details regarding the medical hardship oversight, what we have on the table doesn't appear to be anything other than window dressing in reaction to the WSJ piece on Alabama's medical hardships.
We have a couple of suggestions: 1. many of these medical hardships are the result of a numbers crunch because of oversigning, eliminate the oversigning and you would see a drastic decline in the number of medical hardships issued by schools that oversign, 2. have the NCAA conduct an exit interview with the kids placed on medical hardship so that guys like the 3 Alabama players who told the WSJ that they thought they were being pushed out to make room for better players can tell the NCAA and have the NCAA conduct an investigation.