Competitive Advantage and Ethics, Two Sides of Oversigning

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."


 Since that time, the topic of oversigning has been one of the more talked about topics in college football outside of conference realignment and the Cam Newton story.  As National Signing Day drew near, the oversigning drumbeat got louder and louder and the attention escalated to the point where coaches, athletic directors, conference commissioners, and university presidents were all weighing in on the topic.   The Paul Finebaum Show, a syndicated sports talk show based in Birmingham, Alabama and broadcast on Sirius and XM radio, talks about it almost daily, and in the last couple of weeks there have been days when the topic dominated the entire 4 hour show. 

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.

Competitive Advantage:

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

Coaches Conf. 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 Total Average
Saban (03/09) SEC 26 28 26 0 0 25 32 27 29 193 27.50
Miles (07) SEC 28 31 19 13 26 26 26 24 27 220 24.44
Meyer (06/08) SEC 22 19 25 18 27 27 22 17 27 204 22.66
Brown (05) BIG12 28 18 20 15 25 24 20 20 22 192 21.33
Carroll (04) PAC10 22 28 19 19 27 18 19 18 20 190 21.11
Tressel (02) BIG10 24 16 24 18 20 15 20 25 18 180 20.00

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.

Filed under: Big 10, Coaching, SEC 69 Comments

It’s Legal, but is it Ethical?

At the end of the day, that is the fundamental question when discussing oversigning. By virtue of the way the NCAA by-laws are written and the structure of the 85/25 scholarship rules, there is no question that coaches, by NCAA rules, are allowed to sign as many players as they want (in fact the NCAA places no limits on the number of players that can be signed), as long as only 25 new scholarship players are added each year and no more than 85 scholarship players are on the roster at one time. Those that have been following this site already know all of this, as we have talked about it and debated it many times here.

For those just reading this site for the first time, we have taken a look at the restrictions some conferences have added to the signing process to prevent the practice of oversigning and we have looked at some conferences that until just recently have had no such restrictions and that blatantly oversign. There is no question that there are two schools of thought on this topic and that fans are just as passionate about this topic as they are about recruiting rankings and the games played on the field.

We ran across a wonderfully written article on oversigning and whether or not it is ethical at www.athlonsports.com.  If you follow this site and this topic then this is a must read article, as it touches on all of the main talking points when it comes to oversigning, including comments from high school coaches upset that their players were victims of oversigning, something that detractors of this site claim doesn't exist.  We're not sure when the article was written, but based on the comments from the coaches in the article our best guess is that this was written somewhere around 2003.

Let's take a closer look at the article (warning, this is a long, but very informative read - you might want to get a cup of coffee or something before you dive into this):

Click the link to continue reading >>>  


Medical Hardship Scholarships

During our investigation into Alabama's attrition, codenamed "The March to 85," we have stumbled across two things that have really baffled the life out of us, medical hardship scholarships and the Bryant scholarship program.  But before we dive off into the Bryant scholarship topic, we want to recap the medical hardship scholarship process that moves an injured football player from his football scholarship onto a "medical hardship" scholarship so that he can finish his education on scholarship but not have it count against the limit of 85 players.  Plus we want to share the story of Zeke Knight.

To the best of our knowledge medical hardships are handled on a university by university basis, meaning that each school's medical team determines, on their own, which players are deemed medically eligible to play or not.   This is not something that is regulated by the NCAA, and to the best of our knowledge a player can not hire a doctor on his own or challenge a medical ruling by the school's doctors. 

Once the school's medical team deems you as medically ineligible that is pretty much it; it then becomes a decision by the head coach as to whether or not the player should be released from his football scholarship to free it up to be used on a new recruit or to allow the player to continue to contribute in whatever limited capacity for which he is medically cleared.  In some cases there is no question that the coach has absolutely no say in the decision.  However, as we pointed out earlier, Mike D'Andrea remained on football scholarship and continued to rehab and work with the team at Ohio State for 3 years after his initial injury - and although he never saw the field again, he graduated with his class and worked with the team in whatever capacity he was cleared to and given the nature of his injuries we can only imagine that at times he couldn't do much more than walk around on crutches and attend team meetings or film review sessions. 

Alabama's Zeke Knight on the other hand was placed on medical hardship scholarship and released from his football scholarship, but didn't believe that he should have been removed and filed a request to transfer to a smaller school in hopes of continuing to play out his career. 

"In a very heartfelt speech, Coach Saban thanked Zeke, but said he could no longer play at Alabama for medical reasons.

He said:

"Zeke is a fine young man and we appreciate all that he has done for this program.  Zeke did a great job for us as a starter and, more importantly, is on track to graduate in August. I would like nothing more than to have him with us for one more season on the football field... I wish him and his family nothing but the best. Zeke Knight will always be a part of the Crimson Tide family."

With that, he graduated from Alabama and wasn't sure where to turn with eligibility left. He needed to figure out what it was he had and how to take care of himself. He took some time off to get well and regain medical clearance. Knight said, “I felt like I might as well go back for one more year and eliminate all the questions about me being able to play.” Knight said he considered several options. After a year away from football, a host of skeptical cardiologists, neurologists and other doctors examined him. After hours of testing Zeke to see if he was able to play the sport he loved again, on July 30, 2009, they completely cleared Zeke to play football. His APO was resolved and the clinical neurological examination did not reveal any localizing cranial, motor, sensory or reflex deficits.

What to do? “It kind of dawned on me a little bit, like maybe I was meant to finish my last year in Tuscaloosa,” Knight said. After all, he now bled Crimson and had so many friends in Tuscaloosa.

His new Coach, said it best, “People had doubts that he could play anymore. It was a life-threatening situation for him. He made it through, and we got one more (year of eligibility by the NCAA)... I take my hat off to the young man.” After seeing him play, his coach bragged, "It helps us to get Ezekial Knight. He’s a real experienced linebacker that’s going to really bring something to the table for me... I’m very impressed with him. I can see why he played at the University of Alabama. That guy, to me, is a top-round draft choice. He’s an amazing football player... Zeke is a quiet leader. He doesn’t say very much on the field, but he’s always working to get better.” Stats were not well tracked at Stillman, but Zeke had around 8.5 sacks, second in the nation in Division II. He had around 42 tackles, 3 forced fumbles (2 returned by teammates for touchdowns), and 1 interception.

He finished well and now Zeke Knight is looking towards proving that, like Tedy Bruschi, he has the (healed) heart... and courage of a Knight. He is ready for the next level, with only his past as his present obstacle."


This is an emotional topic and an emotional story, no question.  There is also no question that anyone could argue that the University of Alabama was simply doing what they thought was best for Zeke Knight given his health condition, and after all, if something were to happen to Zeke, the University doctors could be liable for putting him at risk.  You could walk that argument into a court of law (or public opinion) and win every single time without breaking a sweat.

There is, however, another side to this story, one that is going to sound like we are trying to spin Zeke's story into a tale of blatant player abuse, one that probably makes it sound like Nick Saban has no heart and is a ruthless, cold-blooded killer.  We don't believe any of those things.  Nick Saban at his worst is only guilty of being a high-paid coach who is being paid millions of dollars to win football games, championships specifically, nothing more, nothing less.  It's up to each individual to determine whether or not they think that Saban will win at any cost or whether or not he discards players in an attempt to gain a competitive advantage.  We happen to think he does by the way, but that is just our opinion. 

The other side of Zeke Knight's story is that the year he was released from his football scholarship and placed on a medical hardship scholarship was also the same year that Nick Saban signed 32 new recruits to Alabama and was facing a tremendous numbers crunch in order to get his roster down to 85 players or face penalties from the NCAA.  Nick Saban and Alabama were also coming off of a dismal 7-6 season and it was imperative that Saban improve the team immediately to justify his salary, which at the time was one of the highest in college football.

Zeke Knight was not alone in the list of players that were removed from football scholarships in order to get the roster down to 85, several others were removed for various reasons as shown above.

In addition to Alabama being in a numbers crunch, it probably didn't help Knight's case any that Saban had signed 4 linebackers that year, 1 five star and 3 four star, and freshman linebacker Rolando McClain was bursting onto the scene as a future star.

Honestly, if not the for the oversigning and the mandatory roster cuts as a result of oversigning, we probably wouldn't scrutinize things like this so much, but when you have a coach and program that are habitual abusers of oversigning one can't help but find situations like Zeke Knight's extremely intriguing or suspicious.  Let's put it this way, if Saban took regular numbers and didn't need to cut players in order to get his roster down to 85 and avoid NCAA violations, and Zeke Knight was still released from his football scholarship, we would be much more inclined to think that Knight's departure had nothing to do with roster cuts.  In fact, we would probably be writing a piece on what a stand up guy Saban was for protecting Knight at the risk of roster shortfalls and depth problems at his position - we would be commending Saban for recruiting by the numbers in the spirit of maintaining a level playing field and not abusing loopholes, and for putting his own career at risk in order to do the right thing both by the game of college football and by Zeke Knight.  But that's not what happened, instead Saban over-stuffed his roster with scholarship commitments and had no choice but to pick 8-10 guys to cut from the team.  It is that simple.

Moving players to a medical scholarship, in legitimate cases, is a win win scenario, the player gets to continue his education for free and it lessens the likelihood of APR penalties for the school because as long as the player continues his education and graduates the school is in the clear; it also frees up the player's football scholarship so that it can be given to a new recruit.  Seems harmless.

We found several cases of legitimate medical hardship cases, but for some reason, medical hardship scholarships and oversigning seem to go hand in had at Alabama, and other schools such as North Carolina; whereas you just don't see or hear about it anywhere else around the country.  We did some digging on Ohio State's medical hardship cases and found about 4 or 5 over the last ten years; Saban has that many in 2 or 3. 

The only thing we know to do is to somehow get oversigning removed (for real) and then let's see if the medical hardships continue, and if they do then we know they were legit; the only downside, for guys like Saban, is that once you do away with oversigning, the medical hardships become holes in the roster that lead to depth problems.

Filed under: Coaching, SEC 6 Comments

Like Clockwork – The March Continues

As we predicted immediately after signing day and before spring practice, Saban is going to have to cut players, again, for the third year in a row, in order to get down to NCAA limit of 85.  If you are new here go read this, then read this, and lastly read this.

For those of you too lazy to read all that, just read this:  Alabama returned 66 scholarship players after last season, signed 29 new recruits to letters of intent, and now must shed 10 players between signing day and the first day of fall camp in order to stay under the mandated 85 scholarship limit.  Terry Grant and Travis Spikes have already left the team.

To help track the 10 bodies that need to go we have created a table for them.

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

The latest addition is Darius McKeller.  Here is Saban's comment on Darius:

"Our medical staff thought that he would be at severe risk of injuring it again if he continued to play."

Click the link to continue reading >>>

Filed under: Coaching, SEC Continue reading

Night and Day

It is our belief that when the NCAA set the scholarship restrictions to 25 new players per year and 85 total on the roster they knew that it would be almost impossible for every school/team/coach to sign the exact number of players needed every year so that everyone comes out at 85 total scholarship players in August.  This is probably why they allowed walk-on programs continue so that schools/teams/coaches could allow X number of players to walk on (pay their own way) to the football team and if they work hard enough or become good enough they can be awarded with a scholarship.  This is what the NCAA would consider the buffer between recruiting new players and not over-committing and maintaining a roster of 85 scholarship players.  That is the true spirit of college football recruiting as laid out by the NCAA.  

However, we believe that this is as far as the NCAA is willing to take it in terms of trying to come up with numbers and rules that can apply to every region of the country.  Let's call that the NCAA baseline.  Given the baseline, conference commissioners and university presidents are free to establish additional rules and criteria with regards to recruiting numbers that help further shape and mold the overall mission or goal of their conference or university.  For example, in addition to the 85/25 rule, the Big 10 conference has established that no more than 28 recruits total be signed in a single class (meaning 3 can count back to the previous year if the recruit enrolls early and their is room in the previous class and 25 count to the current class which meets the NCAA rule of no more than 25 per class).  They also require that the additional 3 scholarships/LOI's have to be petitioned for and proof must be given that there is room for the 3 additional players without pushing anyone out.  Other conferences do not have these additional rules.  Therefore we have two drastically different method of roster management in college football:

Oversigning to gain a competitive advantage or subsidize future known and unknown attrition


Undersigning to avoid unnecessary roster cuts and operate within the spirit of recruiting and retaining student athletes

It doesn't get any more cut and dry than these two diagrams.  They are, as the title says, Night and Day.  In the case of oversigning, the incoming pool of players are quit often more talented, uninjured, and have much more upside than the pool of players in the attrition bucket.  Whereas in the undersigning diagram, we have smaller pool of more talented players and instead of dumping the less talented, we add those who have proven that although they might not have the athletic ability to be a 4 year scholarship player, they have the willingness to be a team player and have contributed to the team in other ways worthy of a scholarship reward at the end of their career.   Quite often, what those players do in the classroom and in the community mean just as much to the coach as what they do on the field, thus the reward.

Rewarding a walk-on player doesn't always happen though.  Sometimes coaches will bank those extra scholarships if there is not a worthy candidate in the walk on pool of players and use them next year.  This results in a shortfall of scholarship players. 

When you look at the oversigning diagram, specifically the "attrition" bucket, you see a list of things that no university president, educator, parent, or player really wants to go through or be associated with.  Conversely, when you look at the "addition" bucket in the undersigning diagram you have a situation where everything is positive; a player being rewarded for hard work.  There is also no question that the oversigning model is the easiest and fastest pathway to stacking a roster full of 85 scholarship players, of the variety that were recruited and sought after by other schools.  

So the next time someone asks you to explain oversigning or to compare and contrast it to normal recruiting practices, send them a copy of these diagrams or a link to this site.  There needs to be more awareness of oversigning and a higher level of understanding with regards to how teams are built through oversigning. 

Filed under: Coaching, Rants 3 Comments

Someone Much Smarter than Us

This article is a couple years old, back before we really latched on to the topic of oversigning and started keeping up with it, but it speaks to the very heart and soul of this website.  Written by a very well-known blogger, Matt Hinton, who used to run the blog Sunday Morning Quarterback, the article is laser focused on Nick Saban's recruiting practices and abuse of the oversigning loophole.  Matt now writes for Rivals and can be found here.

We are linking this for a couple of reasons: A.) because Matt put together version 1.0 of the Saban Cup and probably didn't even realize it at the time (see below), B.) to show that we are not the only ones aware of this or who have blogged about it - there are others out there who have figured it out as well and are against it, and C.) because Matt cites a suggestion made by Brian Cook, another well-known blogger who runs MGoBlog and writes for the Sporting Blog, regarding what the NCAA should do to address the oversigning issue.

"Brian's laid out a sensible policy proposal on this front: players don't have the option to break their obligation to schools; make the obligation a two-way street. When a kid signs a letter of intent, the school should be bound to show where his scholarship is coming from under the limit. If it can't, at least within two or three positions, no letter. If they anticipate a veteran also-ran or likely medical liability on the team will be willing to give up his slot, make him sign a waiver saying so before that scholarship goes up for grabs.

Coaches can hide answers from reporters, but they have to be accountable to their own players, no matter who recruited them."

Brian's solution is a little more lenient than our solution, whereas we we suggested that coaches be required to report their recruiting budget by a certain date (prior to signing day) and that becomes the number of letters of intent they can sign (maybe  you throw in a petition policy where a coach could be granted x number of extra letters - maybe something like 1 per year - but it has to be absolutely clear that the extra guy signed was signed to cover the loss of another guy in the same recruiting class that didn't make it academically - a coach would not be able to get an extra letter if it meant having to take a scholarship from one of the players he claimed when he announced his budget number). 

Therefore, if Saban reports 66 players on scholarship by the deadline date then he gets 19 letters of intent to work with.  Gone are the days of signing and placing, gone are the days of oversigning and culling the rosters, and gone are the days of subsidizing academic and athletic attrition.  And don't tell us it can't be done because programs all over the country are already doing it, just look at the bottom half of our big board.  Furthermore, if you want to play the "academically impoverished" card we don't want to hear that either. 

Regardless of the solution, the problem is clear, oversigning is an issue that is yet to be completely dealt with and it needs to be addressed.

Filed under: Coaching, History 1 Comment

Saban’s March to 85 Continues, Grant and Sikes Leave Team

Quick recap: We addressed Alabama's recruiting numbers and the situation they are in this year (same as the last two years and the same as almost every year while Saban has been in the SEC) in an earlier post, here.  Basically, Alabama had 66 players returning on scholarship on signing day and they signed 29 recruits to LOI's.  66 + 29 = 95.  11 of the 29 enrolled early and counted towards last year putting the roster at 77, thus leaving 18 in this class but only enough room for 8 to stay under the 85 limit.  Therefore, 10 players have to hit the bricks.  With the loss of Grant and Spikes, that number is now down to 8.  Robby Green, previously thought to have been booted from the team for rules violations, is still on the roster for now.  He is awaiting due process...

Details on Sikes and Grant here:

The loss of Sikes is a complete non-issue. Hey was a greyshirt signee from several years back under Mike Shula, and never made any impact whatsoever. He never caught a single pass in his career, nor did he ever play a meaningful snap. The height of his career was playing special teams in a few games in 2007, but he redshirted in 2006 and did not play in a single game in 2008. This past year in the Crimson Tide's national championship run, the only playing time he saw was some mop-up duty against Chattanooga. He was a good kid and it is certainly good to see him get his degree -- both for him personally and for us (APR purposes) -- but he was just never a meaningful contributor in any real sense, and frankly I'm not even sure that he was still on scholarship towards the end.

With Terry Grant, however, it was a different story. He was the highly-touted tailback signee in 2006 out of Lumberton, Mississippi -- though in hindsight, it was clear that Rivals dramatically overrated him -- and at one time he seemed to have a relatively bright career in front of him. Of course, though, that was before surgeries for a sports hernia, and it was also before the arrival and emergence of players like Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, Glen Coffee, Eddie Lacy, and Jeramie Griffin. You hate to see it for the young man, but as I mentioned yesterday, it is simply the harsh reality for some by having a roster so loaded with talent and depth.

Interestingly enough, though, it seems that Grant didn't necessarily just give up football, but instead is probably looking to go out the way of the medical scholarship.


The article above mentions having a roster loaded with talent and depth, but neglects to mention that it is also a roster that is oversigned.

Saban comments on Grant:

"He's been injured two years in a row," Alabama coach Nick Saban said of Grant, who had two surgeries for a sports hernia.

"He decided because of injuries -- he's already graduated -- that he would not come back for his fifth year. He does qualify for a medical, if we need to do that, so he can continue academically. ..."

We're not exactly sure what "qualifying for a medical" means, but we assume that it is some sort of hardship case that enables players to remain in school on some sort of scholarship, but it frees up a scholarship for football--we would like to know more about this.  Also, not sure what "if we need to do that" means either; does that mean if Grant is unhappy about being cut and wants to stay in school they will give him the "medical?"  

Grant and Spikes both used red-shirts already and still have 1 year of football eligibility left, despite already finishing their undergraduate degrees.  The bottom line here is that although they both have eligibility left it is clear that they will not see the field due to the depth at their positions, and the fact remains that due to Saban's oversigning, 10 players have to leave the team. 

The fact that both players have graduated eliminates any APR implications for Alabama and makes the story a little less egregious; but it now raises another interesting point.  Schools avoid APR penalties by making sure players don't leave the team with either not graduating or not transferring to another school.  We find it very interesting that Alabama's graduation rate was the second highest of any BCS Bowl team this year.  You see where we are going here, don't you.  With a higher rate of graduation you have a larger pool of players to "cut" without facing APR penalties.  Probably a bit of a stretch on our part, but it should be noted that Alabama traditionally hasn't had high graduation rates.

What is the issue here?  The issue is that without oversigning Saban would not have 10 extra new recruits (from a top 5 recruiting class mind you) to squeeze into his roster and guys like Grant and Sikes would probably still be on the team.  Does anyone really believe that Grant and Sikes walked into Nick Saban's office, unaware of the numbers crunch, and told the coach they just decided not to return?  If Saban had not oversigned then we would believe a scenario like that, but given the fact that players have to go or Alabama will face NCAA penalties, it is highly unlikely that these two guys just happened to quit football on their own accord.  Also, without the extra 10 players in this recruiting class, would Saban be so willingly to let a player like Grant leave the team or would he encourage him to use the last year of his eligibility?

"Spring is a time where we're going to fiddle around with the roster a little bit," Saban said. "Depth chart means nothing in the spring. Mostly it's for organizational purposes."


What a luxury to have several extra guys in the bank during spring evaluations and practice.  Saban calls it "fiddling" we call it oversigning, but of course he makes $4 Million a year and we write this blog for free; guess the joke's on us.

Here's what would have happened if Saban was required to announce his recruiting budget before signing day and had been permitted to only take enough recruits to stay within his budget.  Saban would have announced 66 returning scholarship players and he would have been given 19 scholarships to offer, not 29.  In addition, had Saban announced 66 and signed 19 AND Grant and Sikes still left, then Saban would have been faced with a scholarship shortfall, similar to the kind of shortfall Lloyd Carr was talking about here:

"I think it's a positive change from the standpoint of being able to be on the same playing field with a lot of the teams in other conferences," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. "Especially when you look at our bowl hookup with the SEC in the Citrus and Outback Bowl, it's an important rule. I can remember going to bowl games with 77, 76 guys on scholarship against a team with 85 ... In bowl games against conferences that have an advantage of doing that, Big Ten teams were at a severe disadvantage."


We've posted this before, but it is the perfect example of how recruiting classes should be managed and bears repeating here.  Tressel's recruiting method is in sharp contrast to Saban's approach.  In the video below, Tressel is upfront about the number of vacancies and explains the importance of not going over the limit, or even to the limit.  His method rewards walk-on players for sticking it out 4 or 5 years, whereas Saban's method simply discards those that are not able to produce anymore to make room for new players.  

Both methods are within the NCAA rules, but Tressel's method is also within Big Ten Conference rules which do not allow gross oversigning, whereas Saban, residing in the SEC, does not face those same rules.  There is no way a coach in the Big 10 would get away with signing 10 players more than they have room for on signing day, but in the SEC it's just another day at the office because like it or not attrition is simply a way of life. 

More on Tressel's class: At the time of this video (National Signing Day) Tressel was still waiting to hear from Seantrel Henderson, the #1 player in the country and the 2nd OL that he hoped to sign in the class, and Ohio State was sitting at 18 players signed to fill their 20 vacancies.  Shortly after this video, Henderson opted to go with USC and Tressel was left with very little or no options at the OL position they wanted to fill with two prospects.  Therefore, with 20 vacancies and 18 players signed, Tressel's class was done - 2 short of 85.  A week or so later Tressel awards a scholarship to Archie Griffin's son, a relatively unknown prospect who originally wanted to walk on.  This leaves Tressel with 1 scholarship in the bank either for another walk-on or for next year; this is a total night and day difference from Saban's situation where he has 10 players too many and needs to start dropping bodies to avoid NCAA rule violations. 

Essentially, when you look at the 19th scholarship in Tressel's class, he traded the #1 player in the country for a walk-on, but he almost had to - he didn't have three other OL signed because had they all made it academically that would have put him over the limit and he would have to cut players to make room, players like Garrett Hummel and Ryan Schuck who will never see the field at WR with all the depth at that position or a guy like Tyler Moeller who suffered a possible career-ending head injury off the field (Moeller's career story is almost identical to Terry Grant's, both red-shirted and both had a lot of potential, the difference is that Moeller will get his shot to come back and use his last year of eligibility, whereas Grant, due to Saban's oversigning and need to shed players will not); conversely, with the departure of Grant and Sikes, Saban just traded out two spots with new recruits from a top 5 recruiting class for two guys that would have never seen the field this year.  That is a drastic difference.

Nevertheless, the march continues and the number is at 8.  We're waiting for the announcement of a gray shirt or academic casualty next.

Filed under: Big 10, Coaching, SEC 16 Comments

The Big 10 Legalizes Oversigning

Maybe legalizes was a strong word, it's more like they made a slight rule change back in 2002, but stick with us, this gets pretty interesting.  We have already covered the history of oversigning in the conference that has the worst problem with it, the SEC.  Now we are starting to dig around and look at the history of oversigning in other conferences.

Recently, we found an article on Penn State's Collegian website from back in 2002, which we found extremely interesting. 

"According to Scott Chipman, Big Ten associate director of communications, the Big Ten has passed a ruling to allow teams to "oversign" on national signing day. Starting next season, teams will be able to sign more players to scholarship than were lost the previous season to graduation, which they are not currently allowed to do. Chipman said that the rule has been passed, but is still in the legislative process. The Big Ten released no further comment, and Chipman would not explain the workings of the legislative process."

"The cause was championed by Indiana coach Gerry DiNardo, who is in his first year at the helm for the Hoosiers. DiNardo spent four years as the head coach at Vanderbilt and five in the same position at Louisiana State, where he was able to oversign players. DiNardo and his staff introduced the legislation, and DiNardo lobbied faculty representatives."

"There's no way in most universities that you can manage your roster to be at 85 scholarships if you're not permitted to oversign and allow for no attrition," he said. "I don't know any program that has no attrition from the first Wednesday in February until the day freshman report. I think that creates a competitive disadvantage for the Big Ten as a whole in interconference play."


The article delves further into the topic and we'll get into that after the jump. 

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ESPN’s Outside the Lines Tackles Oversigning

If you care at all about this topic then you need to watch this video.  

Having watched the video, there is no question that ESPN could have done the exact same story on Nick Saban and Alabama.  The parallels are eerily similar.  Big name coach, long-term 35 million dollar contract, coach comes in and oversigns recruits and start gutting the roster, etc., etc.  All of those things are fine when you are dealing with professional athletes, but when you are dealing with unpaid, college athletes it's a different story.

Ramogi Huma, President of the NCPA, is leading the charge on NCAA rules reform.  Go check out the website!


Filed under: Big 10, Coaching, SEC 1 Comment


We found the list below posted over at shaggybevo.com.  Basically, this is Nick Saban's attrition since 2007 (this is not all of it, just what was listed at shaggybevo.com). 


2007 (25 Players Signed) 2008 (32 Players Signed) 2009 (27 Players Signed) 2010 (26 Players Signed) 2011 (22 Players Signed +2 GS)
Crump - quit football Johns - arrested, cocaine Dial - grades, juco Grant - not renewed Glenn Harbin - baseball
Elder - armed robbery Bolton - grades* Moore - grades Sikes - not renewed Demetrius Goode - transfer
Fanuzzi - transfer Hood - MLB P. Hall - transfer Div II McKeller - medical hardship Petey Smith - transfer
Hester - transfer Jackson - transfer Burnthall - quit team Jackson - transfer Brandon Moore - transfer
Lett - medical hardship Lawrence - transfer Fanney - transfer Sims - din't qualify Corey Grant - transfer
McGaskin - grades Lewis - grades Cardwell - not renewed Pharr - medical hardship Arron Douglas - died
Murphy - grades* Matchett - medical hardship Higgenbotham - transfer So. Ala Talbert - medical hardship Robby Green - released
Ricks - grades Neighbors - bryant scholarship Kirschman - not renewed Woodson - not renewed Kerry Murphy - medical hardship
Tayler - transfer Preyear - kicked off team Hester - medical hardship   Kendall Kelly - medical hardship
Farmer - transfer Ray - MLB     Wes Neighbors - medical hardship
  Smith - transfer      

* = guys who were resigned later so they get counted twice by websites like oversigning.com.

Quit - 1, kicked off - 2, Other Scholly - 3, Transfer - 7. MLB - 2, Grades - 8

Couple of things to note here:

1. Where would Alabama have been had they taken normal numbers and still suffered the same attrition?  Or would they have had the same amount of attrition?  Those are the primary questions.  Had Alabama signed a normal amount of players (18-21) and still had kids transfer out, commit armed robbery, and fail to make their grades, there would be gaping holes in the roster that would have crippled the program for years.  

Let's break it down by class:  let's say in 2007 Alabama signs 21 guys and suffers the attrition of 10 players, that puts that class at 11 players; in 2008 let's say Alabama signs 25 in order to make up for the attrition the previous year, but suffers the attrition of 11 players, that puts them at 14 players.

The last time Alabama had back to back season with less than 20 players you have to look at 2002 and 2003, 19 & 19; that was the last time they were unable to sign extra players because of scholarship reductions.  Here's their record: 2002: 10-3, 2003: 4-9, 2004: 6-6, 2005: 10-2, 2006: 6-7. 2007: 7-6.  Could you imagine if they had to deal with only 11 & 14 players in back to back classes because of all the attrition?  They wouldn't win a game.

2. How did Nick Saban miss on all these guys - he is regarded as one of the best recruiters in the country?  Or, is it that Saban just runs through more players and the cream rises to the top?  That has to be the case because we have already documented that he signed roughly 35-51 more players than Brown, Tressel, and Carroll.

3. Why does this even happen?  Schools all over the country such as Notre Dame, Penn State, Ohio State, Texas, USC, etc. do not need to do this.  Is it because the available talent pool is prone to that much more attrition and without oversigning to cover for it Alabama would be dead in the water, or is it because they prefer to go through more guys just to keep them away from the competition?  Our historical research showed that they used to do it (oversign) for both reasons.  

And for those that argue "those extra guys don't count because they didn't make it into school or they transferred out," we say, if they don't count then why sign them to begin with?  Take normal numbers and deal with the attrition - why should Alabama, or any school for that matter because this is not about singling out Alabama this goes for any school, be allowed to subsidize its attrition while other schools take normal numbers and either avoid attrition by taking better quality (academic and character) guys or "take it in the chops," as Nick Saban would say, meaning if they have attrition then they have a hole in the roster until they can fill it with the next recruiting class.  How is it that these other schools only take 18-22 guys every year and still compete on the same field for the national championship as a team that takes 28-32 and culls down their roster?  You can thank the NCAA for allowing the oversigning loophole to exist, then you can thank the conference commissioners and athletic directors for allowing their schools to exploit the loophole, and finally you can thank the multi-million dollar coaches who exploit it.   Hopefully one day you can thank us for helping to eliminate this from college football all together.

Bottom line: Either Alabama takes extra players to cover the expected attrition because they have to given the pool of players they have to select from, which means if they took regular numbers they might not be able to field a team, or Alabama takes extra players in order to have a larger pool of players to pick from thus pushing out lesser quality players by way of medical hardships, transfers, poor grades, violation of team rules, or armed robbery.  Those are the only two reasons and neither of them are appealing.  Anyone who thinks otherwise either doesn't get it or has an agenda.

One last comment on this.  If Alabama (and other SEC schools) truly take more signees because the pool of players they have to select from dictates that they need to take extra to account for the mass numbers that won't make it academically, isn't that an indication of a much bigger problem?  And what kind of message is it sending to kids?  Shouldn't the message be: "if you want to play football here you need to be squared away academically or we can't even afford to look at you as a prospect."

Filed under: Coaching, SEC No Comments

Coach Comparisons

We have already compiled recruiting numbers for schools and conferences, see our "Recruiting Numbers" link above for that data, but now let's take a look at the numbers for National Championship coaches from 2002-2010.  Make sure to read our footnotes at the bottom regarding the data in the table below.

National Championship Coaches 2002 - 2010

Coaches Conf. 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 Total Average
Saban (03/09) SEC 26 28 26 0 0 25 32 27 29 193 27.50
Miles (07) SEC 28 31 19 13 26 26 26 24 27 220 24.44
Meyer (06/08) SEC 22 19 25 18 27 27 22 17 27 204 22.66
Brown (05) BIG12 28 18 20 15 25 24 20 20 22 192 21.33
Carroll (04) PAC10 22 28 19 19 27 18 19 18 20 190 21.11
Tressel (02) BIG10 24 16 24 18 20 15 20 25 18 180 20.00

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.  

And to further put that into perspective, only 4 BCS programs in the entire country have signed fewer players than Ohio State's Jim Tressel, Stanford (170), Georgia Tech (177), Wake Forest (174), and Northwestern (170).  Notre Dame tied with (180).  For Jim Tressel to win a NC, compete for 2 more, and win the Big 10 Conference 5 Times in a row with those kind of numbers is simply amazing.   The same goes for Pete Carroll, although his numbers are just slightly higher, and what he did at USC.  Imagine if either one of those coaches had an extra 40-50 players to select from or to use in order to fill in gaps from unexpected attrition such as career ending injury.

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