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.